Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is Alberta Ready to Change its Political Culture?

We are into a very fecund time politically in Alberta.  We have just finished province wide municipal elections. The results were surprising to many.  The most dramatic change was the come from nowhere (never mind being) Nenshi win of the Mayor's chair in Calgary.  This was a sea change election in Calgary where 53% of the population found a reason to believe in local democracy again and they showed up to vote.  That was a 20 point bump from last election.

In an informed and extensive Feature Article "A Wave of Change" in the just released April edition of AlbertaViews magazine Larry Johnsrude tracks and chronicles the facts and possible provincial political implications of the municipal elections.  He notes the comments and calculations made by Alberta Party leadership candidate Glenn Taylor at Reboot Alberta 3.0 on changes in municipal election in Alberta.  

Glenn was Vice President Towns at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.  He has taken a leave of absence from that position to run for the leadership of the Alberta Party.  Serving through the AUMA gave Glenn some insight into what happened in the last local elections.  In a political game where incumbents have a distinct advantage, Glenn noted 47% of Alberta's Town Council had new people elected.  It happens 52% of the time ion villages and 41% in municipal districts.  

No incumbent was "safe." Even some of the tried and true incumbent municipal mayors won in squeaker campaigns. Grande Prairie elected Bill Givens, an Alberta Party and Reboot Alberta guy, instead of the incumbent mayor.  In Rimbey and Crossfield and other towns citizens threw out the entire council and mayor.  Ouch!  

What does this mean for provincial politics? It is not a rhetorical question after 40 years of PC rule. We have three political parties holding leadership campaigns. I, with many others, intend to buy memberships in the Alberta Party, the Alberta Liberal Party and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.  I will do this so I can vote for the most progressive candidate I can find in each contest. 

No one candidate for any provincial party leadership is safe and no foregone conclusions can be drawn about the prospects of any candidate in any party at the time of writing.  We add to the confusion a pending provincial election likely in Spring of 2012 but perhaps sooner or arguably, later.  That result also seems to be open for a sea change as citizens of Alberta find a reason to believe in democracy again.  I'm sensing a minority provincial government with a progressive group having the balance of power in the next Alberta legislature.

We seem destined to have a federal election this May too.  Will we see dramatic changes there?  The death of democracy in Alberta is at its worst federally.  Maybe we are ready to send a message to the Harper government that they can't presume a wave, never mid a sweep of Alberta seats.  We Albertans sure do get taken for granted by the Conservative Party of Canada.  

With Jim Prentice abruptly quitting the Harper Government (as he likes call it!), Albertans may be wondering if Harper is in any way authentically aligned with Albertan values.  The contempt his government has shown for Canada and the presumptive arrogance that he assumes he can ignore Alberta because we have no alternative might not result in the low election turnout he is counting on.  

The progressives in this province are the majority...63% according to our Reboot Alberta survey. If we show up and vote Liberal, NDP or Green we will split the vote and return Harper - perhaps to a majority.  Progressives are going to have to find the best candidate in a riding and vote for him or her regardless of party affiliation to beat Harper.  Dr. Phil Elder of the Democratic Reform Project makes some interesting observations along those lines.

Will it happen?  Linda Duncan won that way for the NDP last election!  Will there be others this time?  Perhaps, but only if we progressive show up and take back control of our democracy in Alberta.  Apathy is not an option for progressive Albertans.  Real change is possible.  The stars are lining up.  We just have to smarten up and show up.