Posts Tagged ‘Alison Redford’

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.

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.

What happens post-election — part 1

April 7, 2012

The Alberta provincial election campaign is entering territory rarely seen — in Alberta or anywhere else. Not only is a political dynasty about to be upset, but an entire political culture is being challenged. The upset will likely be accomplished on April 23rd. The challenge to the old style of doing politics will enjoy another success, but needs more time to work through to its completion. Look for the next election in Alberta to be just as interesting as the upcoming one.

There is a foreshadowing that the long-governing Tory party is imploding, and it appears that the knives are coming out. (Calgary Herald column here) The rush to blame illustrates three problems that people within the Tory party are wrestling with. One is personal, one is institutional, and one is cultural.

At a personal level, it doesn’t help the Tories that “key insiders” are now panicking, and slagging their party Leader in this way. In addition of course, key insiders, who are blaming the party’s leadership selection process for their current turmoil, determined the party’s leadership selection process and, as the column rightly notes, they have had ample time to undo their error since it was first used almost a decade ago. The ‘naive’ Ms. Redford didn’t impose the selection process on these smart politicos.

At an institutional level, Ms. Redford has had three challenges, since the day she decided to contest the leadership of the party. As I wrote on April 4th, Tory stalwarts did not choose Ms. Redford. Thousands of Albertans joined the party because it was the government party, and they wanted to drag their government, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. They did what they wanted to do, and then they returned to home, work, and community, leaving Ms. Redford to contend with old-timers who wanted to bolt for the door and return to the comfort of the last century. So her most difficult challenge has been to keep the party in the 21st century. In spite of what thousands of Albertans indicated they wanted to see as the direction of the party, they party has not responded in good faith. Ms. Redford is bright, imaginative, disciplined, energetic, and hard-working. And it appears that she is losing the second challenge.

The third challenge that the Tory party faces is a cultural one. There is something happening just beneath the surface of the political process. Candidates, party workers, the parties and the public are trying to understand the past and the future, and they are trying to decide where they feel more comfortable; they are trying to decide which one to bet on. Does each voter, does the electorate generally, want to be the last out of the past, or the first into the future? For the Tory party, the question is simple: does the Tory party want to compete with the Wild Rose party to be the most sophisticated expression of the old way of doing things, or do they want to be a tentative and exploring party that tries to figure out a dramatically new way of responding to voters and doing politics?

It appears that Ms. Redford wants to be first into the future. But, because of the way the party is imploding under the baggage created by years of direction from old-style M.L.A.s and party mandarins, the centre will not likely hold for another two weeks. For the Tories, the best case scenario at this point seems to be a minority government. Regardless of the outcome, following the election, the Tory party will be filled with recriminations, defections, and wasted energy. Look for a battle royale over leadership, organization, policy, fund-raising, etc. It will likely go into a “blue funk” and decline.

In this situation, at this time, Alberta’s voters have to be wise about the future, without knowing what the future will bring.

Is the Tory party glad to be here, or would they rather be somewhere else?

April 4, 2012

One of the big questions Albertans must wrestle with in the lead-up to the election is this — Did the Progressive Conservative Party enthusiastically choose Alison Redford to be its new Leader, and does she, and will the Party, welcome new attitudes, new values and policies, new ways of organizing, and new decisions? And if she does, and the party does not, will the party establishment and culture change Alison Redford, so that she conforms to well-established — but out-moded — ways of thinking, doing things, and relating to the public?

Does the party want to be the first into the future, or the last out of the past?

The evidence is clear. Ms. Redford was not the choice of the Party stalwarts. Only one sitting M.L.A. (since retired) supported her campaign. With few exceptions, the high profile party insiders were working for other candidates. Ms. Redford won because thousands of Albertans who are not committed to the P.C. Party joined and voted for her. Basically, they wanted to drag their government into the 21st century, and she was the closest representation of the 21st century that they could find among the leadership candidates. The P.C. party has not come enthusiastically into the 21st century: Albertans dragged it here, kicking and screaming. And then Albertans turned back to home and work, and community, and left the Party to its own devices.

A year ago, Ms. Redford faced three daunting tasks. 1. Win the leadership. 2. Cobble together a modern looking Cabinet from the caucus she inherited, substantially change the culture of the party, and completely rebuild the party organization, with new personnel and a new political culture. 3. Campaign and win an election.

Winning the leadership was the easiest of the three tasks. The most difficult, and the one that takes the longest, is the 2nd task — substantially changing the culture of the party and completely re-building the party organization, with new personnel and a new political culture. The third task is difficult primarily because the jury is still out on the 2nd task.

For example, making Ron Liepert Minister of Finance, likely in exchange for his promise to retire at this election, was probably a shrewd move. It may have been old school politics, but it had the redeeming value of sidelining one of the toughest examplars of the old way of doing politics.

But what about making Gary Mar Alberta’s agent in Hong Kong, without a competition? Was that a matter of sending a possible challenger 1/2 a world away, or was it a matter of providing a golden handshake, or was it something else? Mr. Mar has a lot to commend him as the province’s agent in Hong Kong. The problem is that the appointment lost its lustre when it was not done transparently, and simply fuels speculation that it is more of the old school of politics.

There are other examples: the Minister of Municipal Affairs intimidating the President of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association; the Premier’s Chief of Staff doing the same thing; the government retreating from a public inquiry into the possible bullying of doctors; the ‘no-meet’ committee payments; (former) M.L.A. Hector Goudreau’s letter to a school board, implying intimidation; the youthful staffer Tweeting about Danielle Smith’s family; the decision to strip constitutional rights away from Protestants in St. Albert, in order to give them to Roman Catholics. Any or all of these things could happen in the life of any party. Some of them have been retracted, or apologized for. I commend Ms. Redford for this. The difficulty for Albertans is that the retractions and apologies have been specific to the event: they have not addressed the bigger — and perhaps longer lasting — matter of a substantial cultural change.

