Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Stelmach is Heading for the Hustings on Monday February 4th

My little birds tell me the Alberta election Writ gets dropped on Monday February 4th after the Throne Speech. Bundle up Alberta because candidates will be knocking on your doors and sticking signs on your lawns in the dead of winter. They will want to talk about the best possible future for the province and why they are the best way to get there.

There will be differences of opinion to understand, choices to be considered and judgements to be made. Citizens will have to be engaged and get self-informed as to who they think will be best to position our province for the challenges ahead.

Today there is a serious disconnect between Alberta’s opinion and thought leaders and our political and powerful economic elites. Our recent oil sands survey results show that disconnect most dramatically. Albertans want a more reasoned, integrated and sustainable approach to our growth, not just growth for its own sake and at any cost. With oil at $100 a barrel, traditional cost controls have not been effective as a market restraint for energy projects. Other factors will have to come into play,

Albertans clearly want growth but they also want a new definition of success that includes a greater focus on ecological integrity. They want attention paid and solutions found to the wide range of serious societal needs that an overheated economy has brought to Alberta. They also want better quality decision making at the political and policy level.

That is the challenge facing political candidates in this election. It is more than winning the election. It is also about proving to citizens through their platforms and proposals for the future that they “get it.” Even after proving that they get it, citizens will be looking at the various leaders and local candidates to judge if they have the personal capacity, ability and energy to be effective and to actually do something about “it.”

In 1993 Albertans “got it” that the province had a serious spending problem that was unsustainable. Laurence Decore, as Leader of the Opposition, stood up in the Legislature with his wallet held high above his head. He declared Alberta did not have a revenue problem, it had a spending problem, and that resonated with the feelings Albertans. The newly selected PC leader and then Premier, Ralph Klein, saw this happening and he jumped in from of that parade. As a result he was perceived as the political guy who best “got it” in those days. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today Albertans are once again way ahead of their politicians. We have yet to see the crystallizing moment for Albertans as we did to spur on the debt and deficit thrust of the 1990’s. It will come. In politics it always does. The moment came close with the release of the Our Fair Share Royalty Review Report. That however was way too complex a set of issues to become the crystallizing moment.

My guess that crystallizing political moment will come during this elections. It will be around ecology, wildlife habitat, climate change and the oil sands. These all relate in some way or other but there will be one shining moment when the emergent becomes both the important and the urgent in the hearts and minds of the voters. At that moment politics, policy and purpose in the role and responsibility of our government will shift dramatically.

As a result politics will become more meaningful again to everyday Albertans. Hopefully politicians will be allowed to be curious, exploratory and to show their humanity in ways that are authentic and genuine - not just media mobilized mush. Democracy will be better and social needs will return to the policy agenda along with the economy and the environment. If the happens we will all be better for it, you, me and our kids, will be the beneficiaries from this renewed and improved sense of purposefully engaged citizenship.