Archive for the ‘Political Culture’ Category

That wasn’t fear, that was rejection — Some thoughts about language

April 24, 2012

If we want a new model of politics and democracy in Alberta, we need to start by changing our language.

1. My friend Paul McLaughlin is quoted in a CBC story, which read: —
“‘Fear won out over anger,’ Paul McLoughlin, who writes the Alberta Scan newsletter, told the CBC radio show Calgary Eyeopener Tuesday morning, referring to “bozo eruptions” from two Wildrose candidates as well as Smith’s waffling on the reasons for climate change.”

Respectfully, I disagree. It seems to me that Alberta’s self-confidence won out over anger. As soon as the WRP emerged as the prospective alternative to the P.C.s, many Albertans decided they simply wouldn’t wear the mantle of a Wild Rose government for four years — given that it was presenting itself as “firewall favouring”, “ready to go it alone”, “climate change denying”, unconcerned about human rights… In fact, none of these trigger phrases may be fair comment about the Wild Rose Party, but they came up, often from within the Party itself, and the party didn’t (or couldn’t) make things right. Given that the campaign wrapped up offering a choice between punishing the Tories or asserting self-confidence about themselves and the future, Albertans chose to assert self-confidence.

There is a world of difference between saying that Monday’s election was dominated by fear and recognizing that it was dominated by a determination to avoid the chains of smallness, isolation, incivility, and victimization.

At the same time, 1,000s of Albertans are angry, and the anger has only been suspended. The new Tory government has work to do.

2. Let’s do ourselves — and Premier Redford — a favour. Let’s not refer to our government as the “Redford government”. Let’s promote the idea that we elected a team of M.L.A.s, and that every member of the team is responsible for what happens in the next 4 years, and will be held accountable. Let’s encourage every M.L.A. to have the courage to speak the truth they know. Let’s encourage Premier Redford to move away from the recent history of Paramount Leaders and — with her colleague M.L.A.s — into the arena of servant leadership.

3. The Globe and Mail quotes Ms. Smith as saying, “Ms. Redford won her (P.C.) leadership on the basis of getting Liberal and N.D.P. supporters to vote for her at the leadership, and clearly she did the same thing tonight (April 23rd).”

Respectfully, all party membership is infinitesimally small. Ms. Redford would not have won the P.C. leadership if every single card carrying member of every “left” party — but no one else — had joined the P.C.s to vote for her. If Ms. Smith meant that Ms. Redford had the support of 1,000s of Albertans who are sympathetic to social justice, economic opportunity, inclusion and optimism about Alberta’s future, then Ms. Smith is probably right in her assertion. But the way she phrased it leaves the impression that she was trying to use party labels to demonize “wrong-minded Albertans”, the same Albertans whose support she will want to encourage in the next 4 years.

The additional problem is that the Wild Rose Party cannot look strong, self-confident and committed to democracy when it is simultaneously blaming others for a defeat engineered by a conspiracy. The Wild Rose Party is not a victim.

4. Rejection, in politics, need not be permanent, and it need not be negative. Some of our most important lessons are learned from failure, especially when we change our ways.

Certainly, there are many politicians who know that acceptance is often not very long-lasting, and Tories should know that it doesn’t mean approval. To say that the Wild Rose Party was substantially rejected on April 23rd doesn’t marginalize them, or their work or their prospects. All parties must seek to understand the election results and use them as a springboard to more demonstrable respect for all voters, and more powerful engagement with voters.

Years from now the 2012 election in Alberta will be remembered as the watershed election. Moving on, we need to change our language to express our greater hope, our higher expectations, and our commitment to engage, together.

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Election Day, Plus 1 — why I am a democrat

April 24, 2012

The Alberta provincial general election of 2012 is history.

Congratulations to Premier Redford and her kitchen cabinet — the group of men and women who developed the plan, and maintained the self-confidence and also the faith in Albertans to persevere when the going got tough.

Thanks, also, to every candidate — of every party — for putting his or her name forward, including the candidates whose views of Alberta are dramatically different from mine. My thanks to their families, and the supporters who advanced their cause.

Because of issues like conscience rights, this was a campaign in which voters could see that different candidates and parties had different perspectives about Alberta, different values, different approaches to the political process, and different visions of Alberta’s potential. The myth that Alberta is “right wing” appears to have been thoroughly rejected, so that the Progressive Conservative Party can govern from the centre.

