Friday, December 28, 2007

Voter Apathy and a Perfect Storm for Alberta Politics

Here is what voter indifference can do to the future of Alberta. We are already deeply into election mode and it will be apparent after New Years. Unless our provincial political agenda changes, we can anticipate a continuation of voter apathy. This is due to the disconnect between modern machine politics and the concerns of real people who are leading real lives and facing real issues.

What if politics does not change and the cynicism and scepticism continue as the dominant political response? Well I don’t have a worst possible partisan political scenario because that really depends on your point of view and your party affiliation.

I do however have a sense of consequences of lost and bungled opportunities for the province as well as the potential for some serious political mistakes to be made…by anyone and everyone in the running.

I think citizen indifference and voter apathy is the biggest threat to mature democracies. Apathy and indifference is not only the fault of the citizens. The political system has to take much of the blame. For those fans of proportional representation, stifle yourselves. It is not a cure…it is more likely to add complications to the affliction and erode the necessary capacity for effective on-going governing.

Here is what I think can happen as a consequence of citizen apathy and voter indifference. It is entirely possible we could end up with new leadership races in the PC, Alberta Liberals and the NDP in 2008. If that were to happen we would have squandered the opportunity for meaningful change and will set Alberta on a course of least 2 more years of drift and dissonance.

Here is my armchair quarterbacking that drives Alberta to that result. There is a PC repeat and amplification of the 2004 and the recent Calgary by election phenomenon. The far right goes to the Alliance and other marginal parties weakening the rural stronghold of the PCs. They are spread thinly and make no real electoral inroads.

The progressives stay home in disgust or show up in anger and send a message to the powers that be by parking their ballots with the Greens. Why the Greens? It is perceived as a safe parking place because it does not help the Liberals directly and sends a strong message to the PCs that the policy agenda is dated. Women and youth who do show up will be angry as well and go to the Greens too. This will be a protest vote about the relevance and priorities of the public policy agenda and mainline party platforms.

The consequence is a PC minority government. That means the knives are going to be out for Stelmach for obvious reasons. The Alberta Liberals will benefit from more seats but they are also going to be after Taft’s head too. Because he would be seen as unsuccessful and ineffective in going for the kill and gaining the political power he ought to have realized in the face of an "obviously weakened" PC party.

The Greens don’t even have to elect anyone to be seen as winners. They get a big bump in popular vote and due to protests, anger and ballot parking they rival or perhaps even surpass the NDP popular vote. That will strike fear in the hearts of the Alberta NDP and been seen across the country as a foreshadowing of what may happen to the Dippers in the forthcoming federal election too. Brian Mason’s leadership also gets challenged as a result.

A PC minority government in March of 2008 will likely results in three political party leadership campaigns by late 2008. Who knows what the outcomes of those exercises will be? One thing for sure is if this happens any semblance of real governing will be suspended for at least another year. A lack of governing focus and capacity could roll over well into 2010 and beyond as another election will undoubtedly happen sooner than later.

Uncertainty then becomes the new normal in Alberta. Not a good thing and nothing we are very used to. Frankly I don't see this happening if the political parties, particularly the PCs, get their acts together and become relevant to the lives of Albertans again.
One thing for sure though, even without this perfect storm scenario, Alberta politics are guaranteed to be interesting for the first time in a long time.