Posts Tagged ‘Danielle Smith’

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.

Advertisements

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.

Conscience Rights — with thanks to Graham Thomson and Danielle Smith

April 10, 2012

Alberta is in the midst of a great election campaign. Voters and the media are talking to each other, and listening to each other, and sometimes politicians join the conversation. Ideas are being tested, and sometimes changing, and all of us are being informed.

Graham Thomson’s column in today’s Edmonton Journal is a good example (see previous post).

His exchange with Wild Rose leader Danielle Smith provides some clarification about positions. The exchange also raises further questions.

Ms. Smith seems to be downplaying conscience rights as a matter of much concern for voters. Her argument is that the mechanics of operationalizing conscience rights make them more theoretical than real.

But, a provincial government could always use the “Notwithstanding” provision of the Charter (section 33) to override the Saskatchewan decision. Professional codes of conduct are always subject to provincial law, so the issue for government — and for voters — is not whether the government needs to get involved. The issue is whether the government wants to get involved.

As Ms. Smith makes clear, she is most often going to follow the direction set by her Party. If the Wild Rose party forms the government, as they have these wide-open conversations and set the direction for the government and the province, what arguments will Ms. Smith bring to the table, about ends. She says she is not going to be pre-emptory, and I accept that. But she is also not going to be silent — at least, I hope not. What personal leadership will she offer?

With all of her ‘clarification’ about process, Ms. Smith has not been any more clear about whether she herself favours or is opposed to legislating conscience rights. In the absence of any clear statement from her about her personal position, we have to believe that she would accept and implement whatever the Party decides. If the Party can find a way of overcoming the Saskatchewan decision, where would Ms. Smith go with conscience rights? If the Party decides to explore invoking the “Notwithstanding” clause, where would Ms. Smith stand on that issue, and then where would she go with conscience rights?

Grahams, give her another call.

Smith’s learning to adjust (Edmonton Journal, 10 Apr 2012, PageA12)

April 10, 2012

Smith’s learning to adjust
GRAHAM THOMSON gthomson@edmontonjournal. com
Edmonton Journal
10 Apr 2012

If public opinion polls are correct and Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford is piloting the political equivalent of the Titanic, the Wildrose Party is the iceberg and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is the tip bobbing telegenically on the…read more…

Tech Tags:

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.