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Monday, November 15, 2010

The Alberta Party is on the Move and Making Waves.

I had a great time at the Alberta Party Policy Convention last Saturday.  Could not stay for Sunday but I watched a lot of the events online through the Alberta Party website.  I have been to a lot of these events over the years and this one felt comfortable in its format but more engaging in the content and context.  This is because of the new party feel and the mix of people in the room.  I was mostly struck by the much lower than usual age of the crowd.  It is encouraging.

The authentic openness to discuss ideas and the respectful request for explanation and information at the discussion tables was refreshing.  It is not unique to any one political to be respectful as Albertans sit down to explore ideas about the direction of the province.  What the Alberta Party has as a blessing and a burden is they are starting a policy process from scratch.  Well not exactly from scratch because they were trying to respect the inputs they received from the 100 individual Big Listen meetings held all over the province and not be prescriptive.  They still had to respect the meaningful inputs from those who showed up at the Policy Convention to add, amend or reject the initial proposals.  I think they found the balance and I look forward to seeing the final  policy results.

There was an vibrant energy in the room that Dave King reflected on as reminiscent of the times he spent travelling all over Alberta with former Premier Peter Lougheed when the re-emerging PC Party caught the temper of the times and imagination of the citizenry.  Dave should know how all that happened and how it felt because he was Lougheed's EA.  He was an elected PC candidate at 25 years old and went into the Lougheed Cabinet.

I got involved with the Alberta PC Party after the 1971 election while I was in Law School and was captured by the sense of something new, exciting and significant was happening to design the next Alberta back then too.  It was about a new narrative for Alberta then, and it is about another new narrative foe Alberta now.

There was a similar sense of something significant happening around the Alberta Party on Saturday in Red Deer.  There were people there who believe in the province and who are personally committed to its future.  That is not unique amongst political partisans.  What is different about Alberta Party members is the level of  dissatisfaction with the current public policy trajectory and the hard shift to the right they see in the political culture of the province.  For the first time many are seeing a glimmer of hope and an emerging  reason to believe that progressive political change may be possible for Alberta.  The best evidence of this was the number of people who attended the Alberta Policy Policy Conference initially as observers but who bought memberships that weekend as a result of what they heard, saw and got to say.

The fact that one could fully participate in the formal policy discussion of a political party without being a member is unique in itself.  Opening up public policy and political conversations at party event with ordinary citizens attending as citizens and not requiring them to take out party membership is a unique enhancement of democracy that was shown by the Alberta Party.  Live streaming the policy process on the Internet so anyone could watch and even participate with comments and Twitter feeds was another opening up of the political and policy making process.  That openness will pay dividends to the Alberta Party as being seen and accepted as a preferred agent for positive democratic change going forward to the next election.

My final observation is the potential for the Alberta Party to form government in the next election.  It is possible if not probable at this time but times are a-changin'  and quickly.  My late friend Robert Theobald observed awhile back that Alberta was getting better and better, worse and worse and faster and faster, all at the same time.  I think that was true over10 years ago when he said it and it even more accurate today going forward.

The classic conventional political presumptions of what it takes to win elections have been challenged in many of the dramatic changes seen in recent local elections all over Alberta.  Some things in Alberta's elections are getting better, others are getting worse but everything is moving faster and faster...that is for sure. There is also a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a disillusionment with the current offerings of political alternatives.  There are feeling of uncertainty in the air and a growing concern about the future of Alberta that are just below the surface but could emerge as a political game-changer at any time and on any issue.

There is a feeling that the Alberta Advantage is a worn out and forlorn governing philosophy that generated rapid economic growth but at an unacceptable environmental and social costs.  The economic benefits generated were not equitable distributed either.  All boats did not rise with the economic growth of the Alberta Advantage just the yachts. The rich got richer, the poor are still poor and the middle class is struggling just to keep up.

There is a feeling that Alberta is not living up to its potential, especially given all our blessings. There is a sense that we are not leaving a positive legacy to future generations with the social and environmental deficits we are creating along with a limited economic diversification.  The race to the bottom with an ideologically instilled tax policy that says they are only going down...always.  That means, to sustain current necessary public services we are using substituting non-renewable, one-time natural resource capital revenues instead of paying our own way now for the social, health, and education needs we have.  That is squandering the birthright of future generations because we choose to, not because it is right to do.

Today we have a new sense of a need for change.  The traditional political party alternatives are not able to capture the mood of the public and are not seen as the kind of change people want.  The other "alternative" is a hybrid of old-line narrow, market-model conservatives with a  hard line libertarian "every man for himself" social/economic philosophy. And now we have the emergence of the yet to be defined but diverse, young and democratically interesting Alberta Party as a new kid on the block.

It took Peter Lougheed two elections to come to office and change Alberta into a modern province.  He had the sense of change in the province working for him.  He had youth and energy working for him too as a contract to the stodgy, tired and tepid Social Credit incumbents.  What he did not have was the Internet and Social Media as a way to reach, engage and energize citizens directly as a supplement to the tried and true election campaign activities.  Will all of this new media and traditional campaigning converge and be sufficient to capture the public imagination through the launch a new party and be dramatic and trusted enough to garner a new mandate?

I think the real Alberta battle isn't a battle between various political parties.  It is all about changing the Alberta narrative.  We need to move beyond the Klein era of the Alberta Advantage that was about being the best IN the world as defined by the lowest taxes and royalties to attract investment along with lax environmental enforcement and a push to privatize the public interest.  We need to reject ideologically driven by top down, command and control governance models that is at the root of the political culture war between the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance

We need to move the narrative now to the Alberta Aspiration of being the best FOR the world. We can do the by using our enormous natural resources and develop responsible prosperity with environmental stewardship.  We can become a leader around inclusive, caring and compassionate social policy with evidence based decision making.  We need leadership that is pioneering for these times, not caught in a political marketing mindset that seeks to perfect yesterday or, worse yet, drag us back to the 1950s ways of thinking.

Is the Alberta Party up for that? Time will tell!