Look out Alberta, you’re about to get “rebooted”: First Impressions

November 28, 2009 by
Filed under: Alberta, Politics 

You could tell before we even got to Red Deer there were a lot of expectations about Reboot Alberta. You could read it in blog posts and in twitter conversations and in blog post comment sections. There was a buzz.

Why? Because this is the kind of conversation that does not happen very often.

A lot of the buzz was about “the left-wing conference” or creating a new party or things of that nature.

So for me, the first order of the day was to throw all of those expectations out the window.

This turned out to be a relatively easy thing to do. My first impression was that of the amazing diversity in the room. There was almost an equal split of young and old(er). I actually found this surprising because of my other public development experience with the younger-skewing CivicCamp and ChangeCamp.  In an almost ironic turn, during a conversation I had with one of those older participants, he confided in me he was surprised there were so many young people. (The exact opposite of my impression!) He, being a political stalwart, expressed how he’s never had a political discussion with so many young people at the same time. He stuck me as shocked there are so many young people in the province who care about politics. And quite frankly: the direction Alberta is heading.

And yes, it’s important to note there are more women (again both young and older) than I thought there might be too. As well as visible minorities. (Apparently I thought it was only going to young white males. I was wrong.)

The other thing that helped shatter my expectations was the diversity of political leanings in the room. It was stated at the beginning of the day that there are active members of every single political party in the province in the room. There are former cabinet ministers and MLAs, former candidates, campaign managers and die-hard supporters. This added a layer to the discussions that was invaluable. Instead of it being a conference about policies, it immediately became a conference about engagement.

This is why I found the afternoon sessions so profoundly useful.

During the morning a lot of ideas were discussed. In a typical un-conference-seemingly-random manner. But during the afternoon it was “action’s” turn as the format switched to just four discussion groups: the four ways to effect change.

The four ways identified and discussed were:

  • From within the current political system and current parties
  • From within the current political system through a new party
  • From outside the current political system through an organized movement
  • From outside the current political system through individual actions

Seeing these four “ways forward” – as I’ve come to call them – was a revelation for me. That’s it, just four ways you can effect change. How simple can it get?!

Much of the discussion during these groups focussed on what each of these areas could accomplish in the name of change. I know the new party vs. from within current parties either-or generated a lot discussion in particular. But it was during the discussion result presentations that it dawned on me: what would happen if we took all four of these ways forward AT THE SAME TIME?

Any one of these ways forward could effect change. However taking all four paths at the same time could all but guarantee the desired change.

Certainly all four groups were heavily attended, so my guess is, you may very well see all four of these ways forward actually undertaken.

And if that’s the case, look out Alberta, you’re about to seriously get “rebooted”. The whole game is about to change.

Comments

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  • http://www.drproject.ca/ Alvin Finkel

    Taking all four paths together will simply insure that the Right continues to rule Alberta for the next century as it has since 1935. If you create a new party at the same time as you are working through the existing parties, you'll just increase the fracturing on the centre-left, which has hampered the growth of opposition in this province for a very long time.

    Far better to work inside the Liberal and NDP organizations to push for a non-compete agreement in the next election. This already has the support of the Liberal caucus and a growing group within the NDP. Few of these people however will leave their parties to join a new party, and voters will be even more confused and apathetic if the centre-left becomes more crowded.

    Check out the Alberta Democratic Renewal Project website for more about this.

    Alvin Finkel,
    Co-Chair,
    Democratic Renewal Project

  • http://www.drproject.ca/ Alvin Finkel

    Taking all four paths together will simply insure that the Right continues to rule Alberta for the next century as it has since 1935. If you create a new party at the same time as you are working through the existing parties, you'll just increase the fracturing on the centre-left, which has hampered the growth of opposition in this province for a very long time.

    Far better to work inside the Liberal and NDP organizations to push for a non-compete agreement in the next election. This already has the support of the Liberal caucus and a growing group within the NDP. Few of these people however will leave their parties to join a new party, and voters will be even more confused and apathetic if the centre-left becomes more crowded.

