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.