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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Albertans Want Senate Elections - Stelmach, Not So Much!

I have been doing some more checking on some other interesting preliminary results from our recent Cambridge Strategies conjoint research study.  This time it is Albertan's opinions around Senate elections that I want to share with you.

In the past Senate elections in Alberta were a joke.  They are not binding but two elected Senators have been appointed from Alberta so they have had some affect.  The other joke was in the past it was perceived that only the radical right wing nuts ran and nobody really cared about the election or them because it was not binding.  It was all just so much bad political theatre. In fact many Alberta voters in the past refused Senate ballots or spoiled them intentionally in protest.  

That indifference and anger seems to be changing based on our new study results.  Now we see 69% of Albertans saying they "believe we should have another election for Senators in Alberta."  Moreover 82% believe it is important to have a Senate election and 88% say they are ready and willing to vote for a Senator this time.  That is a big change in the minds of Albertans about Senate elections.

That change in attitude is amazing.  I think the reason for this change in thinking is because it is an opportunity to send a message to politicians that would be influential but not really radically change anything.  There is a need to change somethings however.  I think the well documented lack of trust and respect for the current political options by Albertans is what is driving the desire to a Senate electoin this fall.  It is a feebie way to send a message to the political class that they are out of touch and in danger of being dumped in the next provincial election.  The same message applies to the Alberta MPs too I expect.

The current crop of Senators-in-Waiting had a 6 year term that was to expire December 2010.  So what has the Stelmach government done?  The original announced intent was to hold the Senate elections in conjunction with the October municipal and school board elections.  Instead, last April, Premier Stelmach unilaterally and undemocratically extended the terms of the existing Senators-in-Waiting until December 2013.  What is that all about?  So much for legislated fixed election dates.

There are vacancies coming up for Alberta Senators soon and we have not had a chance to elect them, according to law, since 2004. And we will not get that chance to choose Senators-in-Waiting now until 2013.  Does anyone believe these three current Senators-in-Waiting still have a mandate?  They are on record as saying they don't believe they still have a mandate.  They will be waiting as our preferred appointees for over 9 years.  That is longer than the 8 years terms they could actually sit in Harper's proposed Senate reform legislation. 

That is a long time between opportunities for voters to choose and that is not reasonable in a modern democracy.  Lots has changed in Alberta since 2004 and a lot more will change between now and 2013 but one thing that will not change is the "preferred" nominees for Senator to represent Alberta as a sober second voice. 

Here is another real kicker in this folly.  The Alberta Senatorial Selection Act itself expires on December 31, 2016.  If the Stelmach government does not want to hold regular Senate selection elections then why not say so and simply repeal the legislation. That would have more integrity, be more honest, accountable and transparent than the obvious manipulation of the democratic process they have done and for pure partisan political purposes.

This is just another example of the continuing erosion of democracy in Alberta and abuse of centralist power structures in governing the province.  It is just power politics trumping good government and also the Stelmach PCs still running scared of the Wildrose.  The thinking in the Stelmach government is obviously that they see a Senate election this fall will become a further referendum on the current government.  They sure don't seem to want to know what Albertans are actually thinking and saying these days. 

They don't want to have anymore proof of citizen discontent by giving them the opportunity to express their frustration about how badly we are being governed these days.  So democracy gets suspended, the cynicism of citizens increases and the political culture continues to turn weak and ugly.  There is a serious and growing sense  of revulsion by many Albertans about our deteriorating political culture. 

We are not seeing the benefits of the Alberta advantage except for those "masters of the universe" types in big business who collude behind closed doors with government.  We see a lack of integrity, honesty, accountability and transparency from our government as a result. Our pride in the province is getting softer all the time and we know we are not being listened to and that our opinions do not matter to those in political power.  I wonder when will the revolution will start in Alberta for real change?  We need  more political choices and not just an option between two reactionary conservative parties locked in a culture war. 

It is not too late for Stelmach to return the Senate elections to this fall but don't hold your breath given the angst and anxiety of the current government.  I wonder if this debasing of democracy by the current government will be a topic of discussion at the weekend gathering of the Wildrose Alliance Party?  Their leader was vocal about it last April with the Senate election was deferred.  I am no fan of the WAP but they are right on this point.  I hope they come out of Red Deer this weekend with guns blazing on this issue.