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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reboot Alberta is About to Happen. What is it and Why Does it Matter to Albertans?

A small group of us, including myself, Dave King, Don Schurman and Michael Brechtel are organizing a gathering of progressive Albertans (beyond left-right politics) in Red Deer at the end of November. The weekend event is called Reboot Alberta. This is one of many citizens’ based initiatives, including the ChangeCamp movement that is happening across the country and now in Alberta too.

Reboot Alberta is not about starting another political party, although the thought has been crossing a number of progressive Alberta minds. Reboot Alberta is an opportunity for progressive thinking Albertans to come together to connect, share and explore their ideas on what they see as important concerns for our province as we stumble and grumble towards designing and developing the next Alberta. I expect Reboot Alberta will also to consider how the progressive Alberta voice gets heard, resonates and makes a difference within the political and governing culture of the province.

My current view of Alberta is that the political culture of the province is stalled. The dominant alternatives being offered citizens are stuck in a useless left versus right competitive paradigm of political gamesmanship. The current political culture is effectively offering us two distinct choices. There is a chance to return to traditional model of top down, command and control politics manipulated by a hierarchy of authority. This option prefers to exclude alternatives, destroys diversity and stifles efforts towards innovation. It fears difference tending to see the world in terms of distinct rights and wrongs and “us versus them.”

Alternatively we get a damn-the-torpedoes unremorseful economic growth attitude of the currently dominant modernist model of Alberta political culture. This offering, all too often, has little regard for the long term environmental and social consequences of its commitment to bigger and faster economic growth as being better merely by definition. This "He who dies with the most toys wins" attitude of the modernist Albertan is a politically approved Ponzi scheme that destroys the social and natural capital of Albertans, while producing the added benefit of beggaring any duty to future generations.

Our current political culture, political parties and other institutional offerings to Albertans are so “the-day-before yesterday” in their thinking and culture. They are run by the baffled burghers who are like frozen computers, unresponsive to inputs and unable to perform as expected or even as instructed. They become increasingly unable to process and produce what they promise and are unable to help any enable Alberta o Albertans to realize its/our integrated potential.

It is not all their fault. It is what we as citizens have allowed (encouraged?) to happen. Albertans have increasingly devalued the place of politics in our society. We seem all too quick make a sport out of belittling politicians and more often than naught, default to attending to the most trite and trivial of concerns while we let the big issues pass because we can' t be bothered to take time and effort to comprehend. Hardly an effective strategy to attract the best and brightest of our citizens into public service as a means to ensure good government.

The organizers of Reboot Alberta believe we are a time where a policy and political reboot is the only practical way to get a fresh start. What is a progressive political and institutional reboot and what would it actually look like? Good question and the truth is we don't know. We will not know until we actually get progressive Albertans together to generate their answers. But rest assured we will share the answers, even though they are likely to be nothing less than proto-truths.

The thinking behind Reboot Alberta is that it is just a metaphor. But like any metaphor, according to "A Whole New Mind" author, Daniel Pink, it is only worth "a thousand pictures." Sharing the picture of the next Alberta, and focusing on how we see it, determining what is important to pay attention to and how do we come to best understand its meaning and propose on how to achieve its potential is all part of the metaphorical purpose behind Reboot Alberta. Reboot Alberta is not about moving more to the left or right, which is the shallow choice of the current thinking about our political culture. It is about moving forward. The real challenge is figuring out what forward looks like for the next Alberta and how do we achieve it.

A metaphor is only an invitation to use your imagination, challenge and change your perceptions and adapt your consciousness, and, in the bargain, to make some serious effort towards defining new meanings. Metaphorically rebooting the Alberta political culture is a chance to burst some perception bubbles that have taken over and isolated the powerful from the people in this province. Those leaders who are in the political and economic power bubbles are increasingly resistant real change. They do not risk encouraging new ideas until they are already proven. They are not prepared to be truly enabling of a better understanding or empowering people. They do not want to move citizens toward more political capacity unless and until they are assured, in advance, that those same citizens will still comply to the old power structures, even if only out of fear the power of the state and the pettiness of politicians.

This fear of the state is becoming more prevalent in the province of Alberta. Fear of our government is especially evident and growing amongst those in the public service, small business and community based not-for profit agencies that do government's work or work for government. This is perhaps one of the unhealthiest and disturbing trends in our political culture these days.

The political and economically powerful are so obviously more concerned about manipulating and massaging the message and their intent is to retain personal political power. The default political purpose has become managing issues for power retention, not the politically risky service of muddling through for the greater good. The politics of the place increasingly don't even try to define and design serious and significant new policies nor embrace new ideas that drive Albertans towards a better definition and destination we like to call progress.

The traditional media approach al; too often likes to focus on conflict and a superficial characterizations of politics as being about winners and losers. That merely adds to the citizen cynicism and confirms for folks that either indifference or subjugation and compliance is a preferred citizenship survival practice. The simple-minded KISS principle gets get preferential political application to complex public policy concerns. It inevitably makes matters even worse as good ideas as clarifying insights and commentary get discounted as politically impractical. Risks of punishment and retribution come from the politically powerful for merely being perceived as non-compliant or resistant and therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy in a vicious downward spiral for our participatory democracy.

Like any operating system a reboot is a combination of actions that are about taking control, creating alternatives and determining deletions. Reboot questions are about what do citizens have to do to regain control of the political, governance and political processes in the province? What alternatives and new institutions do we need to design and develop to meet our better goals and aspirations as a province? What destructive elements do we need to dispose of and delete from the current political and governance culture to achieve the potential of the next Alberta?

Being a progressive citizen in Alberta today means you need to be ready willing and able to take some risks. You need to start thinking seriously and consider deeply the nature of the future of Alberta and what you want it to be. To merely wait for natural gas prices to recover as the game plan for the province is at best perfecting yesterday and at worst, forfeiting the current and real opportunity for transformative change.

We need to look at our entire political culture, not just the government. We need to consider what needs to be controlled, what alternatives do we need to create and what can we dispose of and delete in order to deliver us from the current frozen state of ineffective politics and governance.

That political reboot, if it happens, will have to come from citizens who have become complacent and disengaged in the politics and governance of their province. I expect progressives are the largest block of citizens who make up this passive and indifferent group. We need progressive citizens to reactivate their citizenship rights and take on a personal sense of political responsibility. We need to be personally ready, willing and able to re-engage in the politics of our times.

There will be lots of questions about what Reboot Alberta is all about. More details on Reboot Alberta will be provided at a new blog for that purpose at http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/. Reboot Alberta welcomes your contribution to the conversation about these and other questions. Be aware, Reboot Alberta will not accept anonymous comments or contributors. Re-activated citizenship is not about hiding behind curtains. If you have a post to contribute, please send it to me at ken@cambridgestrategies.com and as long as it relevant, not legally challenging and presented in your own name, we will be pleased to post it.

As a progressive I think our challenge and opportunity it is not about making Alberta the best place IN the world but rather making Alberta the best place FOR the world. We have all the right ingredients to do this but do we have the guts and the gumption, yes and even the gall for the undertaking? We will be in touch, if you are...