    Check out the Alberta Democratic Renewal Project website for more about this.

    Alvin Finkel,
    Co-Chair,
    Democratic Renewal Project

  • http://www.paulinate.com/ Paul Hughes

    From the dots to the 4P's and all the ideas in between, u've had quite an impact on #rebootab. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I concur.

  • Paul Hughes

    Appealing to the Lib, NDP, Conservative voter base is not the primary objective here. It is the 60% of Albertans who did not vote in the last election. The fact it has taken the Libs & NDs this long to figure that out is rather unsettling and does not speak well to the concepts of principled, decisive, visionary and progressive leadership.
    The suggestion Albertans will not leave a party has been successfully dismissed by WAP. Having said that, the ADRP is visionary and your work contributes important ideas to the dialogue.

  • http://www.drproject.ca/ Alvin Finkel

    Thanks Paul. I agree that there has been a lack of vision on the part of the leaders of the Liberals, NDP, and the former Greens. But Mark Lisac published the results of an extensive poll in Insight into Government that demonstrated that had the non-voters voted, the results of the last election would have been similar. This is a petro-state and the percentage of people who are conservative is much higher than in the rest of Canada. Harry Hall's recent book on immigration to Alberta from the rest of the country, Second Promised Land, demonstrates that there is a great deal of self-selection in which those who are seeking a low-tax, selfish environment figure highly. So, for those of us who are progressive, it is necessary to be realistic and humble. We don't, at this point, constitute a majority in the province. And if we are to provide a credible opposition to which even a government has to listen because we can potentially win over people who aren't wedded to any ideology, much less form government, we need UNITY on the centre-left.

    How such unity is to be achieved is harder to say. But I do cut the existing parties more slack than you do. They think that they are operating in Canada and can offer the same degree of choice as people in other provinces get. But they are actually operating in a half-Canada, half-US jurisdiction in terms of attitudes of the residents. That calls for a different strategy but it has to be realistic and not apocalyptic. A new party, if it is going to form, would do best to join the DRP to endorse candidates from existing parties (including the Greens, who temporarily do not exist but can certainly put up Independents in promising seats) so that in each seat there is one credible candidate. If it puts up candidates of its own, it will simply feed into the public perception that all political parties are the creations of crooks and potential crooks who want to establish public careers at voters' expense.

    As for WAP, it demonstrates what a party that receives a gazillion dollars from En Cana and other big oil companies can do in a petro-state with a huge conservative population. The Western Canada Concept did the same in the early 1980s. The Tories are largely following the WAP lead (as with the WCC, the strategy of Big Oil is to remind the Tories that it can control other political forces if the Tories get uppity) and it will be interesting to see if the newer ultra-right party can actually displace them. I think it's encouraging that there is disunity on the right but if the left continues to be equally incapable of unity, it will be a sideshow in the next election which will focus on the far right versus the ultra-right much like the 1993 election gave us the choice of “massive cuts” and “brutal cuts,” a choice that Albertans liked enough to provide one of the highest turn-out elections in the province's history.

    Alvin

  • philelder

    I declined an invitation to Reboot because of my apparently incorrect belief that no call for partisan political action would emerge from this stimulating talkfest. Now I discover that a scattergun approach is being considered, one that will, as the insightful Alvin Finkel says, only perpetuate the split of the opposition vote and continued rule of Alberta by the right.
    I've puzzled about the best response to the progressive dilemma in this province since attending Ruben Nelson's “Kananaskis Circle” a year ago and have strongly concluded that the Alberta Democratic Renewal Project's “non-compete” strategy is the only credible way forward. I say this as the founder of the abortive “Calgary Urban Party” 30 years ago which offered a slate supporting what we now call the “sustainable city.” The difficulties of forming a new party are often under-estimated even by politically experienced people – without untold funds and a charismatic leader, efforts which overlap with established parties are doomed. I may be out of the loop, but haven't recently yet seen much evidence of either.
    I hope the DRP idea will obtain traction among Rebooters and existing supporters of the Green, Liberal and ND Parties.

