Reflections on Readers Comments — Talking about Democracy

A number of readers have offered thoughtful, even insightful comments that cause me to reflect on my thinking and my expressions.  Thank you.

1.     Paula Stein writes that she “would like to see a major change in the way politics is practiced in Alberta and the way governments are elected”.  I agree.  To offer an elaboration, much of what is wrong with the practice of politics in Alberta today is not built on statute law, and it isn’t a function of the electoral process, so we can’t look to the law for the problems.  For example, I would argue that Premiers (and Prime Ministers) have too much power, not only in Alberta but all across the country.  Most of this power comes from long-standing practice, ‘conventions’, and a political culture of deference to the party leader (especially when s/he leads the government).  If we are going to democratize our political process, we must  understand the practices that are followed by parties in the Legislature Building, and we must insist that some of these practices change — evolve — to suit our expectations as citizens in the 21st century.

I’ll write a post about this shortly, and I would welcome questions, comments and suggestions from readers.  Thanks Paula.

2.     I certainly like Alvin Finkel’s suggestion that “Perhaps the way to satisfy the objections raised by people in this discussion… is to have some fairly public discussions about what values should govern discussion of public debate in the province ….”  And thanks, as well, Alvin, for the suggested read:  Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (London: Allan Lane, 2009)

Such discussions might need an initial host and, if so, Reboot Alberta might be such a host.

3.     NLAR, and some others, had questions about (or disagreement with) my statement that  “I am not focused on “unseating the Conservatives”, as the ALP letter suggests should be the focus.” NLAR added:  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.

I don’t want my readers to misunderstand my position.  I want desperately for Alberta to have a new government, one more in tune with our potential.  Barring a conversion like that of Saul on the road to Damascus, a new government will be accomplished by unseating the incumbent government.  But that should be one step in the journey toward renewal:  it should not be thought of as the end goal.  I would like our political process to get past that adversarial model.  In this spirit, I would suggest that David Swann stop wearing the label of “Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” and start wearing the label of “Leader of Her Majesty’s Government-in-Waiting.”  David’s role, the role of the Liberal Party, my role as a single Albertan, is not to compete with the P.C. Party.  Our role is to collaborate with all Albertans, and make their dreams real.  When Albertans believe that an electoral party cares about Albertans as an end in itself — not as the means to the end of beating the P.C.s — then that party will connect with Albertans and, I believe, form a government.

NLAR, I agree with, and appreciate your comment that “The Alberta Party has a lot to offer by putting “meat on the bones” of what it means to be a progressive in Alberta.”  If we take this seriously, we can avoid the disappointments that dogged Bob Rae in Ontario.In this context, I like what Iesoteric said:  “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.”

4.     Anonymous comments about governments that have been in office too long.  I am reminded of the statement that “governments are like babies, they need to be changed regularly, and for the same reason.”  I was elected as a Progressive Conservative M.L.A. in 1971, the year the party first formed the government in this province.  Thirty-nine years later I believe that the party has been in office too long, because it has certainly not experienced any conversion like Saul on the road to Damascus.

That said, it is also true that, 39 years later, I still think of myself as a “progressive conservative”, so I don’t want to engage in any dialogue that excludes Tories or relegates them to the margins.  There are some Tories I would feel more comfortable talking with than others, but I hope that I would listen to everyone who has a contribution to offer.

I always come back to this dream, that election campaigns will no longer be thought of and described as competitions among leaders and parties  That, instead, the politicians will be relegated to secondary roles, and campaigns will come to be thought of as collaborative ventures in which the electorate plays the primary role, reframing its vision of the future and deciding which servants (politicians) should be entrusted with the vision for the next 4 – 5 years.

5.    And, I don’t want things to become too heated between Iestoric and Paula Stein.  There are too many positive sentiments and good ideas flying back and forth.  I think both of you — and other readers — would enjoy The Audacity to Win (Ploufe) — the story of the Obama campaign for the Presidency.  Tell me what you think of it.


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