That is not to say that the 1,000s of Albertans who voted for the WRP can or should be marginalized. Premier Redford knows that most of these votes were not ideologically driven, even though the voters gathered under the banner of ideology. Her job now — and her colleagues’ job — is to acknowledge the genuine hurt and feelings of disrespect that drove many Albertans to the WRP, and show respect — draw these Albertans back into the exciting flow of the mainstream.

The election results give Premier Redford a clear mandate that could be described as pragmatic, centrist, and hopeful, perhaps even imaginative.

It appears that, for this election, Albertans decided their crucial choice was between being judgmental (punishing the Tories for scandalous abuses) or being prospective (affirming the vision of the future that optimized the province’s potential). I interpret the election results to indicate Albertans chose the future.

Every election offers voters the opportunity to focus on one or two things. I had hoped that this election would focus on the old way of doing politics. I hoped that Albertans would vote, in large numbers, for candidates who were committed to a new way of doing politics. It seems to me that Albertans decided, in their wisdom, that the idea of turning away from the old way of doing politics was an idea not quite ready for prime-time. Or perhaps Albertans were ready for new ways of doing politics but decided it was more urgent to spike the guns of ideologues. The election results were not what I expected. I choose to hope that time will show positive outcomes.

So, we are reminded of something that was obvious before yesterday. Thousands of Albertans are angry about the scandalous behaviour of the Tory party in the not too distant past. (This, rather than ideology, explains many of the now opposition seats.) To-day, Premier Redford is Premier for these angry Albertans, as well as for all others. She has a moral as well as a political obligation to address their anger and assure them they are respected. The political story of the next four years will turn largely on this issue.

We also know three things we didn’t know yesterday.

1. Premier Redford has a fresh and clear mandate, to be pragmatic, centrist, and hopeful, perhaps even imaginative.
2. Alberta has turned its back on the myth of being “right wing” and isolationist, and is ready — like in football — to play a wide open game up the middle of the field.
3. The public has engaged in this campaign in ways unseen in Alberta since 1935. The engagement will not abate — it will grow — so the momentum for new ways of doing politics is picking up. (On this point, the election results are deceptive.) Parties like the Alberta Party and the Evergreen Party need to continue promoting an alternate and more healthy way of doing politics. They need to continue experimenting and risking as they do so. They need to continue making a path for fellow Albertans, including M.L.A.s in other parties who want to practice new ways of doing politics. They need to operate with an ‘open source’ commitment to sharing everything they learn and know. They need courage, and they need to be encouraged.

Congratulations Premier Redford. It was quite an election. It provides opportunity and energy for Alberta to grow and for democracy to grow in Alberta.

Left or right — Looking the wrong way at the Alberta election

April 22, 2012

The Edmonton Journal (Saturday, April 21st, 2012) carried a column with an interesting headline: Divided Left Wasted Glorious Opportunity. (here)

The columnist is missing the great story about the election — the emerging story about the future of politics in Alberta. The headline is firmly grounded in the past.

The historic description of politics as being left or right originated in France more than 200 years ago. The description is irrelevant to politics today. We have fiscal conservatives who are social liberals. We have religious conservatives who are civil libertarians. The terminology is almost meaningless: it will be completely meaningless by the time the next provincial general election rolls around.

It is quaint and unproductive to think of the left, or the right, coalescing. Such coalitions are irrelevant in the face of an even greater change that is coming.

The dominant model of electoral politics — the adversarial party model, dominated by paramount leaders — is almost unworkable, it is becoming more unworkable every day, and it cannot be redeemed. Given changed attitudes, values, and expectations, and changes in technology, and many other changes, the electoral-party model we understand is already being abandoned by many, including many people who have already abandoned old-style parties in favour of something different and more promising.

The ill effect of “uniting the left” can be considered in light of the alternative — uniting the right. At the moment, it is quite likely that either the Wild Rose Party or the P.C. Party will have the most seats after the election. The same thinking that promotes uniting the left would promote a coalition of the Wild Rose and P.C. parties — and that is very likely to happen. Strategic voting for the P.C.s, in order to “block” the Wild Rose, increases the likelihood that the “hard right” will dominate both parties, seek to combine in some formal way (as happened federally) and dominate the government for the next four years. (Which might not be as bad an outcome as its detractors might fear: the “hard right” is as amorphous, internally conflicted, ideologically paralyzed and tension filled as is the “hard left”.)

