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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alberta Gets to Vote on Monday - Will Progressives Show Up?

There are elections for municipal politicians and school board trustees all over Alberta on October 18.  These elected officials are the closest to the community but ironically result in the lowest voter turnout.

There are some indications that this is changing in Calgary and Edmonton at least.  I have not had the time to review other places to get a sense of voter turnout intentions.  I can only hope the sense of the import of the opportunity to participate in our democracy is hitting home with Albertans.

One of my passions is citizenship and citizen engagement.  This blog is often focused on those concerns.  I hope for more than citizens turning up to vote but actually knowing what the want from government and making an effort to see which of the candidates comes closest to their values and concerns.  That takes a bit of time but with the Internet this research is very easy to do.

I am not going to tell you how to vote but I do want to encourage you to vote.  I especially want to encourage the progressive thinking Albertans to vote.  The people with this value set have become very disillusioned with politics and have withdrawn from democracy as a result.  That is no way to change the system.

Elections are about choices, change and charting courses. So let me make some observations about the Mayoralty races in Edmonton and Calgary in that context.

EDMONTON:
Edmonton is a two-horse race between Mandel and Dorward.  Both fine candidates but with very different world and local views about issues and the direction for the city.

There is an undercurrent of this contest being a proxy race for the next provincial election in Edmonton.  I think there is some truth to that.  Dorward is an unsuccessful PC candidate from the last political election but is now the favourite of the Wildrose faction in the culture war in right wing politics in Alberta.  Mandel is less defined as a partisan politician but he is being framed as the PC Party choice.  I actually think he is better understood and the anybody but WAP choice.

How this will undercurrent of provincial party influence plays out on the choice for Mayor of Edmonton will send a message about the potential strength of the WAP in Edmonton.  Right now the WAP is very weak in Edmonton but a win or even a strong showing by Dorward will be seen as a serious shift in momentum for the Wildrose in Edmonton.

It is entirely possible for Mr. Dorward to win this election for Mayor on Monday but only if progressive voters continue to stay home on election day.  If progressive stay indifferent to consequences of elections or presume a Mandel victory so they don't need to bother - don't be surprised by a Droward win.

CALGARY:
This is an even more interesting race for Mayor.  There is the same provincial implications undercurrents.  McIver the early leader is the Wildrose choice.  Then we have Barb Higgins, the recently retired TV news anchor cum candidate who thinks she is the right person to run a multi-billion dollar civic budget.  She is the PC darling with the backing of the Dinning PC leadership brain trust.

Then we have Naheed Nenshi, the upstart outsider progressive candidate with a more modern and motivated campaign approach based on issues and policy. Nenshi was at first a group of third tier progressive candidates including Wayne Stewart and Bob Hawkesworth but he broke from that pack.  Nenshi is now tied with the original front runners all around 30% support according to a very recent Leger poll.  Hawkesworth has withdrawn and is supporting Higgins.  Stewart has also withdrawn and is supporting Nenshi. Just to make it more interesting.

Here is a chance for progressive voters in Calgary to vote for a young, intelligent, articulate and capable political alternative.  They can show up and support the momentum of Nenshi and send a message to the establishment that runs Calgary that their presumption of the perpetual traditional right-wing conservative political culture is not a given in the future of that great city.

Full disclosure - I know Nenshi the best of all the candidates.  He is involved in Reboot Alberta too and was one of the people who helped merge the Renew Alberta group with the Alberta Party as a progressive centrists political alternative for our province.  I worked with Ric McIvor a few year ago on men's issues in bullying and domestic violence and his knowledge and understanding of the complexity of the issues impressed me.  I have never met Barb Higgins but know a lot of the people running her campaign.

CONCLUSION:
There is a very important subtext to the Mayoralty races in Edmonton and Calgary with potential implications for the future of provincial politics in Alberta.  If McIvor and Dorward win the Wildrose will become even wilder and emboldened.  If Higgins wins the Calgary establishment will rise up and once again want the run the province from behind closed doors like they did when Ralph Klein was Premier.  If Mandel and Nenshi win we can see signs of a shifting in the political culture in the province and the old one-party system is an artifact of the past.  It will show that there is a yearnings for a more progressive, inclusive, accountable government that is open, based on integrity and stewardship - not just getting and keeping personal political power

The choices made by Edmonton and Calgary represent two-thirds of the Alberta population.  That alone has serious implications for politics in the rest of the province.  None of my readers  will be surprised by my choices.  I am voting for Mandel and would vote for Nenshi - if I lived in Calgary.

If you want a progressive political culture in the Next Alberta register now for RebootAlberta 3.0 at www.rebootalberta.org