Thursday, November 16, 2006

Which Candidate Is Best to Keep the PC Party Together?

One of the overlooked realities of this leadership campaign is the impact the process and outcome will have on the future of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta itself. I wonder about the role of political parties in general and the resistance of people to join them. Do political parties have a future?

In the old days – I am old enough to have “old days” – political parties were individuals who came together in constituencies to use their collective power to create, influence, criticize, comment, propose and promote public policy ideas as part of the common good.

They recruited candidates, stuffed envelopes, delivered brochures and made phone calls – sometimes until their ears bled. The really big purposes of political parties were to run and win elections and to occasionally pick new party leaders…or dump old ones as the case may be.

Some of that still happens today but it is not grassroots and local anymore. It is centralized by consultants and marketing machine politics. People are more removed from the political process and the public policy development dynamics too. Campaigns have changed and so have political parties, and not necessarily for the better.

I think there is a fundamental role for political parties but they have to take back the power and purpose of grassroots democracy away for the leadership and the “handlers” of those party leaders.

Transparency, accountability, openness are all buzzwords in the politics of the day because of the miscreants and the ethically challenged political players of the past. People are turning off voting and turning away from democratic institutions like political parties as a result. Democracy is a fragile concept that depends on informed citizens who participate.

Engagement has to be meaningful before people will take the time to become involved. We need to change the culture where politicians are seen as “powerful” and we need to elect people more personally motivated by an authentic sense of being a servant leader and stewards of the public good. We need wiser, smarter and better people in elected office but that starts with citizens demanding it and doing something about it.

To get that we need more meaningful opportunity for ordinary citizens to see acts of citizenship as a duty but also a right that they respect and as a privilege they value in a free and democratic society.

With new technology and communications techniques we have lots of content and context on the candidate’s websites. But with no time to attend or serious opportunities to see and hear the candidates we don’t get to know about the character and capabilities of the candidates.

There are going to be thousands of “new PC members” who are into the fray to influence the leadership selection outcome mostly for reasons of self interest – which is just fine by me. I hope some are prepared to stay in the party past the second ballot and to keep the “winner” accountable as active citizens who are meaningfully engaged in democracy. Who knows – we may even help make the winner into a leader too.