One of the major problems of the existing party system is precisely that all the historic parties are implicated, even the ones that have never been the government. For comparison, think of the N.H.L. Every team in the N.H.L. buys into the culture of the N.H.L., even if they finish last in the league, because they benefit from revenue sharing and the small patronage that is thrown their way (for example, first pick in the draft). Similarly, opposition parties that have been around for a long time adopt the dominant political culture and conventions, insist on hanging on to the names and chants that were storied long ago, and play by the rules in the hope that, next year, they will win the Cup.

Thousands of Albertans are joining new political organizations, because they have a new vision of what can be, a new vision of what politics can accomplish, and new ideas about how to do politics. They imagine the emergence of true democracy, from the ground up, rather than what is called “subsidiarity” — decisions made as close as possible to the grassroots, and it is the paramount leader at the top who decides how close to the grassroots the decisions get made.

For these Albertans, uniting the left is a trivial goal, because the terminology is meaningless and counterproductive. For these Albertans, getting behind one of the “outs” in order to put an “out” in, is simply delaying what needs to be done. The Liberal Party, for example, is every bit as committed to the idea of the paramount Leader as is the Wild Rose Party or the Progressive Conservative Party.

People who really believe that the old style of politics has failed beyond repair, people who really value the opportunities facing Alberta, people who really believe in working with neighbours to make good things happen — these people will look past the well-established parties. They will look at the new organizations that are trying to do politics differently. They will look at the organizations that put their emphasis on the local candidate rather than the provincial leader. They will look at the organizations that make candidates accountable to the constituency rather than to the paramount leader. They will look at the candidates who:
• present themselves as whole people who are prepared to be the servants of those who elect them;
• are trying to be collaborative, rather than confrontational;
• are trying to be inclusive, rather than exclusive and divisive;
• are evidence-based decision-makers, rather than ideologues.

Uniting the left… how passe. Let’s unite the cooperators, the innovators, the doers, the compassionate, the justice-seeking, the respectful. And let’s invent a new and more fruitful way of practicing democracy without an obsessive unhealthy attention to electoral success.

Leech, Hunsperger, and Byfield — Let’s Focus on Local Accountability

April 21, 2012

In this provincial general election, Albertans are caught with one foot in the political past while the other foot is searching for the firm ground of the political future. Our scrutiny of nominated candidates, and our evaluation of the Leaders provide two good example of this.

Wild Rose Leader Danielle Smith faces controversy about her party’s candidates in some constituencies. The suggestion has been made that she should disavow — and perhaps disallow — some of the Wild Rose candidates. She has done the right thing by refusing to do either.

Ms. Smith didn’t nominate Ron Leech to be the Party’s candidate in Calgary Greenway, or Allan Hunsperger in Edmonton Southwest, or Link Byfield in Barrhead-Morinville-Wetlock. Wild Rose party members in each of these three constituencies — in all 87 constituencies — nominated the respective candidates. It was Wild Rose Party members, living locally, who nominated candidates they thought best reflected the values of the Wild Rose Party in the constituency. They nominated the whole PERSON that they thought would be the face, voice, heart, and mind best able to reflect their Wild Rose values to the rest of the constituency.

Of course the candidate’s religious convictions, character, and attitudes toward issues like human rights and the rule of law will determine how that candidate will view and vote on all kinds of matters that will arise in the future. Party members (should) consider all of these things when they choose a candidate, because they know the candidate won’t be back to ask for direction before voting on all kinds of matters in the future. Voters should be asking questions about all of this as well, and assessing what they learn, before they vote.

Frankly, I don’t want Ms. Smith to “fire” nominated candidates she disagrees with, no matter what the nature of the disagreement. I don’t believe any party leader should adopt the role of “paramount Leader”. Ms. Smith’s appropriate role should have been played out before nominating meetings started, when she (presumably) communicated to Party members the range of beliefs and values and directions she would be comfortable working with. Since she clearly did not signal anything to indicate that recent statements by some of her candidates would be problematic, voters in each constituency should express their own views about the decision made by the local association of the Wild Rose Party Wild Rose Party members nominated their candidate in each constituency across the province, just as Liberals, N.D.s, and Alberta Party members did the same thing for their respective parties.

