Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Rocky Road to the Repeal of Bill 44 Provisions in The Alberta Human Rights Act.

What is Next for Bill 44 Provision in Alberta Human Rights Act?
The frequency and volume of political commentary about passing The Alberta Human Rights Act (AHRA) that adopted the Bill 44 opting out provisions will diminish over the next few months. It is summer after all. The reality of the consequences of this ill-advised and ill-conceived law will come once the Act is proclaimed and becomes the actual law of the land.

There are some unrest and rumblings within the Progressive Conservative Party rank and file against Bill 44 provisions in the AHRA. I also hear some in the PC Party are trying to stifle and suppress any continuing talk about Bill 44, presuming it will be forgotten over time. I don't think that will be the case given the anger I have seen expressed over this bad politics and poor governance decision. That approached worked in a pre-Internet world but it will not work now.

There are a few moves afoot within some PC Party constituencies to submit a resolution for repeal of the opting out provisions for debate the AGM in November 2009. I am all for that and hope it happens but there are many hurdles to jump to make that a reality. Here is a sense of what it would take and what it would mean for the PC Party to debate the repeal of the opting out provisions of the AHRA at the next AGM.

The PC Party is not the PC Government.
First, if must be clearly understood that whatever the PC Party decides is not binding on the Stelmach government. The PC Party is just another political special interest group. It is not the government. I served on the PC Party Policy Committee for years but over a decade ago. I had a constant fight with the Reform/Alliance wing members who did not grasp the difference between the government and the policy proposals of the political party that supported it. Grassroots run deep with old-time Reformers.

Sometimes process is everything so here is how it works, as I understand it. I checked the process and it is essentially the same as in my day in dealing with Party Resolutions at AGMs. Here is a link to the PC Party website for the actual constituency resolution process, if you are interested.

The PC Party debates Resolutions at every AGM from submissions made by individual constituency organizations. Each constituency can submit two resolutions. The first one (the "A" Resolution) will always be debated. While the second one (the "B" Resolution) may not be debated because of time constraints. If there are duplicates of resolutions they are combined and only one is debated. Some resolutions are declined because the don't deal with provincial jurisdiction or they are too vague or too local in nature.

A group of Regional Directors and constituency level VPs of Policy, all as party volunteers, will do the vetting of the resolutions received. The A and B Resolutions are dealt with first come first served and up to 6 minutes of debate is provided for each one. Then any party member in the room can vote on the Resolution on a show of hands. Open transparent and fair to my mind.

Those Resolutions that get support from the membership are submitted to the government as information and advice. The government caucus then considers them and responds to the Party on each one, in writing. The government's responses range from agreement to disagreement and everything in between and often includes a reporting on the status and progress on resolutions and related issues.

Will the PC AGM Debate a Repeal Resolution?
So what will it take to get the AHRA provisions of Bill 44 to be debated as a Resolution at the November PC Party AGM? The first step is for a local party constituency organization to draft an appropriate proposed resolution and then decide as a local Board to submit it to the AGM.

That first step has already been done by the Edmonton Whitemud PC Constituency but there is a wrinkle. My information is the Bill 44 Repeal Resolution from Whitemud was a tie vote for second place - a "B" Resolution. The constituency apparently has decided to submit three resolutions rather than break the tie for the B resolution. It is an interesting development because the Repeal Resolution it will at best be a "B" Resolution and it risks not being debated due to time constraints. That has never happened in my experience in dealing with Party Resolutions, but it is a possibility, and in politics if it is possible anything can happen so nothing should surprise us.

Here are some interesting "What Ifs." What if in the initial Party vetting process they cull one of the two Whitemud B resolutions because only two Resolutions are allowed. Would the Bill 44 resolution be the one culled? The resolution vetting process could more likely send the two B resolutions back to Whitemud and require them to break the tie and will that happen or will they settle on only submitting an "A" Resolution?

If at the party organizational level, they decided to cull the only Repeal Resolution on such a technicality, I expect progressives in the PC Party would either revolt against the Party Executive or just leave the party. My money is on the Party going back to the Whitemud constituency and making them break the tie vote. So much uncertainty still prevails.

