The provincial government, as required by provincial law, has initiated another redistribution of provincial constituencies. The interim report has been published and the debate is renewed about urban and rural representation. The urban argument calls for representation by population, and the rural argument calls for electoral compensation for the impositions of geography.
Perhaps the underlying issue is more simply described and resolved.
If democracy is about self-government by the citizens of a community, then the questions arises — what is the community within which we want self-government? And, perhaps, we should re-examine — and re-affirm — the answer our forefathers came to in years gone by. Perhaps we want to govern ourselves — simultaneously — in a number of communities. Perhaps we want to make some decisions in our municipality or school division — our local community — while making some other decisions in our provincial community, while making some other decisions in our federal community. Perhaps we want citizens to make the decision about what is decided locally or provincially. It seems to me that most Albertans believe this is the model of self-government they live inside. They are unaware that, over the past 15 – 20 years, the provincial government has unilaterally changed the model and changed the rules.
More and more often, more and more provincial government representatives, both M.L.A.s and staff, are saying that the only government in the province is the provincial government. Municipal councils and school boards are said to be not government, but involved with governance. Increasingly, the provincial government limits local access to resources, and transfers public resources as though they are a gift from the provincial government, in envelopes, with conditions attached, and the expectation that locally elected representatives will be accountable, after the fact, to the provincial government rather than to the local electorate. As this model gains acceptance, the provincial government increasingly makes the political decisions that are emblematic of government, and leaves procedural and technical matters to municipal councils and school boards. Local initiatives, local priorities, and local mandates are being discouraged and suppressed by limiting local access to appropriate resources. Local long term planning is being constrained by the imposition of provincial decisions about infrastructure.
Perhaps this is what Albertans want. Perhaps the Village of Carmanguay, the Town of Stettler, the City of Edmonton, and the M.D. of Sturgeon are all irrelevant remnants of the past. Perhaps we only live in one community of 3.5 million people — the Province of Alberta. Perhaps we should share all our political decisions, all the time, with 3.5 million people.
I would feel more comfortable if all of us were aware of the issues, talking about the implications of them, and involved in making the relevant decisions. I have the uneasy feeling that local community and local government are being suffocated by people who may not know what they are doing as they do it. Or, people involved with the provincial government see local government as competition. Or, perhaps they see local government as completely irrelevant to the challenges we face now and in the future.
All Albertans should be part of the discussion and part of the decision-making process about the future of local communities and the future of local self-government.
For example, would the argument about provincial constituency boundaries (and urban or rural influence) be as heated if Albertan’s — both urban and rural — felt confident that important decisions are made locally and would always be made locally? Would influence in the Legislative Assembly be as important if Albertans felt that local government had adequate resources to accept local mandates, initiate innovative programs locally, and be accountable to the local electorate?
But, perhaps in both urban and rural communities people are arguing so vociferously over seats in the Legislative Assembly because they are already aware that the province is unilaterally centralizing decision-making, centralizing control of resources, and shifting accountability away from the electorate to the provincial government, unilaterally diminishing local communities.
I passed a billboard just outside Claresholm. The message was: “Less Ottawa, more Alberta.” What I would really like to see is “less capital, more community”.