  • 1alvin1

    This just in. I was asked to delete my claim that the Liberal caucus supports a negotiation with the NDP. Seems that I was misinformed here. But this site doesn't allow me to delete a claim. So, instead I'll just withdraw it.

    Political parties are pretty creepy frankly. Sometimes I think the majority are right in simply not voting.

  • Paul Hughes

    The definition of insanity comes to mind, 1alvin1. The NDP & Liberals will not form a govt in Alberta unless they change their very insular approach to prov politics. The one thing I found so 'delicious' about ReBootAB was the across the spectrum representation of political leanings. Using terms like centre left/right, et al is so 2008, so old school. Our rhetoric could use an update.

  • 1alvin1

    Thanks Paul. Yes, it is the insularity of the NDP and the Liberals that the DRP hopes to overcome, though we respect the efforts that these progressive parties have made over the years to change Albertans' thinking and votes. It will be interesting to see if the new Renew party has more than new platitudes and newness itself to bring to the table and whether they prove any more open to cooperation with others than the existing tribal arrangements are. Colour me skeptical.

    I'd agree that right, centre, and left are not helpful to many people. They never were. Every poll ever done on the subject suggests that the majority do not understand what these words mean when applied to politics. I'm not sure however what language will get things across. We all tend to think in cliches and to avoid certain issues. The big one that almost everyone seems to try to sidestep nowadays is fiscal policy. If we are to have a consistent set of social policies for people rather than to determine need on the basis of whether the economy is up or down at a given moment, then we need a taxation policy that makes sure that the funds are always available. That also means looking at how wealth is redistributed in society. Who gets money and power are the real issues in politics that never go out of style. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary, a century ago defined politics as a “parade of interests masking as principles.” So, people and parties need to be clearer about what their interests are, who will get what as a result of the policies they propose, and how the province/world will be any different if they are elected rather than the same old gang.

    Whatever happens in Alberta, I hope it will be a more intelligent and more inclusive debate than has occurred in the past. For years now Albertans, asked by pollsters to express their values and what they want from governments, have come off as more progressive than the governments that they vote for (when they vote). How that disconnect can be broken, if it can, would be a very interesting project for everyone interested in reform in Alberta.

  • 1alvin1

    Thanks Paul. Yes, it is the insularity of the NDP and the Liberals that the DRP hopes to overcome, though we respect the efforts that these progressive parties have made over the years to change Albertans' thinking and votes. It will be interesting to see if the new Renew party has more than new platitudes and newness itself to bring to the table and whether they prove any more open to cooperation with others than the existing tribal arrangements are. Colour me skeptical.

    I'd agree that right, centre, and left are not helpful to many people. They never were. Every poll ever done on the subject suggests that the majority do not understand what these words mean when applied to politics. I'm not sure however what language will get things across. We all tend to think in cliches and to avoid certain issues. The big one that almost everyone seems to try to sidestep nowadays is fiscal policy. If we are to have a consistent set of social policies for people rather than to determine need on the basis of whether the economy is up or down at a given moment, then we need a taxation policy that makes sure that the funds are always available. That also means looking at how wealth is redistributed in society. Who gets money and power are the real issues in politics that never go out of style. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary, a century ago defined politics as a “parade of interests masking as principles.” So, people and parties need to be clearer about what their interests are, who will get what as a result of the policies they propose, and how the province/world will be any different if they are elected rather than the same old gang.

    Whatever happens in Alberta, I hope it will be a more intelligent and more inclusive debate than has occurred in the past. For years now Albertans, asked by pollsters to express their values and what they want from governments, have come off as more progressive than the governments that they vote for (when they vote). How that disconnect can be broken, if it can, would be a very interesting project for everyone interested in reform in Alberta.

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