Talking about Democracy

The Alberta Liberal Party has sent an open letter, inviting progressives to a meeting about cooperation.  As a member of the Board of the Alberta Party, I received a copy directly.  (A copy of the letter is available, here.)

As someone who believes in dialogue as the basis of democracy, I welcome this signal of ‘willingness to talk’ from the Alberta Liberal Party.  At the same time, the letter frames a prospective conversation that doesn’t interest me very much.  Perhaps the Liberals would be open to some reframing.

First, let me describe my personal dream for democracy in the province.  I work so that, as a community, Alberta will come much closer to realizing its potential than it has done to date, and do this in a way that makes it possible and more likely that all Albertans will be able to come closer to realizing their own personal and community potential than they have done to date.  Across the province as a whole, I want to reduce the environmental load, improve the quality of life for all our citizens, improve the prospects for justice, and create a community that is a model for the world.

The realization of this kind of dream depends upon strong strategy on a number of different fronts, only one of which is political.  I want to improve the prospect that all Albertans will be participants in democratic decision-making — where and when they want to — and that public participation and public policy will be inclusive, collegial (honest, open, and cooperative), creative and progressive, and sustainable.

1.    My political efforts are geared toward turning away from the long-standing adversarial/confrontational/exclusive culture.  I am not focused on “unseating the Conservatives”, as the ALP letter suggests should be the focus.  I am not interested in competing against the Conservatives, or combining with others in a competition against the Conservatives.  What I am interested in doing is collaborating with as many Albertans as are interested, to understand what we want for our future, and make it happen.

My idea of success is that the next election will not be characterized as a competition among parties that want the “fruits of victory”:  it will be characterized as a collaboration among Albertans who are clear about what they want and are determined to choose the servants most likely to achieve success.

2.    In moving away from the now toxic culture of adversarial politics, inclusiveness and openness are two standards we must adopt and champion.  I believe the day has past that party operatives could sit down in a room and pretend to decide the fate of the progressive movement in the province.  There are many important progressive voices that are found in, or represented by, the Alberta Liberal Party, or the New Democratic Party, or the Green Party, or the Alberta Party.  How might an open invitation include these many other vital progressive voices?

3.    I feel confident that David Swann and Tony Sansotta are acting in good faith when they sent the letter.  At the same time, the vote at the ALP Annual General Meeting (about outreach) was almost evenly split, and some very public comments were made suggesting that any outreach by the ALP would be defeatist.  If David and Tony, speaking for the ALP caucus and Board respectively, can assure me that the caucus as a whole and the Board as a whole are ready to put party interests second to public interest (yet to be determined), such assurance would be an important element of reframing their initial invitation.

I welcome the letter as an indication that the Alberta Liberal Party simply can’t “go it alone”, no matter they are going.  The day has come, I believe, that no party can bring voters to it:  the party must go to the people.  I welcome the letter as an indication that Alberta’s Liberals recognize they must move toward others, because others are not moving toward them.

I look forward to working with all Albertans to build a progressive alternative, and I hope that most Albertans will agree all our work contributes to that, whether we work inside one party or another, or as individual citizens, or as members of important social institutions.  When David and I talk, and we will, I hope the conversation will be about how to make this province great — not about how to unseat the Conservatives.

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14 Responses to “Talking about Democracy”

  1. new ad: liberal party seeking single, progressive partners. | daveberta.ca Says:

    […] Alberta Party-supporter David King has written some thoughtful commentary on how the letter was framed. I do agree that it was unnecessarily adversarial towards the governing Progressive Conservatives. As a friend of mine pointed out after reading the Liberal Party ad, if you remove the anti-Conservative section of the letter, there is very little that most Albertans would disagree with. Perhaps Dr. Swann should have opened the same invitation to the PCs, and even the Wildrose Alliance. […]

  2. lesoteric Says:

    “I am not focused on “unseating the Conservatives”, as the ALP letter suggests should be the focus.”

    I totally agree that Alberta politics, in general, have become far too confrontational with members of all parties bent on vilifying and discrediting their opposition rather than presenting constructive ideas and processes to implement them.

    Some have little to contribute to the discussion outside of constantly deriding conservatives and current policy and when this comes from the executive of a political party it does not attract support nor open the door to conversation or consultation.