As she deals with specifics, Ms. Redford has not made clear that she recognizes and is prepared to deal with the underlying issues — the sense of entitlement and the deep attachment, within the P.C. party, to confrontational politics and intimidation. The Gary Mar situation did not conclude with Ms. Redford making an enduring commitment to open competition for future appointments. It didn’t conclude with the Premier bravely dealing with the fundraising dinner directly: the effort, instead, was to make sure “the buck stops somewhere else”. The Minister of Municipal Affairs was never publicly told that, regardless of the narrow interpretation of his words, bullying local government is unacceptable and won’t happen in the future. Mr. Goudreau may not have been bullying the school board at all; he may simply having been warning them that some of his colleagues were bullies. In shooting the messenger, Ms. Redford did not deal with the message. The young staffer was hired to work in the Premier’s southern Alberta office. What was she told about the standards for staff? What messages did she pick up from co-workers that led her to believe her Tweet was appropriate and would be “helpful”? If a Redford government will strip constitutional rights away from one minority group that has enjoyed them, should property owners and civil libertarians be concerned that the same may happen to them on another occasion?

Albertans have seen some hopeful — and tentative — direction from Ms. Redford since her election as Leader, but the trajectory is not clear. If any similar events happen after the election, will there still be powerful forces in the Tory party arguing for confrontational politics, personal attacks, and intimidation? Are Albertans going to elect candidates who have already “been there” so long, and “done that”, so often, that they will continue to resist change, and resist it fiercely? Will Ms. Redford be more prepared to say, “the buck stops here”.

Is she prepared and able to fight for a new way of doing politics? Can she, with the help of others, overcome the inertia of momentum in the Tory party as we know it today?

Finally, it is important to note that politics is complex. Very intelligent, imaginative, energetic and thoughtful people can fail at politics when the very process is poisoned by partisanship, ideology, a sense of entitlement, and arrogance. Many Americans, and more than a few Canadians had high hopes — naive hopes — about what President Obama could achieve in four years. They didn’t consider the limits of the President’s power in the face of complex systems, hidden alliances, the power of money, and vested interests.

Voters must not turn away from making a decision on election day. They need to remember that there is much more to consider than is superficially apparent. Voters are trying to be wise about the future without certain knowledge about the future.

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?

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?

Politics in Alberta has taken an exciting turn for the better

October 3, 2011

Politics in Alberta has taken an exciting turn for the better.  The turn didn’t happen on Saturday, October 1st, when the P.C. Party chose a new Leader – and I congratulate Alison Redford on her campaign.

The change began much earlier, but yesterday’s election was a happy confirmation that the turn is substantially complete.

The majority of Albertans have confirmed themselves as centrists, pragmatists, and uncomfortable with ideological positions and ‘the cult of leadership”.  Arguably, the particular conservative mindset represented by the Wild Rose Party has been relegated to marginal status.

The decision Albertans made through the P.C. process follows similar decisions Albertans made, within the past 5 months, through the Liberal and Alberta Party processes.  All these parties have followed through on the initiative demonstrated by the Reboot Alberta events, the Democratic Renewal Project, and Renew Alberta.

It may be true that the P.C. Party was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but they did allow themselves to be dragged.  And 75,000 Albertans – most of whom are not P.C. Party stalwarts – were prepared to drag them into the 21st century.  Clearly, Albertans want the next election to be fought in the centre of the political spectrum, not on the left or right fringe.

I wouldn’t minimize the significance of Ms. Redford’s victory, not in the least, but she has accomplished the easiest of three tasks she set herself this spring.

Next, she must dramatically change the culture of the Party she leads.  She must change the value system, and the characteristics of the organization.  Many of the people occupying many of the positions within the party must be changed.  Yet the incumbents are entrenched, convinced that the old way of doing things is the best way of doing things, and determined not to lose their grip on “power”.  Today and tomorrow, although Ms. Redford is the Leader, these people retain considerable capacity to slow her, stop her, distract her, or derail her.

At the same time, she must be a leader of leaders, so she must encourage many people who have been passive and submissive followers to become leaders with her.  She must encourage, and accept, moral strength from colleagues, when more than 20 years of experience has promoted acquiescence to the decision of the paramount leader.  She must persuade people who have viewed leadership as privilege to start understanding it as service.

Her challenge is compounded by the fact that, at the moment, she has a very small and shallow pool of talent to fish in.  Although this is not the sole determinant of election timing, her current caucus is not a hotbed of enthusiasm, imagination, energy, or conviction about the emerging political realities.  She needs a new caucus.

This leads into the 3rd challenge, to win the next election.

Ms. Redford — with the help of many Albertans who are not P.C.s — has dragged the P.C. Party to the hall where the next dance will be held – the centrist hall.  It is not yet clear that the Party will learn the new dances or behave in keeping with the expectations of everyone else in the hall.  But at least they are moving in the direction of the popular hall:  they are not insisting that anyone who wants to dance must come to their decrepit hall, where obsolete and unpopular music has been the staple.

The next election will be interesting because Ms. Redford wants it to be fought in the centre.  She is trying to bring the P.C. Party to turf that the Party will share with current occupants – especially the Alberta Party, the Liberal Party, and others.  Her victory provides an important validation for what the Alberta Party and others have been saying and doing.  Her victory is an acknowledgement that these parties should not be going to the turf currently/formerly occupied by the P.C. Party.

In other words, her victory both confirms the initiative of the Alberta Party and makes the work of the Alberta Party more challenging.  Albertans should welcome both outcomes.