Monday, June 14, 2010

Are Albertan's Finally "Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take it Anymore"?

I have written a lot about the "culture war" going on between the Stelmach PCs and the Wildrose Alliance Party as they fight for the right (sic).  That political drama is playing itself out but is only intriguing to media pundits and the chattering-class because of the conflict between the vulnerability of the PCs who are adrift and taking on water under Stelmach's leadership.  Couple that with the quasi-charismatic libertarian leadership of Danielle Smith in front of the Wildrose Alliance Party which, to my mind, is a stagnating and stifling force for fundamentalist values.  Hardly the stuff of an inclusive, modern, progressive and diverse society that is Alberta today and going forward.

The progressives are leaving the PCs and the social conservatives are waiting in the wings to reclaim their place as the value core of the Reform-Wildrose Alliance.  Leaders of both parties are conventional to a fault that they try to control the message, coerce compliance with intimidation and use the power of position recklessly and abusively in order to sustain political dominance.  These are the death throes of the old political system but do we have a viable alternative to take over?

On the other side of the tired old left versus right spectrum of political framing, we have some of the same culture war things happening to the Liberals and New Democrats as the same-old, same-old practice of conventional politics. This too is causing thoughtful people begin to leave the parties or at least go dormant and they don't show up to participate anymore.  The "culture war" on the left comes from the Democratic Renewal Project as it pursues a political co-operation approach they claim to be "strategic." It is a scheme designed to not run NDP or Liberal candidates against each other in close constituencies.  It is intended to eliminate vote splitting on the left and potentially electing someone other than a PC or WAP, who will split the right-wing vote next time.

This is an interesting idea if merely acquiring political power it your dominant purpose.  It has the effect of reducing choice for citizens, adding to cynicism that politics is in reality all about parties and politicians and not the needs of the people.  The DRP is an interesting exercise in conflict resolution and leadership negotiation because it comes from individual party members not the traditional party leadership or executive groups. 

The NDP leader Brian Mason rejecting the idea out-of-hand and Liberal Leader David Swann being cold to tepid about the idea.  The Liberals recently passed a vaguely worded resolution at their AGM around to pursue some idea of working with other progressives to try and change government in Alberta.

All this shows the uncertain and unusual state of political flux these days in the province.  Couple that with the on-going economic uncertainty as Albertans come to realize that yesterday's Alberta is gone and the new Alberta is still embryonic and emerging.  We are not our of the recession woods yet but we have spent billions of borrowed dollars to tide us over the storm, leaving an unfair debt burden to future generations.

With climate change being the elephant in the room, Albertans know the future will not be all that friendly to our current energy dependent economic activities.  We are realistic about the oil sands as a blessing and a burden as Albertans try to develop them responsibly and sustainably with the intent of using the wealth they generate to convert from a hydrocarbon economy to a more creative human and social capital economy.

There is a yearning and longing by Albertans for change - not just different politicians sitting in the Legislature with the same tired thinking and tedious gamesmanship.  Albertans sense we need substantial and transformative change that is authentic and capable of thinking differently about long-term integrated inclusive governing.  All we are being offered these days is conflicting personalities with minor variations of obsolete political themes that will ensure that Alberta will continue to squander it promise and potential. 

The PCs are the party of the status quo, believing that once energy, agriculture and forest commodity prices return all will be well and they will be assured of continuing as the natural governing party of the province.  The WAP is even scary than the status quo PCs because they are regressive in just about everything they believe in and in what they want to do to Alberta and Albertans.  They mostly denying that the world has changed and believe if we merely returned to the 1950s value sets all will be well again.  That reliance on the "Father Knows Best" attitude along with a social conservative faith-based fundamentalism and a contention that government just gets in the way is the other "viable" alternative we are being offered at the ballot box next time. 

The Liberals and NDP are all too familiar and therefore get branded as conventional and inconsequential.  As a result they get written off as incapable of transformative thinking and action and unskilled at governing.  They are seen as appropriate as opposition but they are not a government in waiting, individually or collectively.

So what is going to happen politically in the next Alberta as a consequence of the next election?  I am seeing positive signs that citizens are catching on to the dire consequences if they stay out of participating in the political culture of the province.  Early signs come from the slow but steady work being done by the budding Alberta Party as it gets organized to participate as a post-conventional alternative and reaches out to listen to Albertans in the Big Listen small groups. 