  3. Sue Huff Says:

    Hi David,
    You’ve articulated my thoughts exactly. I’m happy to collaborate and I think it is essential, but it needs to be genuine and clear in its purpose. IMHO, collaboration needs to be for the common good, not a strategic attempt at “ganging up on the big guy”. Collaboration that is focused on improving the outcomes for all Albertans is sustainable in the longterm. Collaboration that is based in self-interest will disintegrate at the first sign of trouble. If the letter had been less about unseating the Conservatives and more about engaging and empowering a wider spectrum of Albertans… it would have sat more easily with me.

    As well, true collaboration is a partnership of equals, where all benefit. The letter also had a tone of “we are the ones to lead this” and “our membership will ultimately decide”. I don’t think you can initiate productive partnerships by stating your superiority right from the get-go. Even if you DO have more Members in the Legislature, it’s not really polite to emphasize the power differential at the beginning. It gets people’s backs up.

    I agree we need a new way of looking at politics. I think Mr. Swann is trying to explore new avenues and, like you, I think he is genuine in it…so I’m sorry to see the slings and arrows. But, of course, anything new will inevitably draw criticism and cynicism. I hope the Liberals can learn from this first attempt, reframe and try again. Change in the political process (which I would like to emphasize is different from simply a change of government) won’t happen without a good deal of effort, patience and goodwill on everyone’s part.

    Sue

  4. Paula Stein Says:

    Excellent points have been expressed about the difference between a genuine desire for collaboration in order to move forward for the common good vs the implied position that the Liberal’s goal is to lead a collective assault against the Conservatives.
    I appreciate that both Sue Huff and David King are willing to reconsider a invitation to discuss issues such as collaboration should the Liberals reframe the wording of the invitation.
    Were it up to David Swann alone, I believe that the initial invitation would have been just the sort that would invite collaboration. Unfortunately, there are other people and other agendas at play and for some Liberals, the only goal is to be the “leaders” of a pack to overturn Conservative rule.
    Personally, I would like to see a major change in the way politics is practiced in Alberta and the way governments are elected. I would also like to see a major revision in the policies that have been implemented by the present government, many of which I see as terribly harmful, and it is difficult to envision how that can be accomplished without a change in government.
    Nevertheless, David Swann has issued an unusual invitation. In spite of the fact that the invitation does not exactly meet your optimal criteria, perhaps it is still worth the exploration. Perhaps in the process of discussion, a very different framework than what you’ve initially interpreted could be established. You won’t know unless you try….Alberta has much to gain from the effort.

  5. Alvin Finkel Says:

    I think that David Swann is, to all intents and purposes, a non-partisan figure, or as non-partisan as a party leader can be. He has probably gone into some trouble because he has chosen not to oppose the government on everything, which is how you get media coverage, but only when they have deliberately implemented policies that clearly conflict with liberal values. But like anyone who is in a party he has to make some concessions to other views in his party, and there are, unsurprisingly, Liberals who are not exactly ecstatic about negotiating with anybody.

    I know from my earlier discussions with some NDP folk that they are afraid that if they sit down to talk with a party that has for several elections bested them in votes and seats by a great deal, that the negotiations will be one-sided. I don’t think that’s true if it’s David who gets to speak for the Liberals but of course there are others in the Liberal party who would speak in ways different than David.

    Perhaps the way to satisfy the objections raised by people in this discussion, apart from the one-on-one talks that some people will obviously have with David, is to have some fairly public discussions about what values should govern discussion of public debate in the province and what policies promoted by various parties seem to fit with those values and have support common to the parties that regard themselves as progressive rather than conservative.

    I was personally rather surprised at the similarity in values and policies at the most recent provincial Liberal and NDP conventions. While there is a range of views in both parties, there is a broad consensus across those 2 parties, at least, about what changes Albertans want in the short term, though the members may not see it because they don’t always choose to talk to someone who has chosen to identify with a different party. As for the old Greens, Joe Anglin, now I gather in the Alberta party, has said that they got their environmental platform in 2008 from the NDP and then the Liberals in turn copied it.