If Albertans are tired of the “paramount Leader” model of politics, if Albertans want to re-assert the role of the locally elected M.L.A. as a moral representative of the constituency, then it is not for Danielle Smith to judge candidates: that judgement is the role of electors. Party constituency associations must accept responsibility for their nominee. Accountability for their nominee, accountability to the electorate, will be experienced on election day.

Monday’s election is not a referendum on Danielle Smith’s leadership (so far we have only seen the audition tapes): it is a referendum on the sensibilities of the Wild Rose Party — and the P.C. Party, and all other parties, from constituency to constituency across Alberta. The Wild Rose Party in Calgary Greenway thinks that Ron Leech is the best possible face and voice, and heart and mind to represent all the constituents in the Legislative Assembly. The Wild Rose Party in Edmonton Southwest thinks the same of Allan Hunspurger. The Wild Rose Party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock thinks the same thing of Link Byfield. These men are not proxies for Danielle Smith. If each or all of them win, they will be Members of the Legislative Assembly. They may be Cabinet Ministers. They will each have a vote on every issue that comes before the Assembly. They will each have some influence on narrowing or broadening the vision of their leader and their colleagues. Maybe their Leader will rein them in; maybe they will rein in their Leader. In either case, they will each be the face and voice and heart and mind of their constituency.

It should be the voters of the constituencies who judge the candidates on the ballot. The same could be said for every candidate nominated by each party’s members in every constituency across the province.

Through the process of party nomination, some citizens (party members) have felt that each nominated candidate was the best possible representative of their political perspective. It is not for the party leader to say ‘yay’, or ‘nay”. It is for fellow citizens to say “yes, you sure understand us and we want your candidate to be our voice in the Legislature”, or “no, you — and your nominated candidate — are not really representative of the values and dreams and priorities we hold dear.

On election day, the voters in each constituency will decide which face, voice, mind, and spirit is going to be their agent in the Legislative Assembly for the next four years.

As an aside, while Party Leaders should not be able to disallow locally nominated candidates, caucus (not the Leader), can always decide who is a member of caucus and who is not.

Democratic Reform — can’t we be more upbeat?

April 11, 2012

“Democratic reform” is a term that doesn’t often excite most citizens. And most citizens view those excited by democratic reform as having a masochistic streak.

The term makes it sound as though we have failed, or have at least let our democracy fall into disrepair. The term suggests that we need to redeem the status quo with some pretty serious restoration or some incrementtal improvements, to get us back on track.

Let’s shift our focus. Instead of thinking about “reform”, why don’t we think about AiD — an “Adventure in Democracy”.

The democracy we are familiar with is essentially 175 – 200 years old. It’s held up pretty well in the face of immense technological and social changes. It’s time for us to adopt a more modern view of democracy itself, at which point the challenge is not to cut out the corrupt, or restore the familiar, or make incremental improvements to the status quo.

The way our political mechanisms work reflects the pre-democratic conviction that sovereignty flows from the top down — citizens are not really moral enough, or educated enough, or social enough to really participate in the decision-making process, so we should only allow limited citizen participation (consultations, and advisory boards, and letter-writing, etc.) and leave the decision-making to the ‘proper authorities’, the elected representatives who have become moral enough, or educated enough, or social enough through the experience of being elected (or perhaps, through the experience of belonging to a party that does their thinking for them).

There is a model of government called “subsidiarity”, which says that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people who will live with them, and the person or people at the very top should decide exactly where decisions are made. Democracy represents a model of government in which decisions are made as close as possible to the people who will live with them, and the people who will live with them decide exactly where decisions are made.

Every Albertan is also a Canadian, and also a citizen of a city, town, or village, or rural municipality. It is not for the government of Canada to decide how the decision-making pie is sliced, and it is not for the government of Alberta to make that decision, and it is not for our local council to make that decision. All of these elected representatives are our servants, and they must let citizens decide which servant will do which work.

We don’t need to reform democracy, in order to improve on the status quo, or correct our previous errors.

We need to think of democracy as an adventure into unknown — and incredibly rich — territory. We shouldn’t think of our work as ‘reform’, and the drudgery that needs to be done ‘to clean up’. We should think about creation and invention, faithful to the ideas of:
• freedom from tyranny (and from being a tyrant);
• harmony
• the rule of law;
• natural equality;
• citizen wisdom; and
• education; and,
• forward-looking wisdom without certain knowledge.
(my thanks again to Paul Woodruff).

