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;
• 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.