I also see a resurgence of people stepping up as candidates for school boards and municipal elections coming this October.  Many of these candidates are very young and  novices when it comes to the conventional game of politics.  But that is not a barrier to success because they are plugged into social networks and are campaigning online and making connections and that is a new formula for electoral success.  Don Iveson, a young progressive candidate for city council, came out of nowhere in Edmonton in the last election. He soundly defeated a strong right-wing incumbent using face-to-face meetings, issue focused conversations and social media muscle blending the election techniques of the tried and true along with the new media connectivity.  He came in third in popular vote as a brand new face and is a political force to be reckoned with. 

I recently did a campaign school workshop for the Alberta School Boards Association for about 40 aspiring school board candidates from all over the province. They were all progressives in mindset, influentials in their communities and eager and realistic about what they were getting into.  That was reassuring and reinforces my belief that real political change is about to happen and a different group of Albertans are seeing the need and will take the lead for this real change.  They are not interested in just replacing one set of conventional politicians with another set who are merely different faces but have the same out-moded attitudes about politics, governing and pursuing the potential to transform the province.

I think Alberta is already into early stages of transformative change but it has not yet taken off.  I see some serious turmoil bubbling just below the serene surface of the people in this province.  The current and possible alternate government and business conservatives collude in their own best interests of sustaining power and exploiting short term economic gain. 

We have lost confidence that the so-called Alberta Advantage was ever for the ordinary Albertan.  The rising tide in Alberta's boom in the past years did raise all boats, only the yachts.  We are not realizing the wealth from our non-renewable resources as the PCs and the WAP pander to the energy giants with subsidies and royalty give-aways as we close schools and lay off teachers.  We see our environment neglected by corporations and our government being complacent and compliant in the decline through poor regulation and lax enforcement.

Some telling results of our recent research at Cambridge Strategies Inc. is what causes me to say we are at the trial head of a Renaissance, a Reformation, a Re-enlightenment and a Revolution in Alberta and it is and will all happen at once and in the next few years.  When nearly 90% of Albertans say the oil sands are important to our prosperity and companies operating in the oil sands should be held liable for damages caused by their operations and 85% say those companies should be solely responsible for reclamation.  We also know that there is not enough being done by our conventional politicians to deal with these issues. 

Sooner than later corporations will come to realize their social license to operate comes from the governed - not the government.  They will soon realize that expensive PR and advertising is no substitute for real performance in meeting environment and social obligations to Albertans which is required of them under lease and tenure agreements.  While jobs are important we know there is no loyalty to local people by head offices when push comes to shove.  We saw the intimidation power of these masters of the universe head offices energy types when they exercised some muscle on dependent communities when they did not like the new and absolutely reasonable recent increase in royalty rates.  BTW, my sources tell me that our government has retreated so far from the reasonable royalty rate they passed that now we get less revenue from royalties than we did before the review.  How sad is that!

Albertans have high expectations but not much is happening to satisfy those expectations.  In fact there is less and less honesty, openness, transparency and accountability from government all the time to the point that Albertans are now very unimpressed with their politicians.  Our recent research shows that 56% do not believe the Alberta-based Members of Parliament are satisfactorily representing Alberta's best interests in Ottawa and only 15% of Albertans believe our MPs are doing enough to protect Alberta's energy resources.  The Stelmach government is no better off in the eyes of Albertan's.  When asked if they were very satisfied with the Stelmach government only 12% Agreed or Completely Agreed while 46% Disagreed or Completely Disagreed.

Finally, in our research we asked "Who do you trust the most to responsibly manage Alberta's growth?"  The results are astounding.  Brian Mason  (NDP Party) 4%, David Swann (Liberal Party) 9%, Danielle Smith (Wildrose Alliance Party) 19% EdStelmach (PC Party) 23% NONE OF THE ABOVE 45%. That is a formula for revolution and revolt in the making. 

Albertans are waking up and returning to activitist and engaged citizenship - and it is about time!  While we are becoming mad as hell and not going to take it any more I doubt we will ever go so far as in the scene from the 1976 movie Network.  That said, it is eerie how relevant this mad as hell sentiment is to Alberta these days.