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.


  1. C.Morgan4:47 pm

    When all else fails, try to trot out the old unsourced Socon conspiracy theories eh? Well it worked well against Reform...... Ooops they swept the province. Guess the fearmongering failed there.

    You rebooter/renewers will simply have to face the reality that the majority of Alberta swings to the right.

    That is not dangerous, that is democracy.

  2. Jim Vincent5:24 pm

    Except the right is dangerous to democracy.

  3. Here is more "substantiation" of the political party fragility in Alberta these days.

  4. The email newsletter started with, "The common wisdom is Alberta changes its politics every 40 years or so."

    But I don't see it. Give or take a few years (since I did the math very roughly), the Liberals held power for 16 years, the UFA for 14, and the SoCreds for 36.

    I'm not saying anything about the WAP's chances (or any new party), but we heard the same line ("The conventional wisdom is Alberta changes its politics every X years") in 2004 and 2008. Now again in 2012.

    Maybe it's more complicated than that, because the wisdom keeps getting it wrong.

  5. Anonymous6:26 pm

    What I don't get is why a first termer like Jonathan Denis was put into cabinet. He's so close to Ted Morton and one of the furthest to the right in the whole caucus.

  6. Those are the reasons Denis is in Cabinet.

  7. Anonymous9:40 pm

    Change is required but who is credible enough to get a large amount of votes.

    The administration is running the government because the politicians don't have the guts to runit themselves. They are intimidated by the civil servants.

  8. Agreed that the political landscape in AB is very volatile, and with two years or less before an election it becomes downright scary. The 60% who usually do not vote had better be paying attention and cast a well thought out vote come election time. Albertans, generally, really don't know much about the existing PCs in power nor their close power bases. They probably know less about the WAP in terms of which PCs (federally/provincially) have recently moved into key positions and are bound to influence direction/policy.

    For those in the so called Progressive/Red Tory camps that seem to be uncomfortable within a Liberal/NDP fold and for sure would not be comfortable within the WAP fold perhaps they should move into the Alberta Party (recently taken over by a few Greens plus some Re-newers). If the PCs actually do implode then the reality is that people have to find or make a home in the existing parties - or vote in a whole lot of independents but this is not likely to happen. If this group really feels that they have the backing and the numbers to move out from under the PC umbrella, the opportunity is theirs. There were reasons why Jim Dinning did not win the leadership convention and it boiled down to numbers. Those who were behind the removal of Klein were so sure that Dinning would be the man but he was not a majority choice. My guess is that this group is not at all confident that they have/can get the numbers to rule AB. The AB party has probably less than 150 members right now and could become whatever the majority of new members want it to become. There are a lot of myths attached to just what the Alberta Party was and is - and none of this really matters now - it is a registered party with a skelton membership.

    The longer existing MLAs refrain from stating their intentions - the more it becomes about protecting their own interests rather being concerned about provincial interests.

  9. Anonymous10:07 pm

    Ignorant Anonymous Coward here. What a funny post Clipper. You bash the WAP because it is scary yet you can go onto their website and learn exactly what they are about. You can Google dozens of news stories on them. You could schedule a meeting with their MLA's and learn more about them. That does not seem scary to me at all.

    But instead you chose to abandon everything and promote the Alberta party, a party with, as you say 150 members, a party that is an improbable coalition of greens and reformers and a party that you once again you say can be whatever you want it to be. I'm not sure if that's scary, but it sure is irrational.

  10. Wow. It seems that I struck a raw nerve. I did not say nor intimate that the WAP was or is "scary". What I said was that imo, the political landscape of AB is scary - i.e. a whole lot of people are wanting change and are probably having a difficult time in assessing their alternatives in terms of a party to support.

    I haven't abandoned anything nor did I say or imply this - how did you come to this conclusion? I was simply pointing out that the Alberta Party is there and an option for those who are having a problem finding a political home. Since there are relatively few members then yes, should a large group of like-minded people decide to move in large numbers then yes, it would be possible to set the direction - just as in any other party. Irrational? - this is done in every party.

    It was/is not my intention to "promote" the AB Party.

  11. The WAP presume that they are already the natural governing alternative for Alberta. Not likely if people realize what they stand for and don't stand for. I think they are scary.

  12. Anonymous8:33 am

    Ken, your bias is showing through. People do realize what the WAP stand for and it is smaller government, individual resolve and responsibility, only providing services collectively for those that can't provide for themselves or where the private sector can't provide the service and living within our means. The stuff isn't rocket science and the WAP isn't about to let their "crazies" (by the way which every political party has) take control over social issues. You may think they are "scary" but the people of Alberta are gearing up to embrace them.

  13. Good morning "ANONYMOUS" at 8:33. You mistake my bias for my expression of my values and what I see as the role for government and the kind opf governing philosophy I would choose - if it were offered.

