Sunday, January 09, 2011

What Raj Sherman Should Do - and WHY!

I did a blog poll on this question of Raj Sherman's future in politics last week.  This is a non-scientific sampling of 174 self-selecting anonymous people.  The results are merely anecdotal, so look at the results lightly and in that light.  However the outcomes of this polling there is a clear indication of gratuitous advice to Raj Sherman, the ousted PC caucus member.  The results are interesting.

Full disclosure, I am a member of the Alberta Party, the Edmonton Glenora constituency President but I in no way speak for the Alberta Party.  This blog, as always, is just my personal perspective.  For the record, I have had a number of email exchanges, phone chats and face-to-face meetings with Raj since he was ejected from the PC Caucus. I expect we will stay in touch. I want him to join forces with the Alberta Party and will give some reasons for this later in this post.  Not a big surprise to anyone I expect.

Here is the non-scientific but still intriguing blog poll outcome.  Raj should join the Alberta Party according to 45%, or join the Liberal Party according to 14%.   The other options all cluster between 6%-9% so they are not really significant.  Raj has already rejected the idea of quitting politics. That option only had 7% support anyway.  That is the same number who thought he should go back to the PCs.  There were 6% who felt he should join the NDP and 8% preferred that he sit with the Wildrose Alliance Party.

In this post I am going focus mostly on reasons  to join or not to join the Alberta Party and the same for the Liberal Party.  I cautiously discount the other alternatives.  The Wildrose is a political force with a core of supporters.  My sense is their protest support is as deep as a dime and there is a lingering mistrust that pervades them.  They have a history and we are not sure what  they really stand for anymore.  We are cautious about what the strong social conservative element might do to Alberta, once in power.  Look at Bill 44 that targeted homosexuals and teachers as an example of social conservative influence on politics and policy.  Google Bill 44 in Alberta if you are unfamiliar with this draconian piece of legislation.

In my communications with Raj, he was looking at all options but I can't see him aligning with the Wildrose, on principle.  He says he believes the PCs have a surreptitious plan to privatize health care after the next election.  Despite protest to the contrary, no thoughtful observer of the Wildrose Alliance Party could conclude that they would not also privatize health care...once in power.  They are not stupid.  They will campaign on a middle of the road policy platform but their behind-the-scenes brain trust is pure Stephen Harper.  Will they have any moral or ethical problem reversing campaign promises on matters like health care one they form government?  Harper has had no pangs of consciousness in doing just that from Income Trusts to Afghanistan.

Raj has already said he will run again so going back to medicine is a non-starter, at least in the short term.  As for the NDP, you can't fix health care with influence alone, you need power.  Sherman had preferred, front row insider influence in the PC party.  It did little to change things, except his own political fortunes. To consider rejoining the PCs Raj would have to apologize to Minister Liepert. I think that is too bitter a pill for Raj to swallow.

As for staying Independent Raj is quoted as saying "ideally, you need to align yourself with somebody.  The challenge is I'm quite non-partisan."  He is in contact with all the opposition parties in and outside the Legislature. It is pretty difficult, but not impossible, to get elected as an Independent but it is tough to have any impact to change government policy as a lone non-partisan voice in our governance system.  My sense is Raj will join a party, the question is which one, when and why?

The Liberal Party is a definite option for Raj to consider.  However, they have problems getting attention and traction in the political mind space of Albertans.  This should be the best of times for Liberals to be rising in popularity but it isn't happening. David Swann just dismissed his second communications director since he became leader and there is angst in the caucus and in the party itself. Who knows for sure what voters will do to the Liberals, or any of the current and conventional political parties for that matter.  But a one keen and seasoned observer of politics in Alberta said to the effect the Liberals have not captured the imagination of Albertans in almost 100 years and if they can't do it now, they are not a serious alternative political force going forward.  That is not a conclusion but a concern for and about the Liberals.

As stated earlier, my bias is for Raj to take a chance on the emerging Alberta Party because, while it is not non-partisan, it is not a single-minded top down left versus right ideological driven hierarchy driven political machine.  Nor is it a centrally controlled monolith with all the power in the hands of an entrenched leader who is mostly influenced and his or her unelected advisors and undisclosed fund raisers.  The Alberta Party is new.  In fact it is so new that it is just now forming constituency organizations all over the province, and is just starting its leadership process. Raj, in the Alberta Party, can have more influence on the leadership outcome and the election policy platform than he can in any of the other alternatives.  By joining the Alberta Party he can shift public attention, trigger some imagination and bring a new meaning to political participation in our province.

Is the Alberta Party a real force? I say yes it is and while it is very young it is not naive about the challenges ahead for itself as a party, the province and the people of Alberta.  There are outstanding questions of who will lead the Alberta Party. Can they raise enough money to be competitive in an election campaign?  Will they attract enough quality candidates to be taken seriously and gain the confidence of Albertans?  All legitimate issues but as an Alberta Party member, I know the progress on all those organizational fronts is moving along at an amazing pace - and the reception from Albertans is positive, energizing and exciting.

