Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Close Mouth, Swallow Pride, Repeat as Necessary

Alberta opposition parties may finally be starting to figure this whole Alberta politics thing out

After decades of Progressive Conservative government, Albertan politics may finally get the breath of fresh air that it so desperately needs.

As reported in the Edmonton Journal, the Alberta Federation of Labour -- one of the organizations behind Albertans for Change and the aggressive attack ad campaign against Ed Stelmach -- has proposed a "unity pact" between the Alberta Liberals and NDP.

"We are proposing an agreement that would stop centre-left parties from running candidates against each other because vote splitting is keeping the Conservatives in power," wrote AFL president Gil McGowan, who drafted the five-page proposal almost immediately after the 2008 provincial election.

In essence, the pact would combine three agreements:

First, the Liberals and NDP would decline to run candidates against one another, in theory allowing each "centre-left" candidate (as McGowan describes it) to monopolize the "centre-left" vote.

Secondly, the two parties would campaign separately, but agree on a core list of principles they would work in favour of if elected.

Thirdly (and finally), the two parties would institute major electoral reform should they form a government, including possibly a proportional representation system.

"I'll be blunt, it's deliberately provocative because after the election in March it became clear to me that we need to do more than the usual post-election navel gazing," McGowan insists. "We have to start thinking about new approaches because if nothing changes we're looking at another 40 years of one-party rule."

For their part, both NDP leader Brian Mason and Liberal leader "Cowboy" Kevin Taft have agreed to consider the pact.

"Everything's on the table at least for the Alberta Liberals," says Taft. "Everything from the name of the party, the leadership of the party, policies, the structure of the party, and the possibility of reaching out to supporters in other parties, all of that is on the table right now. There's a lot of conversations going on."

"I have my own views," added Mason, "but I think at this stage what I want to do is encourage party members to have that discussion and we need to work through this as a party to come up with an idea of where we want to go as a party."

Mason has also noted that the NDP are willing to work with the Albertan Green party.

Of course, there's no guarantee that Liberal or NDP candidates would manage to capture the entire left-of-centre vote in any one riding across the province. In fact, experience with the Conservative Party of Canada -- which has never totalled the combined vote of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties since merging -- in fact suggests otherwise.

But a non-competitive pact, particularly in urban centres such as Edmonton and Lethbridge, could make a few seats worth of difference. Based on 2008 results, not quite enough to form the government, but enough to strengthen the opposition enough to look forward to better results in the future.

"From the right of the political spectrum we will be accused of trying to hijack the political process," admits McGowan. "And from the left we will be vilified for 'selling out' and abandoning core principles. Harsh words will be spoken and more than a few relationships and friendships will be broken. But it still needs to be done."

Of course, forming a "unity pact" is only part of the strategy Alberta's opposition parties need to employ. Another part of a winning strategy for the Albertan Liberals and NDP is a good, hard second look at their respective policy platforms to evaluate whether or not Albertans are likely to favourably respond to.

The other side of the equation that will still need to be addressed is leadership. Brian Mason is irrelevant in Albertan politics, and will remain so indefinitely, unity pact or no unity pact. Meanwhile, Kevin Taft has taken on all the characteristics of an embittered, facetious little wannabe who is slowly beginning to realize he never will be. Neither one of these two men is capable of leading the province, and eventually their parties will have to address the sad state of affairs in their front offices.

Without better policy, more relevant to the interests, concerns and needs of Albertans and better leadership, the unity pact -- if adopted, and there's no guarantee of that yet -- will remain a moot point.

Alberta's opposition parties need to open their minds, close their mouths, swallow their pride, and repeat as necessary.

1 comment:

  1. The proposal sounds good on paper, but it has a few obstacles to overcome before it comes to the point where any Liberal/NDP coalition has a chance of challenging the Conservative stranglehold on Alberta politics. Those obstacles are mainly historical.
    In spite of the rapid growth of the two major population centres in Alberta, the province still remains, approximately, 50% rural...and farmers have long memories. The impact of the dirty thirties was still a fact of political thought here as late as the early 1980s. Most of the older generation still held a deep mistrust for the large Eastern banks which were seen as being the puppet masters behind the Liberals. Just as this generation was fading from political influence, Mr. Trudeau came along with his NEP and the one finger salute to Alberta. Again, this was seen as the Ottawa/Toronto establishment destroying the Western economy simply to provide cheap energy to Eastern Canada. Now we have a whole new generation of Albertans who watch every move by the feds with a very wary eye and, when Mr. Dion suggests a carbon tax it raises the spectre of an Eastern attempt to keep Alberta in its place.
    Alberta tried an experiment with a Red Tory government under Don Getty. This short lived regime immediately plunged the province into debt; a position that is anathema to farmers who struggle with debt all the time. Mr. Klein came along and promised to get rid of that debt. He was also honest enough to say that there would be pain in this approach. The Eastern liberal establishment denigrated Mr. Klein as some red neck right wing reactionary, but he delivered; helped, of course, by the good fortune of rising oil prices. But he delivered and he told it like it was. A little honesty from a politician goes a long way out here. The typical sugar-coated platitudes of most politicians don't wash with people who know that the good times don't last forever. There was a lot of pain but most of the blame fell on the previous administration which had created the debt. It was viewed as being too intrusive and liberal.
    Lastly, the constant attacks on Alberta from environmental groups, mainly based in Eastern Canada, and from Eastern journalists and writers just reinforces the belief that Alberta is being blamed for everything from global warming to jock itch. All this negative commentary is viewed as being aimed at having the backward second cousins fall into line with their more sophisticated Eastern bretheren and the Liberal Party is seen as the primary promoters of Eastern "progressive" values.
    Kevin Taft, the Alberta liberal leader, is respected and well liked,but he would be considered a right wing hawk in Eastern Canada. Mr. Taft has the huge problem of overcoming many years of historical inequities heaped on Alberta, and aligning himself with the NDP, which is simply viewed as an amusing not to be taken seriously, counterpoint to the Conservatives would not help his cause. In spite of the commentary, again from Eastern Canada, that claims that there is a disconnect between the people of Alberta and their elected elected representatives, I would suggest that the people must think the Conservatives are doing something right because they sure elected enough of them.
    Things may change as more people migrate from the East and bring their "progressive" philosophy with them, but I think not. With myself as a newcomer from Ontario in 1978, and carrying all the big governemrnt baggage with me, I found the absense of big brother to be a breath of fresh air. It sure beat sitting down in a bar in Northern Ontario and seeing the walls completely covered with 'thou shalt not' hunting and fishing regulations.
    All things must change and, in due course, Liberal values will find a home in Alberta and the province will be faced with the tax and spend philosophy of the left. I hope not, but by then I will be long gone. Or, if not, I'll just have to pack up and move to the Yukon.

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