    The idea of smaller government is scary - just as bigger governmetn is too. I see Harper advocating bigger governmetn when he wants access to my private cellphone and telephone records without a search warrant. That is big government as Big Brother and the kind of thing I would anticipate from far-right reactionaries in power.

    I wnat a government that takes on the roles we citizens allocate to them and that it has the capacity and attitude to perform that responsibility superbly - not merely adequately.

    I want them to take on those roles where competition and marketplace principles are inappropriate and inadequate to meet the common good.

    I want honest, open, transparent, accountable and ethical government. Have not seen enough evidence of those values in any political party these days and especially not from the front runners of the PCs and the WAP.

    I want a government that is caring compassionate, competent, respectful and inclusive that respects and thrives on diversity and differences from ethnicity to gender to sexual orientation.

    I want a government that is empowering and enabling of citizens to become the best according to their abilities and to be able to live full rich, curious and passionate lives that fulfills them and serves the greater good.

    I want a government that protects me and my property from crime, greed, corruption and violence but still respecting my personal privacy.

    Size matters in some things but it is not the test of good government. The simple-minded fundamentalist/libertarian belief that small government is the test of good government is as scary as the nanny state of the other extreme.

    Where will those fundamentalist social conservatives go given that Smith humiliated in the leadership race? She did not intend to humiliate them but she beat them so badly that they will not go away from the WAP quietly. I wonder if they will go away at all. We should know more about that in the June AGM of the WAP.

    In closing you say my "bias is showing." At least we know who I am. Who are you and why are you hiding your identity? Are you in a witness protection program or something?

  14. Anonymous10:35 am

    Ignorant Anonymous Coward here.

    Must disagree with you (respectfully). I do not want to license all of those issues to government in any way, shape or form. It reeks of paternalism. It immediately subjugates me and the population. It confers the right of government to treat me as a child. It positions the government as the centre of my life whereas I want to see as little government in my life as possible.

    I have no problem with government providing certain services collectively where it makes sense nor do I want to place hardship on anyone who is in a desperate situation. But I certainly object to this government centric paternalistic approach.

    Therefore governments need to be as small as possible. Governments need to understand that it is free and intelligent people who progress civilization because that is what people do. This happens in spite of government not because of it.

  15. Hi Ignorant Anonymous Coward. I don't disagree with anything you said except I don't presume governments treat us like children. We choose to let governments be paternalistic towards us because, in a democracy, we are the government.

    We need to make governments accountable and responsive by demanding of them to deliver what we want from them. They work for us and are subject to citizens needs, wants and demands.

    We can argue over what we should want, need and demand of government by there is no argument in a democracy that it is the citizens who will should decide the answers to those questions - not the political parties, or the leaders, or Cabinet Ministers or their secret bagmen.

    Governments are only parternalistic if we let them be. We let them be that way if we don't show up, inform ourselves and participate in the politics of the time. If we as citizens let others make public policy decision for us by not even taking the time to make an informed choice about who we will grant our consent to govern us. That "decision" means we are assuming the ultimate in child-like dependent behaviours.

    I also fear governments being too small to the point they use lack or resources as an excuse to abuse vulnerable people by not meeting and serving the needs we citizens have ascribed to them. That is what is happening in Childrens Services, Seniors and Community Serivices in Alberta today.

    A strict father-figure like government that is perceived as the untimate authority figure and that demands respect but has not earned it but imposes the will and morality of its leader on the rest of us by abusive and reckless use of power is the end result of fundamentalis/reactionary moralist paternalistic government. That is the kind of paternalism that comes from the kind of WAP policies we have seen so far and is how they would run Alberta if elected . And that is more scary to me.

  16. Anonymous11:26 am

    Ignorant Anonymous Coward here (IAC for short if you wish though I prefer the long form),

    The size of government is a pretty good proxy for its paternalism. Alberta has the largest per capita government spending in Canada when by demographics alone (ie youngest population --->low health care demand) it should have the smallest.

    So if WAP reduces the size of the government as they proclaim and if granted that by permission of the people and then follow through then I will submit that it is the WAP that is the least paternalistic.

  17. IAC - when you look at the low spending in the early 90s under Klein's regime was massive and brutal we got too far behind on responding to population growth (500000 new Albertans moved here) and maintenance of infrastructure. We had to catch up on this stuff and did it at the time of the boom and paid a premium for capital project. So we pissed away the boom (again) and are giving away the resources with the lowest resource royalties and taxes on the planet.

  18. Anonymous2:04 pm

    We need the Klein cuts again. Spending is way, way out of control. At least 20% must be taken out of health and education - to start. Klein brought us prosperity and look at what has happened now.

    This is why I am voting Wildrose Alliance.