To me the revival of the Alberta Party feels very much like the late 60s.  That was when Peter Lougheed captured the imagination of forward thinking Albertans of those days with his revival of the Progressive Conservative Party.  That was when I got involved in provincial politics, moving beyond student politics at the University of Alberta.  In the late 60's Peter Lougheed was travelling all over the province along with his sidekick (a.k.a. Executive Assistant) Dave King (who is now working hard on the Provincial Board of the Alberta Party). Lougheed was gathering citizen's interest all over the province in the emerging Progressive Conservative Party, one community meeting, one coffee party and one Chamber of Commerce speech, at a time.

Back in the day, the Lougheed PCs came to be seen as the viable option to replace the tired, tedious and too-long-in-the-tooth Social Credit party.  The tipping point came in the 1971 election with the slogan "NOW." Now it is the time for the Alberta Party.  It is now being seen as the progressive viable alternative political voice for moderate progressive Albertans.  What I am grappling with is what will it take to get moderate progressive Albertans to reaffirm their responsibilities and roles as citizens in our democracy.  What is the tipping point to get them to re-engage in changing the political culture and the direction of this province?

Most Albertans are feeling a little uncertain and doubtful about the future.  There is a lingering angst over what the future holds for each of us given all the economic, ecological and social volatility in the world.  We are yearning for a political alternative that is not an extreme.  We are not a province of social conservatives or authoritarian Tea-Party-in-training types we see rising in power in the States.  The Ayn Rand inspired, Libertarian influenced Wildrose Alliance Party conjures some serious suspicions about their real political intentions and where they would take us if they had power. We also know we want to move beyond the rudderless and feckless PCs, who are akin to the old Social Credit party incarnate and failing to adapt to the changing times.

Raj is clear on one thing.  He wants Albertans to understand and engage in facing the challenges necessary to fix health care in Alberta.  He has recently told reporters and others he is staying in politics and will spend some time touring the province to "...engage people in an honest conversation, a non-partisan see how many Albertans care about health care."  Raj can do that very effectively as an independent MLA, in the short term.  He has to be careful he does not become a one-trick pony and morph into just another publicity seeking political protester like Greenpeace has done with the oil sands.

So to help him out with his road show here is some intelligence for him to use in his caravan around Alberta.  This survey data gives a sense of what Albertans are feeling about our health care system.  This data comes from a survey we did of over 1000 Albertans in a random sample in March 2010, just after Raj and Minister Zwozdesky were appointed to the Health Ministry in January 2010.  This data timing reflects more on Minister Liepert's Reign of Error than on Raj's or Gene Zwozdesky's efforts at health care reform.

When Albertans were asked how confident they were in their government effectively managing the health care system only 14% agreed or strongly agreed they had confidence.  Only 21% of us were satisfied with the state of health care in Alberta and just 42% believed we have a world class health care system.  When asked if we had concerns as to whether the public health system in Alberta was sustainable 55% were felt it was not sustainable.  The long term view is even more alarming.  There were 70% of those surveyed who said we need to make changes to our health care system if it will be there for our children.  What kind of changes need to be made is the political and policy challenge.

So there is lots of concern amongst Albertans about a wide range of health care issues.  The Stelmach response last year was a quick and controlled public consultation over the summer and a report that lead to new health care legislation passed last fall.  Has any of that changed the level of public concern or increased confidence in the Stelmach government's handling of health care?  Given the outpouring of public support for Raj Sherman's  recent public advocating for the Emergency Docs cry of a crisis and government mismanagement, I would presume that Albertan are not assured nor appeased by the Stelmach government attempts at policy change.

So what is Raj Sherman going to do? My advice is stay independent for a bit and go out and talk to Albertans as a non-partisan.  The Alberta Party knows from The Big Listen that people are eager to share their stories, their ideas and express their frustration to anyone in government who will listen and respect their opinions.  Something that 51% of Albertans think is not happening now.

The leadership campaign of the Alberta Party will get going soon.  Progressive minded Albertans will be more aware, engaged and attentive to what is happening with this new progressive political citizen's movement we call the Alberta Party. While Raj is on the road I hope he encourages Albertans to pay attention, buy a membership and use the Alberta Party leadership campaign as a referendum to send a message.  That message is that progressive Albertans are re-engaging in the politics of our time and we want real options and real change and we will reject Libertarian politics or hardcore socially conservative dogma.

As for Raj joining the Alberta Party here is a bottom line as I see it. My sense is Raj Sherman does not need the Alberta Party, nor does the Alberta Party need Raj Sherman,, at least not right now.  However Alberta and Albertans need both of us, sooner than later too.  The synergies of an independent thinking Raj Sherman in a fresh new progressive political movement, like the Alberta Party, would be a positive force to better serve the greater good.  It is the best option for everyone.  Time will tell if that happens.  No predictions, but I have been around politics long enough to know anything can happen, and nothing should surprise us...hope springs eternal.

One thing is certain.  For the first time in 40 years we now have a sense that real political change is coming to Alberta.  What the change will bring, no one knows yet, but Alberta will soon be changed, perhaps in the next election.  Will it be transformed into a model of a 21st century pluralist society with a new prosperity of a  diverse creative economy that is respectful of ecological realities.  Or will the counterclockwise forces of the far right dominate and take Alberta back into a rigid authoritarian dog-eat-dog world where an unfettered marketplace model drives all the social, environmental and economic policy decisions?

To be continued......