Particularly at this time, we don’t want politicians telling us how they would ‘reform’ the system. Left to their own devices, that could prove to be very self-serving. We should welcome input from every candidate and every party, but now is the time that citizens should claim the primary role of inventor of the democracy to come.

The sky’s the limit for good ideas — great ideas. However we have arrived at the felt need to do good work to promote democracy, let’s make the most of the opportunity.

To promote the conversation, think of
• the electoral process, including how we choose our representatives (first past the post, or proportional representation, or some other means); who is entitled to vote; means of representative accountability (such as recall);
• the role and organization of parties; campaigning, including financing elections, advertising, using new technology (robo-calls);
• the role and organization of the Legislative Assembly and the role and organization of caucus (including party discipline); the purpose of Committees; the Officers of the Legislative Assembly, setting M.L.A. pay;
• citizen participation (citizen initiatives) and decision-making (for example, when the Constitution of Alberta is amended [yes, there is a Constitution of Alberta]) — Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, and whiste-blower legislation.

One of the choices available to Albertans in this election is to be the last out of the past as far as democratic processes are concerned (the most sophisticated expression of the old way of doing politics), or we can be first into the future, exploring 21st century ways of living democracy.

What happens post-election — Part II

April 9, 2012

The upcoming Alberta provincial general election offers voters a choice of perspectives on the province’s political course for the future. Each perspective can be measured by a few linear standards, including:
• selfish-ness – community (with an emphasis on economics, or government activity, or social justice);
• adversarial and demonizing politics (power is a zero sum game) – collaborative politics (power grows as it is shared) — this is sometimes characterized as exclusive – inclusive politics;
• ideology – aspiration and evidence-based decision-making;
• fear – hope;
• government as necessary evil – government as servant leader;
• maintenance of the status quo (last out of the past) – exploratory (first into the future).

The election itself is still two weeks away, and two weeks is an eternity in the course of a campaign.

What voters need to bear in mind is that who is elected in each constituency is far less important at 10:00 p.m. on election night than it is 6 months or 2years later.

In a party dominated system, the purpose of an election campaign is, first and foremost, to hold incumbents (individuals and parties) accountable. If the electorate does not have the courage to hold people and parties accountable for what they have said and done (or not said and done), then the incumbents will not respect the voters. It’s that simple.

The second purpose of an election is to endorse a vision of the future — provided the vision is matched by a commitment to principled means. (Otherwise, politicians will operate on the basis that the end justifies the means, which makes for very bad government.)

Citizens get mediocre government — or worse — when they go past legitimate accountability and become emotionally bent on punishing a party, or when they vote for “the lesser of two evils”, out of fear

Some Albertans talk of voting Tory to prevent the Wild Rose party from forming a government. This is likened to other Albertans voting Wild Rose to prevent the Tories from forming a government. They are said to be mirror image positions, but they are not. Agree with the party or not, the Wild Rose has had three years to develop what they want to do if they form the government. The energy may have been negative initially, but there is a huge infusion of positive energy. An 11th hour rush to the Tory party, in a desperate bid to prevent the Wild Rose party from forming the government, will represent nothing but negative energy; it will likely fail; and it will play into the culture of confrontation and ‘we-they’ politics. In the event the Tories are re-elected on the basis of blocking Wild Rose success, they will likely not understand or acknowledge the reason for the victory; they will continue to worry about the right wing and continue edging right in a thoughtless way; they will not have increased respect for the electorate; and, their sense of entitlement will only be further entrenched.

Whether it is a minority government that lasts 18 – 24 months, or a majority government that lasts 4 – 5 years, what Alberta desperately needs is a dramatic change of the tired, toxic, and outmoded political culture. And change is coming. Albertans have let the genie of change out of the bottle. In the next 2 – 4 years, and thereafter, M.L.A.s, the media, civic organizations and the general public will engage politically in very different ways, and to very different effect. No provincial government is going to get the free ride from Albertans in the next four years that we have given them for the last 20 years.

What centrist and thoughtful Albertans need to do, what Albertans who care about community and democracy need to do, is have a little conversation with themselves before voting, along these lines.

“I reject corruption, arrogance, and entitlement. I reject extremism and ideology. I reject confrontation and intimation. I reject nostalgia for the past.

