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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Laurie Blakeman & Her Post-Conventional Party Politics

The past is littered with examples inability for Alberta's progressive political parties to individually mount an effective alternative to the ruling Conservative dynasty.

Laurie Blakeman, as Alberta's longest serving MLA, has seen a lot of changes.  She recognizes the political status quo for progressives will only preserve the power-based status quo for Conservatives. She is now walking her talk about changing the attitudes of establishment progressive partisans.

The October 2014 by-elections were very telling.  By-elections are usually opportunities to send the sitting government a message of discontent. There was plenty of discontent with the Conservatives.  Prentice still won all four seats, three in Calgary and one in Edmonton.

While Prentice won his own seat handily there were some interesting but still unsuccessful challengers in other ridings.  That said, there are no silver medals in politics.

The Wildrose did very poorly given the funds it spent, its strong Calgary presence and a star candidate. The Wildrose leader and most others crossed the floor o the Prentice Conservatives in a surprising and conniving move.

The NDP had its leadership contest during the by-elections thanks to Prentice high-handed political approaches.  They had no traction in Calgary but had a good second place showing in Edmonton Whitemud.

The Liberals did poorly all over coming in 4th and splitting the vote in Calgary Elbow. That Liberal vote split arguably elected a religious SoCon Conservative candidate over the strong second place showing of the Alberta Party leader.

The Liberal Party leader resigned shortly after the by-elections.  Blakeman offered to be an interim leader on conditions that she be authorized to engage in talks with the Alberta Party around cooperation and possible merger.

She failed to convince her Liberal Party Board to go that route. The Liberals selected David Swann as interim leaders.  He is a well regarded former leader who resigned upon realizing that he could not move Alberta Liberals forward.

Conversations between Blakeman and the Alberta Party continued with the Greens added. What emerged was that Blakeman's candidacy in Edmonton Centre would not be contested by the Alberta Party or the Greens.

They would do more than endorse her.  The Greens and Alberta Party actually nominated her as their own candidate in the same constituency. While she is officially a Liberal on the ballot, all her campaign materials will carry the logos and messages of all three cooperating progressive parties.

The NDP will have nothing to do with this approach.  They believe that they are the true progressive alternative for Albertans and in 2015 their time has come.  With their new leader they promise to run a full slate of 87 candidates.  That will be true I expect, even if many are parachuted in and merely filed as "paper candidates" with no hope of winning nor with any real connection to local constituencies.

So what does this innovative Blakeman three-way candidacy mean?  Ideally it's the triumph of a commitment to shared progressive values over individual partisan brand loyalty.  Perhaps it demonstrates that progressive Albertans can co-create a new political space.  That they can move towards becoming a viable alternative citizen-based political movement aspiring beyond Official Opposition status.

Progressives gathered together before when they realized the threat of the Wildrose in the last Alberta election.  They showed up strategically on election day rallying behind Premier Redford, whom they mistakenly believed to be an authentic progressive.

Progressives will show up to oppose a common enemy.  Perhaps we have a new common enemy in the Prentice Conservatives.  The success of the citizens-based political movement over allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools is a case in point.  This initiative was started and sustained by Liberals Kent Hehr and Laurie Blakeman through Private Members Bills. It received emboldened support from all progressive parties and many community groups.

There was a  public outcry over the Prentice Conservatives bullying procedural tactics used to kill the Blakeman GSA Bill 202.  The back-of-the-napkin ineffectual and offensive replacement government Bill 10 was soon "paused" for more public "consultation." The sustained opposition kept the issue alive over the Christmas break.

Prentice, as his first action when the Legislature resumed,, was to present and pass a new more acceptable Bill 10, very akin to the original Blakeman Bill 202.   A clear progressive citizen-based political victory.

Redford was run out of office by the Conservative Caucus.  Prentice was elected as the "new management" leader under a cloud of a suspicion over electronic voting and other irregularities.

Prentice is proving to be a Harper-like politician with a Klein inspired short-sighted economic agenda of brutal cuts to public spending.  Is it possible that a combination Harper/Klein Conservative government philosophy that only wants to cut government spending not increase revenues will reawaken passive progressives?

Could the Blakeman/Alberta Party/Green creative candidacy approach be the beginning of a progressive political coalition? Could this meeting of progressive leadership minds show the way forward for a merger of the Liberals, Alberta Party and Greens? Who knows.

The well known truth is that the current approach of the traditional progressive parties is not working. If we want to change the government, we progressives will have to change ourselves first. I now see some hope of that happening.....on both counts.