  19. Anonymous2:16 pm

    Ignorant Anonymous Coward here,

    I don't believe that we got too seriously behind on infrastructure spending in the Klein years. I think we got to where we should be. I think there were a few high profile policy blunders that gave that impression however mainly a failure to invest in civic infrastructure for the oilsands ie roads, water, sewer and seniors housing.

    I hate the idea of governments building up war chests of royalty revenues because governments simply cannot be trusted with it. It creates harmful and false expectations for government spending of what should and would be better spent by people themselves in the form of reduced taxation particularly for lower income people and seniors. Governments inevitably piss it away. They cannot help themselves. Trust me, this scenario will be repeated in my own lifetime and I survived the NEP. The day will come when the WAP becomes bloated and arrogant and will need to be replaced by the next conservative party.

    Everyone kowtows to Norway's state owned energy fund however their welfare state has now stolen the energy of their youth and created a sense of entitlement within their population. That story is not turning out well.

    Much better to have limited surpluses and instead create a low tax regime that attracts other industries. This is what diversifies the economy if and when our hydrocarbon resources limit out. Government enforced "diversification" strategies never work nor do Heritage Trust Funds run by politicians or political appointees.

  20. The Klein play was to get us out of debt in 25 years and becuse of raidly rising commonidty prices and single minded cost cutting regardless of consequences we paid it off in 7 7 years (5.5 acutally they kept it a secret for over a year).

    A careful calculated manageable approach like Dinning outlined to get us out of dept was a smart bit of policy but the Klein - West damn the torpedos apprach left a social, infrastructure and natrual capital deficit we are still paying for.

    I am pleased to see you intend to vote - even for the WAP. Too bad you feel you have to hide you true identity as a citizen to support them. It is not because you will be punished either. I quit the PCs very publically last December and have never had better access to the government leadership and administration since I did that.

  21. Ignorant Anonymous Coward - you don't know what you are talking about. We were behind amlost $1B on school maintenance alone becausde of Klein going lazy after the debt and deficit payoffs. Think of every other part of public instrastucture that lets the economy work and it get to be some serous deficie coin.

    You are entitled to you anonymous (dare I say ignorant) opinions but not your own facts.

  22. Anonymous4:20 pm

    Really, Really Ignorant Anonymous Coward here,

    If you talk to self serving school boards full of ex teachers union flaks then of course they will say they are underfunded. They will always say they are underfunded. No government bureacracy anywhere will ever tell you that they are fully funded.

    Nice try but not buying it Ken. :-)

  23. No we are not talking school boards here. This was done by the GAO itself by an MLA committee and no school boards were involved in the review of building capital and maintenance deficiencies.

    Once again presumptive conclusions based on ignorance and driven by ideology not logic or facts. Is that how you would want the province governed?

  24. leaning left5:47 pm

    Ken, I'm going to let you fight IAC on your own (as you're doing a damn fine job), but to add a voice of someone who's gone left from a conservative background....
    Simply put, I will never vote for WAC or the PCs is because I got to experience first hand what Klein's cuts & now the messed-up royalty regime did to education (otherwise known as 'screwing over the future of Alberta') and the nonprofit sector, where I am now employed. Government policies have caused our current system failures & overspending, and the solution is not in more cuts that will cause more social problems and cost twice as much to fix as to maintain - the Klein years have already proved this.
    While I'm against invasion of privacy, I'm not against big government. Canada was built as a democracy with social services, if the government wanted to take back responsibility for supplying those services, instead of palming them off on nonprofits which they then refuse to fund, I think there would be a lot of happy nonprofit workers (over 8,000 of us in Edmonton alone) who would be breathing a sigh of relief at not working 60 hours a week in return for salaries that barely keep us off social services ourselves!

    I'm glad there's another political party entering the stream, whether or not it will be far enough to the left for my way of thinking is another story, however (and no, I don't believe in Socialism or Communism, either).

  25. Anonymous6:54 pm

    Back to Just an Ignorant Anonymous Coward,

    Ahhhh, an MLA committee. Was it one of these secret MLA committees that pay themselves to meet secretly? No doubt it included the Education Minister who wants nothing more than to build his empire and needlessly dole out our tax dollars in expensive ribbon cutting ceremonies. Alberta PC MLA Committees make decisions that are Politics first and economics and education second.

    Not sure who I have less faith in, a committee of PC MLA's or a committee of ex-teacher's union school board trustees.

    Neither ignorance nor ideology. Just cold, hard reality.

  26. Wrong again o'Ignorant one. Not a secret MLA committee - just a thorough honest public reporting of facts.

    Treasury Board makes those funding decisions - not the Min of Education. You seem to know very little about Alberta politics. Are you from Ontario?

