Monday, March 29, 2010

Are Alberta's Politics Moving Past "Interesting" into Dangerous?

There is more and mounting evidence that regular Alberta citizens have to re-engage in the policy discussions and the political culture of our times and take back control of our democracy. The volatility on Alberta politics is increasing with recent developments. Things change pretty quickly in politics but until recently Alberta was the lethargic exception.

Premier Stelmach looked to some like he was the “accidental Premier” when he surprised everyone and won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2006. He shocked us again when he won the election with a strong majority government when the mood in the province was for change. He then got a safe but not resounding endorsement for his leadership last November from the delegates at the PC Party AGM – and he promised change to respond to the undercurrents of anxiety in the PC and file from his weak public support being shown in the polls.

A quick shuffle on the Budget from the promised slash and burn approach to a more measured long term but big deficit budget to an even less significant Cabinet Shuffle and the promise of serious change went unfulfilled in the Party and public mind. But change happened anyway in the rise of the Wildrose Alliance Party’s narrow win of Calgary Glenmore’s by-election. Things got more volatile with the election of Danielle Smith as WAP leader. Then the biggie…the floor crossing of two PC MLAs, including a former Cabinet Minister, to the Wildrose Alliance.

There were rumours of another 8-10 PC MLAs ready to jump to the Wildrose but the Cabinet Shuffle Ascension of Ted Morton into the Finance and Enterprise portfolio seems to have at least delayed any more mutiny for now.

The political volatility is now showing up in the political party ranks. The Democratic Reform Movement efforts by some in the Liberal and NDP ranks pushing for some collaboration to stop vote splitting on the centre left is on-going. There is grumbling and anxiety in the Liberal caucus and the rank and file membership too. The NDP is small but the impact and influence of the labour movement on policy and internal politics is always on-going. The Green party imploded due to internal dissention and the Wildrose Alliance is going through senior level staff changes, as have the NDP and the PCs. The Wildrose is heading into an AGM in June that promises to be interesting and volatile too. The badly beaten but unbowed Social Conservatives in the WAP are seeking more policy power in the party notwithstanding, and perhaps because of how badly Smith beat them in the leadership race.

And now we have the next stage of political party volatility, the March 23 letter from the PC Party Highwood Constituency to the Premier and the Party President saying, amongst other things, they expect the Alberta electorate to show “no mercy…on Election Day.” OK so the locals are also ticked that their MLA was dumped from Cabinet and disrespectfully at that. But family members in the PC Party, or other parties, don’t usually send nasty complaint letters to the “Father” and the copy all the rest of the family. OUCH. But there is much more detail and opinions about specific complaints in the Highwood PC Constituency Board letter.

Full disclosure, last December 17th I announced that I would not be renewing my long held membership in the PC Party of Alberta and did a blog post on my reasons. Since then an amazing number of PC Party members said they would not stay active in the party either.

Our political institutions were designed for a time over a century old and they have not kept up to changes in culture, communications and complexity of the current and emerging world. I think they are serving to undermine citizen-based democracy which is itself an old but at least an evolving institution. Democracy has evolved or more to the point, democracy had “devolved” so now have 60% of eligible voters who see politics as so ugly and distant form them and their lives that can’t be bothered to vote in Alberta.

Citizens are not exercising their rights to choose representatives and grant their consent to be governed in a representative democracy at election time. Citizens are now abdicating their responsibility to be stewards of the common good by letting radical, reactionary and often fundamentalist fringe elements take over the power in declining political parties. Are any of us ready for the emergence of the Alberta equivalence of the Tea Party movement? If the social conservatives, lead by Ted Morton, don’t have their way with the Stelmach government will they bolt to the Wildrose at the strategic time in anticipation of the next election? What if the disgruntled social conservatives can’t take control the power structure of the Wildrose Alliance? I can see them all getting restless and deciding to split off and start reflect the radical and reactionary Republican sponsored Tea Party movement we see in the States now.

Will the renewal and refocus of the Alberta Party get some money, manpower and motivation to rise to the occasion and start to offer a philosophically progressive alternative in time?  Stating from a stand still may begin to make the Alberta Party look pretty good if all the conventional parties continue to be going in reverse.  That is no solution to the real problems we face with our democratic and political deficits in Alberta these days.  A more rational and responsible and comprehensive approach to reforming the Alberta poliltical culture must be taken  by someone and very soon.

All this makes me reflect on just shows important the Reboot Alberta progressive citizen’s movement is going to be to the future of Alberta’s democracy. I guess we will have to pick up the pace, get focused and start getting activist and into some serious deliberative and deliberate democratic reforms and right away. There is a yearning for change by progressive Albertans but change to what for what, how and when are the open questions that need some serous attention.  We konw some of those answers form the recent survey done on progressive values of Albertans.  That may be the basis for us to start to change things in Alberta's politics an organized and effective fashion.