Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Alberta Politicians Feeling the Pressure

The recent resignation of Premier Ed Stelmach as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and reports of the pending resignation of David Swann as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party simply underscore the volatility and unrest in Alberta.  Go to any of the public meetings being held on certain Bills on land and property rights issues happening over Alberta and see the anger.

I am saddened by both resignations and the internal/external political circumstances surrounding them.  I have great respect for the integrity of Ed Stelmach and David Swann as people.  I bought an Alberta Liberal  Party membership card to support David Swann's bid for leadership.  I have been in touch with David Swann on many occasions in the last 2 years and my respect and admiration for him has only grown.

I supported Dave Hancock in the 2006 PC leadership race. The evening the first vote ballots were about to be announced in Calgary Dave Hancock and I both joined the Stelmach campaign before the first vote was even announced.  The integration of the Hancock and Stelmach campaigns for the second ballot was seamless and Dave was able to deliver most of his votes to Ed, contributing greatly to his victory.

The political and communications skills of these gentlemen have been questioned, internally and externally,  Their resignations are a direct consequence of that questioning. There is no questioning of their character or their commitment to servant-leadership.  The circumstances of there resignations are also, in part, a result of the organizational and communications skills of Danielle Smith.  She has provided an alternative to those partisans who want to shift Alberta to more market based solutions for public policy and who see government as a problem not a solution to the challenges we face in Alberta.  None of these gentlemen have captured the imagination of the public to provide a moderate progressive alternative.  That is partially why the Alberta Party is seen suddenly seen as an alternative worth watching.

These leadership resignations are merely a function of the political realities settling in.  Albertans are not happy enough with any of the political options they are currently offered. I have known this since last May from research we have done.  Albertans are displeased with all the leadership alternatives conventional political parties have offered.  When 51% of us do not believe our government is listening to us and 51% feel we have no influence on government, that says our politicians are out of touch, not just the PCs.

When asked in the same survey "Who do you trust  the most to responsibly manage Alberta's growth" the responses were damning for all and disastrous for some.   The Stelmach PCs only had 23% support.  The Smith lead Wildrose Alliance was trusted to responsibly manage Alberta's growth by 19%.  The Alberta Liberals under David Swann garnered 9% while Brian Mason and the NDP were trust in this context by only 4% of Albertans.  The kicker that should have all conventional political parties worried is that 45% said they trusted NONE OF THE ABOVE to responsibly manage Alberta's growth.  This discontent is what will plague and frustrate the conventional political parties and their leadership candidates in particular .

What this all says to me is the democratic system is broke when 60% can't be bothered to even vote. It is in need of repair not just maintenance when 45% say they don't trust any of the party leaders in play right now.  What is behind all this is a sense of alienation of the public from politics because the political culture is more about gamesmanship than leadership.

What we have here is not just a failure to communicate.  There is lots of messaging going on.  What we have here is a failure to lead...from all political parties...and from citizens too.  We citizens have a leadership role in changing the political culture of our times too.  Most us us have abdicated that responsibility.  In the new networked world of the Internet the "strong" leader framed as the charismatic disciplinarian autocrat is out of date.  Leadership in a modern networked community based world is all about relationships and service, not personality based power and control.

The ritual sacrifice of Ed Stelmach and David Swann is a remnant of the old political culture.  While I am saddened for them personally and am energized by these resignations because they provide a chance to focus and reflect on just how broken our political system is and how deep is the democratic deficit in Alberta. They beg the question about what will we do about these problems.

If you want to explore more on the crisis of political leadership in Alberta read this blog post by my good friend Dave King.  "What does it mean "to lead?"  What is leadership." If you want to explore the implications of there high profile political resignations on the political culture of Alberta then read Dave's blog post called "The Big Shift."

Nothing is safe or sacred, even 40 years of continuous rule by one political party, once the population decides  there must be a change.  Albertans have been poised for a change since the 2004 election when the PCs ran on the promise that Ralph Klein would leave shortly afterwards.  When Klein mused about hanging on the rank and file PC membership sent him packing.  That was the early warning signs that politics as usual was not on any more in Alberta.

The events of the past week have been bubbling from all the way back to 2004.  By all accounts the next election will be a game changer.  There is a political struggle that is about to emerge in Alberta.  It is going to be about defining and delivering the new narrative for the next Alberta.  That is the subject of an other blog or blogs. Albertans are waking up to the possibility that this sense of change could go really badly or quite magnificently....and the choice is all of ours - not just for some small group of nameless people who pull or aspire to pull the levers of power these days.