Friday, November 12, 2010

Alberta Party Policy Conference - I Smell Democracy in the Air

Tomorrow will see the first Policy Convention of the revitalized Alberta Party.  This is the next step of many stage that is the evolution of the Alberta Party as it fosters a civilized political revolution in our province.

The political culture in Alberta is changing faster and more profoundly than most casual observers realize.   Gerard MacLellan was at Reboot 3 last weekend and that reminded me about a blog post he did last August really captures the essence of the shifting ground in Alberta politics. He give 10 reasons why the Alberta Party will grow and make Alberta more democratic.

The recent opinion poll commissioned by the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta provides more evidence of a shift in the political culture of the province.  There are 76% of Albertans who believe we have a "pressing social deficit" that includes homelessness, wait times for health care and post-secondary education access.  We are confused when it comes to trading off jobs for protecting the environment as 48% believe environment comes first, 40% say the opposite and 9% can't make up their minds.

When it comes to moral issues the religious fundamentalist and social conservatives who want government to meddle in private moral issues are in the minority.  There are 75% of us who say people must make up their own minds on moral issues like same sex marriage and abortion.  We found in our Reboot Alberta values survey that using religion as a basis for making public policy decisions was the lowest ranking criteria.  We see lots of  political pressure coming from the social conservatives in the WAP and the PC Party that needs to be resisted and rebutted by mainstream Albertans.

The PC Party poll shows that there is a political shift in the works when Albertans were asked about leadership, competence and responsibility.  The PC take solace in the fact they are still the highest rated political alternative but the levels of support are not what they are used to and the indifferent-undecided responses are surprisingly high for a "one-party state."  For example 37% see the PC as best prepared to run government but after 40 years of doing it, why wouldn't they be. None of the Above or Undecided are the same or larger than the Liberals or Wildrose on this issue.  As for competence the PCs are only are 33% support after 40 years and 35% question the competence of all the parties.

I found an interesting political framing question in the PC poll when they asked which party would would describe as "extreme." The Wildrose is seen as extreme by 21% of Albertans and the NDP by 22%.  The PCs were perceived a extreme by 9% and 27% said no party was extreme or they were undecided.

On the other end of experienced competent leadership the Stelmach PCs get 28% support and after 40 years of governing Alberta, that is hardly a ringing endorsement.  All the other political party leaders only get 7-6% support for their record. The moving ground comes into play when 21% say none of the current leaders are given credit for a proven record of accomplishment. The measure of strong leadership and competence shows  a race between Stelmach and Smith each in the 20% range on both counts but Mason and Swann are both inconsequential.

The various leaders caring and compassion measures again shows a PC preference 20-23% but not a ringing endorsement as 16-17% say none on the above, the second highest number in each case.  Even as 30% of Albertans see Stelmach as a "regular person" over 15% for Smith, 12% for Mason and 8% for Swann. With 4 years of "Steady Eddy" leadership, only 25% see him as "reliable" and #2 is at 15% - None of the Above...more evidence of shifting political culture.

There are more interesting insights from this poll but that will be for another post in the future.  The reality is the PCs are no longer in free fall and the Wildrose has peaked.  The Liberals and NDP are inconsequential and not gaining from the fear of the ultra-right Wildrose and the tired and terrified PCs.  The political discontent is growing in the heads and hearts of Albertans as 45% of us do not trust any of the existing players to responsibly manage the future of the province.

What is emerging is a time for change but to what?  There is not a popular enough alternative and the status quo is unacceptable.  In that dynamic something reasonable, different and fresh like the Alberta Party may be seen as a place to park a vote, place a vote and send a message.  That is not as par fetched as the conventional wisdom of the main steam media and usual talking pundit heads would typically dismiss.  The local elections all over the province showed the yearning for change incumbents as well and presumptive alternatives getting  dumped or beaten by reasonable, intelligent and progressive alternatives.

What is certain is change and if the existing parties do not adapt quickly enough or completely enough, I would not be surprised by a minority government with an Alberta Party balance of power.  The Alberta Party was not included in the PC Party poll so we just don't know what impact they are having right now and they have a lot of work to do. Interest in them is coming from many surprising sources and they are about to launch into a leadership campaign which will raise interest and profile.  I am not making a prediction or engaged in wishful thinking, merely proposing a plausible possibility that this could happen by election time in March 2012 if the trends continue as they have in the past year or so.