This could be avoided if another PC Constituency organization were to submit an "A" Resolution to recommend repeal of the AHRA opting out provisions. To date that has not happened but it might. I think it should happen for the sake of the PC Party itself but there appears to be some of nervous nellies who help run the party. They clearly want this to go away so all this Bill 44 controversy would just disappear somehow.

Some Serious Political Implications Around a Repeal Resolution
Here are some of the political implications for the PC Party, the PC government and progressive Albertans emerging from these various scenarios. If there is a Resolution for the Repeal of the AHRA opting out provisions debated at the AGM, and it passes, the Stelmach government can reconsider its policy and move to repeal the provisions. It can also say no, that is a done deal and they can refuse to reconsider. That is their option as our government but there will be repercussions in the PC Party and the PC government either way.

If such a Resolution is defeated by the PC Party membership then there will be soul searching in the progressive membership ranks of the PC Party considering if this party is still viable as their political "home." Who knows if or when that will happen. The party progressives I have talked to about Bill 44 know there is no other political party for them to go where they feel comfortable and believe they could be effective. The question then is will they join the other 60% of disengaged Albertans or pursue something different to express their political philosophy and aspirations for Alberta? Will the "Alberta Citizen Cynicism" party gets thousands more non-voters?

There are Implication for Progressives.
There is another more subtle but even more significant potential implication coming out of how the PC Party handles a Resolution to repeal AHRA opting out provisions. If they never received such a resolution from a constituency then local constituency ennui or angst against "rocking the boat" gets the Party off the hook. But that does not resolve the larger political issue, namely the anger amongst all the progressive Albertans who are still angry over the unnecessary Bill 44 optioning out provisions in the AHRA.

If no PC constituency organization has the courage and conviction to submit a repeal resolution for debate at the AGM I expect most progressive PC members will drift away from the party and be missing in action in the next election. The non-partisan Alberta progressives will decide to actively campaign against the PC Party in preparation for the next election. We are seeing the tip of that iceberg as evidenced in the wave of social media and traditional media commentary on the appropriateness of some recent personal comments made in public by Iris Evans and Doug Elniski. The PC Party and the PC government can expect more of this kind of scrutiny and aggressive response from now on - regardless of any AGM debate or its outcome.

If the Party receives a submission but tries to subvert the AGM debate of a repeal resolution I will expect to see progressive party members getting more vocal and deciding in droves to be no shows at the November AGM meeting. I can't see that subversion happening but it is politics and anything can happen. If it did happen I would be more disappointed than surprised. The likely unintended consequences are that the majority of PC party members who will "show up" at the AGM (and who will likely be encouraged to show up) will be those social conservatives on the far right of the party who tend to support Ted Morton.

There are Potential Implications for the Stelmach Leadership too.
Under those circumstances, a really significant political turn of events from the Bill 44 fiasco, that could happen at this November AGM. That is a potential threat to Premier Stelmach's continuing leadership of the PC Party. The PC Party Constitution requires that the Leader to face a confidence vote at the first AGM following an election - win or lose. That is how the Party sent a message to Ralph Klein that it was time for him to go a few years back. Ralph lingered as Leader, but the Party told him, in a vote of no uncertain terms, that he was past his best before date. He was gone!

PC Party Leader Ed Stelmach has to face a similar leadership confidence vote of party members at the November AGM.

What if the party "faithful" who show up at the AGM are predominantly social conservatives because they are emboldened by Bill 44? What if the the progressives stay home because the are discouraged by Bill 44? Could this be the "perfect storm" for the far right to give Premier Stelmach a low vote of support? What level of low support would seriously undermine his continuing leadership? What if his support is low enough, like Klein's 55% support? Will he have a backbench revolt of social conservatives that demand another leadership race? Will we be into a PC leadership contest for a new Alberta Premier sooner than we thought or even wished for? What will such uncertainty do to the Alberta economy and any recovery from the recession?

This is what can happen when internal partisan political expediency is preferred over good governance - like in the case of the Bill 44 fiasco. Bill 44 issues will be quiet over the summer but they will be front and centre again in the fall. Stay tuned. It promises to be interesting, unnerving, disappointing and even devastating, depending on your perspective.