“I want to be proud of my M.L.A. in 2 years. I want an M.L.A., whether on the government or alternative (opposition) side, who LISTENS before speaking, someone who is promoting:
• community and justice for all;
• a new collaborative way of doing politics;
• creative ideas, and evidence-based decision-making;
• hope;
• government (and M.L.A.s) as servant leaders;
• exploration of new opportunities for our province and our people.”

Such candidates will be hard to find among the old-line parties, because, like the Tories, the other parties are completely immersed in the game, and have some sense of entitlement (like revenue sharing in hockey) even though they always finish out of the play-offs. “Hard to find” is not “impossible to find”. There are candidates in every party who are committed to a new way of doing politics. Such candidates are more likely to be found in the new parties, the ones with no long history of playing the old game. Such candidates are more likely to be found with parties that have no experience with paid committee work, or government funding for constituency offices, or the old boys’ network.

Albertans are seeking to decide wisely, without certain knowledge of the future. Self-confidence and courage are required — to vote for the future we prefer, rather than against the future we fear.

The Tories in Alberta, at 41 — a tipping point?

April 2, 2012

One of the most interesting aspects of the Alberta general election is that Progressive Conservatives have governed the province for more than 41 consecutive years. If the Tories are returned in the upcoming election, they will establish the record for the longest consecutively governing party, either federally or provincially, in Canadian history.

Along with the shot at the record go voter concerns about past performance, tiredness, arrogance (and a sense of entitlement), focus (future or past?), the party culture, and adaptiveness.

Assuming for a moment that the concern is completely legitimate and so important that it should drive the election, the concern may mislead voters. If the voters are so pre-occupied with the (currently) governing party, they may cast their votes elsewhere and thereby elect an ill-considered alternative. The agenda may be to “throw the rascals out” on election day. That is only accomplished by throwing another set of “rascals” in, and the cure may be worse than the disease.

So we need to consider the task before us, one step at a time.

Is the current government good for another term, or does it need to be replaced? Criticism is heard, but is it valid? Voters need to ask themselves some tough questions. No blogger, expert, or elder statesman can answer any of these questions for a voter: the answer for each voter is found in her or his own values, experience, perception, and goals.

Has the government made decisions for which it should be judged harshly? In that case, not voting on election day is not a harsh judgment: the vote must go to another candidate and party. Which one, because an election cannot throw out one “rascal” without throwing another in.

Is the governing party tired, arrogant and bullying? Does it have the attitude that it is entitled to govern? Do Tory candidates have the attitude that they are entitled to have someone carry their bags, and entitled to appoint friends and supporters to various positions? Has the bullying and trash talk that is much reported about in the press originated with the P.C. party as an institution, or has it been the work of individuals acting alone and contrary to the spirit of the party? Does the Tory party recognize the challenges facing Alberta? Does the party recognize the failure of the old way of doing politics? Is it committed to new and productive ways of doing politics? Does it have a new vision for Alberta at the beginning of the w21st century, and does it have new ideas for dealing with new circumstances and new opportunities? Does it have the energy and the will for a new style of politics, a new approach to issues and decision-making, and a new relationship with voters?

The P.C. party is like the famous metaphor of a super tanker in the middle of the Pacific. There is so much mass and so much inertia of momentum that it will take time to change direction, even after the captain has given the order. But, according to the metaphor, the direction can be changed and the ship can be brought safely to another harbour.

Arguably, the metaphor is not appropriate, for a couple of reasons. The metaphor takes as given that the entire crew is working together, and that the engine room will respond promptly to the bridge. The metaphor takes as given that the captain is clear about conditions and gives orders confidently – orders that aren’t going to be changed. If these two conditions are not met, the ship will hesitate, weave (or sail in circles), and list. Cargo and passengers will be damaged and injured.

After reflecting on the metaphor, we should reconsider the Tory party.

Party insiders did not elect Alison Redford to be Leader. Thousands of Albertans who are not committed Tories joined the party and elected her as Leader. Thereby, they dragged the party kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Having done that, they returned to their homes and gardens and jobs, leaving Ms. Redford to carry on. At that point, many party insiders wanted to contain Ms. Redford and take the party back to the good old days and the good old ways. Gary Mar was appointed as Alberta’s agent in Hong Kong. Was this a merit appointment, or an “insiders favouring insiders” appointment? The promised public inquiry into the intimidation of doctors was subtly amended. Was this a matter of turning our backs on the past or was it fear of what would be revealed? The Tory government extinguished the constitutionally provided separate school rights of Protestants in St. Albert. Should landowners be concerned that property rights may be the next to be compromised?