    Once there’s a minimum common platform, the point should be to look for candidates of high community standing across the province who are pledged to that platform and the values that underlie it, along with whatever local pledges that they feel are necessary to represent their area. How that will fit in with the party system should then be discussed rather than become the elephant in the room from the first moment that makes everything blow up and guarantees us a continuation of the Alberta status quo, which in my view, is one in which greed is extolled above all other values, and too bad for those upon whom good luck does not fall.

    A good book from my point of view in comparing the values and outcomes of various advanced industrial societies (and a few others) is Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (London: Allan Lane, 2009).

    Alvin

  6. NLAR Says:

    David when you write “create a community that is a model for the world” that follows near and dear to my heart as well, as Alberta in places has developed into a “cash-out society” in that people come, make their money, then leave. The evidence is some of the inter-provincial migration numbers, and some of the data behind the numbers like the like number of retirees that have left Alberta for B.C. is stunning, especially when you consider what it takes for communities of vibrant and self sustaining.

    The only part that I don’t agree is when you write “I am not focused on “unseating the Conservatives”, as the ALP letter suggests should be the focus.” Could I point out that the responsible thing for the official opposition to do in our type of democracy is to “unseat” the ruling party and gain power. Hopefully this is done through the expression of new and fresh ideas, and the demonstration of progressive values that are attractive for the citizen at large. I seem to remember the experience that Bob Rae had in Ontario when he was elected Premier, he as well did not expect, and I would suggest by extension did not focus on unseating the ruling party–but he did, and had to scramble to form Government. I write this to simply point out that any political party needs not only to focus on unseating the governing party but must be ready to form Government.

    The Alberta Party has a lot to offer by putting “meat on the bones” of what it means to be a progressive in Alberta.

  7. The truth Says:

    This was the most boring drab dowdy dribble of non-sense I have ever read. The shabby whimsicality of David King’s writing is infused with such wretched amounts of hokum, bunk and jawing that I nearly started reading the inside of my eye lids.

    It doesn’t surprise me in the least that this bit of gabble which is duller and dryer then a parchment baking in the Sahara sun would get such frabjous reviews from notoriously dull dullards.

    Kings vision, or lack of one is to forever position the Alberta government in the Progressively mushy middle, no competition, no new ideas, standing for everything while standing for nothing. Big whoop-de-doo its already happened.

    I will give you delusional despot wannabes the benefit of the doubt. I really believe you nitwits can’t see the forest through the trees. We already have a government that fits Dave’s vision its called the Progressive Conservative government.

    The government in this province is a monolithic monument attesting to the nature of politics of a nonadversarial nature. The lack of originality, ultra conformity is a blight upon this province, and you idiots only want to copy it and homogenize it into your warped utopian view. Your view is so warped that you use double speak to try and shyster everyone into believing that the nanny state is somehow the middle and somehow will be loved by all if only it can be implemented by you guys.

    The only reason you folks oppose the government is because your not running the non-show. So called progressives in this province only want their turn in the outhouse dumping loads of mushy excrement on tax paying hard working Albertans. The ones who just want to be left alone and live their lives without people like you telling what to think feel and do.

    Your progressives in name only, because there is no real progress without competition, only the foul stench of some busy bodies with nose up superiority lording over the proletariat with nothing else better to do.

    Progress does not come from endlessly increasing the size of government, it does not come from red tape and creating new levers of power. It comes from personal betterment and competition, people taking charge of their own lives to better their conditions.

    Every so called mushy middle progressive is clearly an extremist because everyone I have ever met lacks any kind of a sense of humor. It is my belief that y’all find life so insufferable that you have an unholy drive to inflict your misery upon the rest of us.

    This troglodyte has spoken.

  8. anonymous Says:

    I very much like the intent for cross-party dialogue, but for those of us who want to see real change in Alberta, I don’t see why “unseating the government” shouldn’t be part of the story. In general, Alberta’s progressive parties hold vastly values than the ruling right wing one, so thus it’s difficult to see how we can keep the same government in power and expect it to bring in exciting new policies.

    There’s nothing mean spirited about this, just the plain fact in that parties that have been in power too long (and I’d suggest that 40 years is far too long) start to smell and require turfing every so often. (I include the Wildrose here because they are an even more draconian copycat version of the Conservatives, thus offer no genuine alternative.)

