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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Manning Centre Event Offered Nothing New for Alberta Politics

I spent an enjoyable day at the Manning Centre for Democracy Future of Alberta wonkfest on Saturday.


Other bloggers have done some great analysis of the event. read Chris LaBossiere, DJKelly and Duncan Kinney for examples. I find myself agreeing with all of them. I have attended many such events and have designed and deployed dozens of them. The format was about as traditional as you could get and it served the purposes of the organizers. It was not conducive for any affective and reflective conversation because 15 minutes with pre-set tasks and pressure for a quick consensus really erodes any opportunity for a nuanced understanding of topics.

I would caution people who want to follow up on the reporting of the “results” of the event to take them with a grain of salt. The event had some non-conservatives in the room, including Linda Duncan, the NDP MP from Edmonton Strathcona. For an invitation only event, it was a pretty white, male and mostly my age group. There were some younger people, many of them from the Reboot Alberta movement and more than a token number of women too.

It was interesting to observe who did not show up. The absence of the PC Caucus was most notable. Ken Allred the PC MLA from St Albert was there all day Saturday and Kyle Fawcett was “debating” Daniele Smith on Friday night. Ken told me he was dismayed more of his colleges did not make the effort. The event was overtly designed to promote what Preston Manning calls “small c conservative principles” and it did just that. To presume a designed discussion by over what shade of blue the future of Alberta should be is helpful for the Wildrose Alliance and could have been good for the Progressive Conservative Party too…if they bothered to show up.

What happened yesterday was a conservative value set validation by conservatives for conservatives with a presumption that the outcomes would be a rough draft policy blueprint for Albertans to follow. I think that is how the results will be presented by the Manning Centre. The political shifts that are bubbling below the surface in the minds of Albertans are much more complex. That complexity inherent in the issues addressed will not be captured with the 15 minutes of time allowed for participants to express their opinions and ideas at the tables.

I really enjoyed the folks at my table and it was good to catch up with folks like John McDougall, recently retired head of the Alberta Research Council, Don Diduck from the Alberta Congress Board, Dr. Richard Plain, Health Economist and former Mayor of St Albert, Edwin Errickson the leader of the Alberta Party, Colin Jackson former head of the Epcor Centre in Calgary and WAP MLA Paul Hinman. Naheed Nenshi was there too and I got to congratulate my friend Shannon Stubbs on her new job as Danielle Smith's new Executive Assistant.

I especially enjoyed the presentations from the University of Lethbridge Political Scientist Peter McCormick on citizen participation, Marlo Raynolds of the Pembina Institute on conservative environmental approaches and Mike Percy’s excellent information on the future of the Alberta economy. The other presentations, not so much!

What I saw come out of this event was predictable and perpetuation of traditional conservative thinking. I did not see anything that made me think that there is something new and refreshing coming from the “small c conservative” approach to politics and policy. If the outcomes from this weekend are what the conservatives see as the future of Alberta, I have to say it looks more like a passion to repeat the past. I saw nothing about them being able to rethink, redesign and be able to adapt to the new economic, environmental, societal and political realities. I saw nothing new, nuanced or newsworthy except the same-old same-old stuff of personality based leadership driven politics.

I was glad I went and got to spend some time with old friends, meet some new people and many who said they wanted to come to Reboot2.0.  I also got to hear from a few smart speakers who came to share their knowledge. But was this a game-changing event? Maybe it was a positive event for the WAP and a less than tepid event for the PCs.  But it had little that was new to offer to help Alberta live up to its potential or to create the kind of the change Alberta needs to make in order to adapt to new realities.

So now it is time to focus on Reboot2.0 at the end of February.  That is where change will start as a wider range of concerned Albertans gather together to share their hopes and feeling about the future of our province.