Ms. Redford has worked with some supporters within the party, but it is clear that the “ship” has mass and inertia of momentum and crew members that are resisting her efforts.

Ms. Redford has also made some mistakes, and she has corrected some.

In this, she is like Alberta’s voters.

The voter must try to be wise without knowledge. Who knows what time and circumstances will bring, in 6 months or 3 years. The voter must try to make the wise choice on Monday, April 23rd.

Do the nominated candidates, the advertising, the messages, and the organization on the ground suggest that the party exemplifies
• values;
• an understanding of Albertans;
• an understanding of democratic politics; and,
• an understanding of the issues and opportunities
that the voter feels comfortable with.

As unknown issues arise in the months to come, would you feel reasonably confident that you can predict, in general, how the Tory party would respond? If you reel reasonably confident about your ability to predict, would you feel comfortable if the prediction came true?

Perhaps there is more to democracy than a paramount Leader

April 2, 2012

One of the issues that is developing in the Alberta provincial election campaign is about the role of individual M.L.A.s, and the Party Leader. The issue emerges most clearly with media reports about the P.C. Party, but we can see similar evidence from Wild Rose, Liberals, and N.D.s

Alison Redford, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, said last week that the outgoing Party caucus (including many who are up for re-election) had made a mistake in its handling of M.L.A. pay for the so-called “no-meet committee”, and she announced that all Tory M.L.A.s would return all the pay (since the committee last met) or be excluded from the Tory caucus. Media coverage and public conversation has focused on whether Ms. Redford should have admitted the mistake and changed tack, as she did, or should have done it sooner. Was the admission/correction a smart move? Would it have been brilliant if done two weeks earlier?

For me, the problem with this focus is that it further entrenches the idea of the “paramount Leader”, it further marginalizes collaborative decision-making – in caucus – and it excuses individual members of the Tory caucus from responsibility for fixing what was broken.

In a strong democracy, I don’t think Ms. Redford would have presumed to impose the Leader’s will on caucus: I think she would have canvassed the caucus, made the argument that the public expected a different outcome, and persuaded the caucus – perhaps with the help of some caucus members themselves — that they should collectively admit the mistake, correct it as best they could, and sanction anyone who broke from the consensus.

As it is, we may never know if any member of the caucus agreed with her. Perhaps no member of caucus has his/her own moral compass; perhaps they are all relying on the Leader’s moral compass. Perhaps every member of caucus is simply too cowed by the authority of the Leader to stand up and be counted. Perhaps we can expect a Tory caucus to follow the lead of the Leader on every issue. Perhaps Albertans don’t care about the moral compass, or strength of character of individual M.L.A.s. Perhaps we don’t need M.L.A.s, but only a Party Leader.

Or perhaps many (most, all?) members of the Tory caucus agreed with Ms. Redford’s expressed position. It would have been great to see – or hear – a chorus of them agreeing with her position, and saying they had come to the same realization at about the same time.

In the absence of such a chorus, Albertans may want candidates to make a clear public statement – before election day — expressing agreement or disagreement with Ms. Redford’s solution, and a commitment to making it happen after the election.

This issue – I’ll call it the paramount Leader problem – arose for me just after Ms. Redford was elected Leader of the Tory Party. As a candidate, she had made a commitment that, if elected Leader, she would restore approximately $100 Million of funding for K – 12 education in Alberta. I’m a former Minister of Education who believes that education has been seriously underfunded since 1994. I applauded the idea of restoring $100M of funding. And the money was restored. The problem is, it wasn’t restored because caucus had seen the error of its ways. It wasn’t restored at the end of a heartfelt debate. It wasn’t restored because a majority of the government caucus voted in favour of the restoration.

The problem, for me, is that I believe we are wrong to entrust such decisions to one person. The wrong doesn’t haunt us when we approve of the direct outcome. (I completely approved of the $100M for k-12 education in the example cited.) But what do I say when the paramount Leader unilaterally makes a decision I disagree with profoundly? How can I oppose unilateralism on one issue, when yesterday I approved of it on another issue?