    The first step in all this would have to be for the progressive parties — as is done in Europe — to sort out their policies and platforms and find out where their commonalities are (hopefully proportional representation being among the most salient). As many western european countries have proven — it’s not impossible – but requires mature cooperation and dialogue by all involved.

  9. lesoteric Says:

    @anonymous July 11, 2010 11:50pm

    “Unseating the Government” is not a progressive goal, by nature it is regressive. Progressive politics must present solutions and not be reactionary (like the current state of AB politics), power will come after.

    The goal of unseating the government is, in fact, similar to the current ‘maintain power at any cost’ policy of the incumbent party, to seek only their demise does not lift anyone, rather it drags us all down into the power struggles which are commonplace in European politics and have created stagnancy in public policy and governance there.

  10. Paula Stein Says:

    lesoteric, in a utopian society, yours is a reasonable approach.

  11. lesoteric Says:

    Thank you Paula for the passive-aggressive reply (in a Utopian society none of this discussion would be necessary in any event).

    Point is what do we want to create? Another power struggle which does nothing but increase the mistrust people have for government or an inclusive participatory democracy?

    A political party which is built on the principle of toppling the current ruling party runs the very real risk of having no mandate other than the defeat of the incumbent party and thus no direction or mandate after that is accomplished. If a coup is what we’re after there’s much better ways to go about that, if we want continuity of government we need to figure out a way to gracefully transition from old to new.

  12. Paula Stein Says:

    For the present, I postulate that my preference would be to see the abrupt end of the PC domination of Alberta, the establishment of a group that represents a broad coalition of left of centre, centre, and slightly right of centre individuals who espouse values that would see the empowerment, and where necessary, the protection of all Albertans. I am firmly committed to universal health care, for example, but under a regime that does not inflict the death of a thousand cuts upon the system and constantly seek its dismantling.
    I do not believe it is possible to build a new society on top of the present PC government.
    Would I favour a concensus form of government? Absolutely!
    But the road to concensus must not be littered with the bodies of low-income seniors, children in provincial care, workers who are unprotected by political will to ensure safe workplaces, etc.

  13. lesoteric Says:

    Paula, it is exactly this attitude which s alienating progressives in AB from wanting to be part of the development of a ‘New Centre or Left’ in Alberta.

    “the abrupt end of the PC domination of Alberta” Leaving a power vacuum which in most other circumstances leads to the most opportunistic and pandering leadership to fill it. Right now that would likely be more conservative (Wild Rose) than progressive.

    “espouse values that would see the empowerment, and where necessary, the protection of all Albertans.” I assume this does not include conservatives (by the tone of your comment, correct me if I’m wrong) which directly contradicts the idea of empowerment. Everyone deserves representation, even if means sacrificing unanimity.

    “I do not believe it is possible to build a new society on top of the present PC government.” Thus contradicting the previous point about empowerment. I believe in democracy which encourages as many options as possible, Alberta has no legitimate alternative to the current Conservative regime, unfortunately, but the transition can not be instantaneous because there isn’t a viable alternative, we should be building one.

    “Would I favour a concensus form of government? Absolutely!” As long as consensus means ‘no more PC government’? Consensus: “An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole” That’s not what you seem to be aiming for, Paula. Part of what has alienated people from the centre and left-of-centre has been the dogmatic refrains about health care, education, economy, and such which leave no overhead for opinion, only 100% agreement or disagreement with the party line. (see next point)

    “But the road to concensus must not be littered with the bodies of low-income seniors, children in provincial care, workers who are unprotected by political will to ensure safe workplaces, etc.” Derisive emotional appeals which build walls and draw battle lines are not conducive to the progressive thinking we need which includes exploring options and making intelligent, informed decisions on leadership and governance in Alberta.

  14. Paula Stein Says:

    Sigh.
    I am not suggesting that conservatives have no place in a concensus. That is your implication.
    Concensus does not equal the continuance of a PC government. Furthermore, any group which does not consider the needs of the citizens whilst it is tying to change the way government works should not be governing. This is not a derisive emotional appeal; this is what I believe.

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