  27. Anonymous9:34 pm

    Ignorant,Ignorant Anonymous Coward Here,

    OK Sweetie, I shall indulge your curiosity. I am not from Ontario. Far worse. I am from the Socialist Dependency of Scotland. Female. 30 something. Single Mom. Self employed. Aikido black belt. Boyfriend who's family business barely survived the NEP and the latest royalty stupidity.

    So now we've moved onto the Treasury Board have we? Well, that explains everything.

    By the way, have you noticed that you repeatedly call me "ignorant" whereas the worst name I have ever called you is "Sweetie"? I am not offended. I am merely pointing this out to you as it pains me to see you look uncouth and I know that is not your intention.

  28. I only point out that your assumptions in your comments are not factual and the facts do not align with your claims. Ignorance simply that which if it was known would be helpful.

    Don't jump to unsubstantiated conclusions and insist on pointless anonymity and expect to be credible.

    You picked your label as Anonymous and without reason. Your comments display ignorance of the facts.

    My name is Ken Chapman - and you can call me "sweetie" or what ever else you choose. It merely add risks to the rest of us making continuing judgements about your lack of credibility.

    Come out of the closet and share yourself with us. What are you afraid of? That Stephen Harper will tap your phone and get your cell records without a warrant? He wants to.

  29. Anonymous9:58 pm

    Ignorant Anonymous Coward here,

    Ken Chapman, I don't think you appreciate what it is like for some of us who wish to participate on the web. Especially those of us who have some past ie ex'es that we would rather leave behind. There are some pretty good reasons to remain anonymous that you seem to be "ignorant" of.

    So comments like "your lack of credibility" and "what are you afraid of" and "Stephen Harper will tap your phone" do not serve you justice when many of us Albertans are demanding that provincial government spending fall back into line with say that of Saskatchewan who have been able to minimise their deficits and fall back into surplus again for 2010-11.

  30. Now you are making sense IAC. Of course there are reasons to be anonymous, just say so and please use a pen name so we know where the thread is coming from. I strongly suggest IAC may not be the best choice but it is one you chose ;-)

    And of course I am ignorant of your reasons BECAUSE you failed refused or neglected to state and share them before. Like I said Ignorance is that which if it were known would be helpful. Now I know. Now I and the rest of the readers of this blog are no longer ignorant because you shared your reasons for anonmity. Ignorance can be cured by information.

    I was a family law lawyer for almost a decade and know quite a bit about circumstances that wojuld cause some people to not be "found" through the internet.

    As for spending falling back, it could once we fix the infrastructure deficit and accommodate the population growth pressures. We also have to increase revenues. We give away our resources ot oil and gas companies and get short term fickle jobs and grumbling in return.

    We also have to realize that low taxes have a limit and we are way out of line. If we raise taxes in Alberta to only half way to the gap between us and the next province we would raise an additonal $8B. And still have the lowest taxes and no deficit - like the one that we are now leaving to our children.

  31. Are Alberta’s politics moving past “interesting” into dangerous? I don’t think so. At this point, I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself by applying a label of who I support politically. But I did want to point out an important aspect of democracy that I think should be considered by Rebooters and Non-Rebooters alike. Democracy is based on governance by consensus. Consensus is not about majorities as what most people would think, but rather, it is about the acceptance by all involved to live with the outcome of the decision at the end of the day.
    To demonstrate this, at the end of election night, all of the voters who voted for parties and candidates that did not win do not go out and raise anarchy because their political choice did not win. The entire electorate abides by the decision of the people, the root of democracy. During Reboot 2.0 and in many other occasions, citizens on and offline (including Ken) have commented that voters need to re-engage, and get out to participate in the political process. I disagree.
    The last provincial election had about 40% turnout on election day. Some would ask why the turnout was that dismal. But I think the approximately 60% of eligible voters did take part in the political process that day. They consciously decided that they would abide by the results (the elected governing party and premier) that people who cared more politics created. With that in mind, I think that consensus (by my definition) was reached. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?

  32. When in doubt... when losing an argument... when at a loss for facts and rationality... blame the NEP.

    Hey... whatever works for you.

  33. LOL Berry Farmer. As anyone who knows the history of the times, the NEP never happened. Reagan beat Trudeau to it by releasing the UAS strategic oil reserves on the market. That kicking the hell out of the oil prices before the NEP got implemented. That is what killed the Alberta economy...not the NEP.

    The Canadian government changed and Mulroney killed the NEP so the policy was never was killed.

    Never let the facts get in the way of a handy political myth.

  34. Jaqueline Greenly's Hair Conditioner10:25 pm

    Gotta disagree with the well meaning Kai. When I vote for a party, the last thing I want them to do is go back on their word and "build consensus".

    That is cowardice not leadership. When I see policies and law that I believe are wrong, I counter then with logic and reason passionately stated. The Canadian concept of "consensus drives me crazy. These well meaning but dangerous people would have us seek "consensus with Nazis, Communists and terrorists too.