In the same vein, I wonder why we need individual M.L.A.s if one person can make a unilateral decision without reference to M.L.A.s. Why are we going to vote for 87 M.L.A.s on election day if we only need – and value – one decision-maker? Personally, I prefer the wisdom of crowds: I prefer strong democracy.

Do we want to maintain the party culture built on the Paramount Leader and the subservient caucus? Do we want to maintain the party culture in which one person’s moral compass is sufficient for everyone? Do we want to maintain a party culture in which no one else needs to have a moral compass because everyone can rely on the Leader’s?

In summary, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Democracy depends upon many people contributing to, contesting about, and collaborating over public policy issues and questions of right and wrong. We are not well served – even when we like the decision — by the hoary political culture that makes a paramount Leader the focus, and belittles the role of M.L.A.s. We are not well served when the decision of one Leader absolves every other politician from their responsibility for not having seen the wrongness of what they were doing.

An Important Provincial Election in Alberta

March 28, 2012

Every provincial election is important.  Sometimes we don’t appreciate the importance of an election until years later.  The election of 1993 returned a government that many Albertans thought had been ‘tired’ and was suddenly invigorated by a new leader – Ralph Klein.  It wasn’t until years later that we came face to face with the consequences of blowing up hospitals, reducing the number of medical and nursing students, regionalizing health care, centralizing control of education, eliminating regional planning commissions…

Almost 20 years later Albertans are considering whether to re-elect a now 42 year old Progressive Conservative government.

On the way to casting a ballot, citizens will be considering five different types of questions.

  1. Is the current government good for another term, or does it need to be replaced?  Criticism is heard, but is it valid?  Is the governing party tired, arrogant and bullying?  Does it have the attitude that it is entitled to govern?  Do Tory candidates have the attitude that they are entitled to have someone carry their bags, and entitled to appoint friends and supporters to various positions?  Has the bullying that is much talked about in the press originated with the P.C. government as an institution, or has it been the work of individuals acting alone and contrary to the spirit of the party?  Does the Tory party recognize the challenges facing Alberta?  Does it have new ideas for dealing with new circumstances and new opportunities?  Does it have the energy and the will for a new style of politics, a new approach to issues and decision-making, and a new relationship with voters?
  2. Did the Progressive Conservative Party enthusiastically choose Alison Redford to be its new Leader, and will the Party welcome new attitudes, new values and policies, new ways of organizing, and new decisions, or will the Party establishment and culture change Alison Redford, so that she conforms to well-established ways of thinking, doing things, and relating to the public?
  3. What is the role of an M.L.A., and how does the role do justice to the interests of individual voters, the interests of the local community, the interests of the province as a whole, and the interests of the Party the M.L.A. belongs to?  What should we consider when evaluating and comparing candidates?
  4. When thinking about the next government, could any Party other than the Progressive Conservatives govern well? What is the role of the Party Leader?  What should I consider when evaluating and comparing Party Leaders?  What is the role of any Party other than the government Party?
  5. What issues are important to us, as individuals, as family, as community?  What are the important values reflected in the issues?  What are the consequences if the issues are handled well, or badly?  What should I weigh before I cast my ballot?

During the course of the election campaign I intend to blog about each cluster of questions.  I would like these posts to be part of a conversation with you.    What values and issues and questions are important to you?  Looking ahead, how do you evaluate the prospects for each of the parties?  Is there a candidate – or more than one – whose campaign and election prospects you are specially following, and why?

Abraham LIncoln, on Money

October 13, 2011

“Money is the creature of  law, and the creation of the original issue of money should be maintained as the exclusive monopoly of national government. …The monetary needs of increasing numbers of people advancing towards higher standards of living can and should be met by the government.  Such needs can be met by the issue of national currency and credit through the operation of a national banking system.  The circulation of a medium of exchange issued and backed by the government can be properly regulated and redundancy of issue avoided by withdrawing from circulation such amounts as may be necessary by taxation, re-deposit and otherwise.  Government, possessing the power to create and issue currency and credit as money…need not and should not borrow capital at interest….The financing of all public enterprises, the maintenance of stable government and ordered progress [my emphasis], and the conduct of the Treasury will become  matters of practical administration…Money will cease to be the master and become the servant of humanity.  Democracy will rise superior to the money power.” (Abraham Lincoln, Senate document 23, p. 91, 1865)

 

With thanks to my friend Mark Anielski.