Saturday, January 16, 2010

Public Protests Grow as Albertans Show Discontent With Government

Congratulations to all those caregivers, citizens and families who are involved in and helping those with developmental disabilities in Alberta. Your rally was amazing. I wish I could have been there.

The disconnect of the Stelmach government with citizens is growing. The discontent of Albertans with the political culture of the province is growing too. Last week marked a turning point where Albertans are no longer prepared to be differential to the powerful forces in politics and government.

The Whitemud Citizen’s Forum on Health Care last Monday was organized by four self-described “ordinary citizens” and drew over 500 people in one constituency in Edmonton.  More of these protests are being organized all over the province by other "extra-ordinary citizens." The PDD service sector agencies organized a mock "bottle drive" rally to help fund the Stelmach government so they did not have to brutally and unilaterally claw back funds from disabled Albertans.  They drew over 1200 to the rally in Edmonton on Thursday night. Then on Friday Join Together Alberta launched a campaign to hold 22 town hall meetings all over the province to fight the service sector funding cuts that are said to be coming in the next Budget.

Albertans are clearly fed up and are now standing up and gathering together to be heard by their government. I see discontent everywhere and I smell democracy in the air in Alberta again.

Indifference, complacency and cynicism are attitudes that progressive Albertans can no longer afford. This province and its resources belong to the citizens of Alberta, not the politicians or the corporate tenants who we give social licenses to so they can create wealth for more than just shareholders and executives.

Premier Stelmach is right when he says to attract investment business requires certainty. That certainty in our energy sector does not come from giving the resources away by foregoing royalties and ever increasing subsidies to the industry. That is just selling off the topsoil from our non-renewable resource and giving away the natural capital birthright of our young and future generations of Albertans.

Alberta’s investment certainty to the energy sector is not created by absurdly low taxes and ridiculously low royalty rates.  Real investment certainty in Alberta includes a place where industry have assurances of a educated, skilled, trained and healthy workforce.  Where they can depend on the rule of law and a justice and policing system that is independent of government that enforces that rule of law.  Certainty comes from a quality and reliable banking system, no government and political corruption like most other energy producing areas of the world.  Alberta has clear and fair environmental laws and project approval processes that provide certainty.  We have no civil wars or terrorists threats but discontent is growing.  We have no government or dictatorship nationalization threats of their investments and no concerns over kidnapping and ransom of employees as happens in so many other energy producing countires.  We have a stable currency and we have the closest proximity on the planet to the largest energy market in the world plus all the necessary infrastructure in place to deliver the energy to theat market.  With oilsands there are enormous and reliable sources of supply with no uncertainty over exploration and discover costs.  In oilsands the Alberta taxpayer shares the investment risk via royalty forgiveness until all capital costs of projects are totally recaptured. The list goes on.

Compare that to the shabby treatment our government is giving to the most vulnerable citizens in our society from foster children to seniors to the disabled and you have to ask yourself “What is wrong with this picture?” The answer is becoming more obvious. We always get the government we deserve in a democracy. If our governments can’t change to respond more appropriately to fulfill their duties to citizens then citizens must change their government.  That is becomoing more obvious to ordinary Albertans who are standing up and speaking out.  And it is about time.

Reboot Alberta is one of the ways progressive Albertans are using to get their message out to government.  That message is that things need to change in Alberta's politics and governance. Citizens have a duty to help their government change - complaining is a good place to start but it is not good enough all by iteslf.  Change has to happen in the attitudes of the government and what gets their attention, time and resources. If the exercise of the power of politics takes precedence over the duty of our elected representative to govern, then citizens have to step up and make the necessary changes.

Citizens will have to wake up and make political and governance changes we need at the ballot box in the next election. Albertans also need to help create some viable alternatives to the existing political culture.  Right now we seem to have choices two viable choices, the right wing PCs and the extreme right wing Wildrose Alliance. Reboot Alberta is a place to have that discussion and to start dealing with that democratic deficit too.

How do Albertans get their government to listen and internalize the messages they have to hear?  How do we help our government make better public policy decisions?  How do we get our government to be more open, accoutable and transparent in its decision making?  How do we attract our best and brightest into a politics based on public service and not a political exercise of pure power that uses intimidation and bullying to promote its policy agenda? 

Democracy is in the air in Alberta - but it is not yet on the ground where it counts.  That will depend on citizens acting as owners and stewards of their democracy.  I see green sprouts of democratic reform but there is a long way to go.