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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Democracy is Alive and Well and Growing in Alberta

UPDATE MAY 2 - The Editorial Board of the Edmonton Journal is into this issue today...and supportive of the changes Hancock is making in how the Alberta Legislature works as a representative democracy. As I said it is good to smell democracy in the air.


The “historic” (in Alberta terms) end of “closed-door policy making" last Tuesday is one of the most significant indications of the fundamental differences the Stelmach version of Progressive Conservative governance will be from the past regime. Alberta is the last province to have all-party policy groups. While this is hardly Poland's Solidarity or the former Soviet Union's Perestroika, it is clear in Alberta, The times they are a'changin'!

The new Policy Field Committees, with representation from all parties, will have the power to call public hearings and summon witnesses on any government issue. Ministers can refer Bills for scrutiny and apparently that is happening on Alberta's long overdue lobbyist registry legislation. Each committee will handle a specific policy area so they can develop some expertise and context depth too. A new level of accountability and transparancy will emerge. Another good thing.

Putting opposition members on the recent Affordable Housing Task Force was a foreshadowing of this new attitude toward good governanceby Premier Stelmach. The Task Force report has apparently been leaked but I would bet the source of any such leak is not any of the opposition members. They know they would be expected, and well advised, to respect the process, even if they dislike it. They have their various political means to influence and change such processes if they want to. Leaking documents may be good politics but it is rarely, if ever, good governance.

Yes there is going to be more open dissent and disagreement and more pure politics being played in the policy design process - but that is as it should be. We can now move beyond the risk of poor policy decisions being made through a small, closed, often single-minded, and too often, secretive process. This new openness affords Albertans opportunity for policy decisions based on a collective wisdom of a larger, more independent and diverse set of perspectives. And the best part, Albertans can watch, learn and better judge for themselves the actual policy process and its final outcomes.

Premier Ed Stelmach and Dave Hancock, in one of his many roles as Government House Leader, are an effective team. They both understand good government demands good governance. Both men campaigned for the Progressive Conservative leadership with platform positions on improving the policy making process. Last Tuesday they delivered some of those campaign goals. I applaud them and the other House Leaders in working together to reach this resolution that addresses, in part, the democratic deficit in Alberta.

Yes sir, I smell democracy in the air. I welcome this new day in Alberta governance and see it as a better expression of a mature democracy.

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