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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Are Political Parties Obsolete?

The recent Calgary Herald Leger Marketing poll is indicting less than 30% of Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta members are intending to come out and vote in the current leadership campaign. This is disturbing. Noting also that only 10% of Albertans hold PC cards and that number is anticipated to only double through the campaign is also disconcerting. This is not just a lack of the campaign resonance – it is a passive-aggressive resistance by citizens to the cult and culture of our current governance model.

The concentration of power over how we select the party leaders and potential Premiers of our province and how we bestow all that power and influence on that person is a bit scary. Especially given the pervasive and profound control the Premier has over our lives. One would think all citizens would be clambering to have a say in the outcome of this leadership campaign.

Political parties are the traditional way to have an influence and voting is the practical and most powerful way to participate in our democracy but it looks like they are both going the way of the dinosaur. Anger and angst of citizens is an energy source that can be identified, responded to, channeled and even used in a positive way to create change. Indifference, however, is the death knell of a system. And indifference seems to be the dominant driver of the Alberta citizenry's response to the current PC leadership campaign.

The fault for this indifference is to be placed squarely at the feet of the political parties, the PC’s in particular in this instance but I don’t believe any political party is exempt from culpability and citizen contempt. Fault is also to be shared by the elected political membership and its leadership. Citizen cynicism it is very much a consequence of the techniques used in modern political gamesmanship. Just go on line and watch the intelligence insulting negative ad campaigns of the midterm US elections right now.

Packaging the candidates from poll results, focus group pre-tested sterile messaging, dumbing down the discourse and always deflecting away from the real issues do not help. Look at the media frenzy coverage of tripe like who characterized who in a canine mode in a post coital pique in Parlament recently. It all serves to erode public confidence in the system and causes us to question the quality, capabilities and character of our governors.

What than is at the epicentre of the soul of the citizen today? Why is the political system so out of touch with people, with citizens? Some of it is induced indifference; some of it is fear of powerful vengeful players in politics. Some of it is the purely destructive concentration of power itself. Some of it is the adversarial nature of the political culture; some of it is the peddling of influence and the lack of policy transparency and political accountability. The list goes on.

OK we all know the homily of democracy being the worst system except for all others. I wonder if that is true for most citizens any more. I wonder where our collective social consciousness is headed. I wonder if we are eroding our social cohesion and distilling the collective synergy that serves to advance our society. I wonder where we are headed if we continue to distance our hearts, our minds and ourselves from our capacity to choose how and by whom we will be governed. I wonder who will show up to actually vote in this leadership campaign other than self-serving special interests.

Looks like those small cadre of citizens that do show up will be a breathtaking minority and an extremely powerful group that will effectively be setting the new rules for the rest of us. Can we afford to let this happpen? Do we dare allow the central tenet of our citizenship to be abject indifference about who will govern us?