breakfast with the new alberta party.

I had a very interesting meeting over breakfast at the SugarBowl on Saturday morning with some of the members involved in the new Alberta Party. Most Albertans probably did not even know that an Alberta Party even existed. Most Albertans would probably be surprised at what a busy couple of months it has been for the tiny political party that has so far occupied a historical footnote worth of activity.

At a meeting in Sylvan Lake in early January 2010, members of Renew Alberta and the board members of the Alberta Party met to flesh out ideas on how they could work together. While the little-known Alberta Party has found itself in the “right-wing” category for most of its existence, I am told that by January 2010, most of the more socially conservative members had left that party to join the Wildrose Alliance. This left a tight-knit group of people from central Alberta, old Reformers with a centrist bent, on that party’s board. After meeting to discuss the ‘merger’ with Renew Alberta, the members of the Alberta Party board voted first to unanimously to suspend their party policies (many of which were developed in the 1980s) and second to welcome members of Renew Alberta to join their board, starting a fresh.

Former Green Party Deputy Leader Edwin Erickson was collecting signatures to create a new ‘Progress Party,’ when he was approached to join the Alberta Party and run its leadership late last year. He was soon after acclaimed as Leader. Erickson is well-known in central Alberta for his opposition to the new transmission line laws (Bill 46, Bill 50, and Bill 19) and he placed a distant, but strong, second when running in the Drayton Valley-Calmar in the 2008 election.

Erickson was joined at our Saturday morning breakfast meeting by two new Alberta Party board members. Chris Labossiere is a successful businessman and is the former VP Communications for the Edmonton-Whitemud Progressive Conservative Association. He left the PC Party in 2009 after the Bill 44 controversy. David King is one of the few Albertans still involved in politics who was around the last time a change in government happened. As the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands from 1971 to 1986 and Minister of Education from 1979 to 1986, King was closely involved with building the PC Party under its first Premier Peter Lougheed. King was also one of the founding forces behind the similarly named, yet differently focused, Reboot Alberta.

The co-chair of Renew Alberta, who will be heavily involved as a spokesperson for the new Alberta Party, is Chima Nkemdirim, a lawyer from Calgary who until the last election was involved with the Liberal Party as campaign manager for Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr. Taking a look at the list of the new Alberta Party board members revealed a healthy mix of very urban and very rural, and young and old with diverse political and community backgrounds. I know many of these people and have a lot of respect for what they are doing (I am told that the full list of board members for the new Alberta Party will be released when the new website is fully launched in March).

With the old party policies suspended, the new Alberta Party plans to focus their energies not on selling party memberships or building constituency organizations (at least now), but on ‘The Big Listen’ – a conversation with Albertans. Critical to their success is the need for ‘The Big Listen’ to be more than an exercise in faux-populism. We have seen a brand of faux-populism from the traditional political parties where they travel the province to “listen to Albertans” or hear “what Albertans want,” only to return with a pre-determined partisan or ideological policy stance. In many ways, “listening to Albertans” has turned into an exercise in market research and brand development, rather than sincere governance. If the new Alberta Party is to be successful, “The Big Listen” needs to be a real exercise in collaborative policy development and ideas generation.

I was told that the new Alberta Party is planning to go beyond the traditional dreary town hall meeting to help supporters to host smaller and more intimate meetings in living rooms and seniors centres across Alberta. One of the ideas proposed at the breakfast meeting was the use of technology to create a collaborative atmosphere online where citizens can contribute beyond the on-going ‘Big Listen’ meetings.

As explained to me, the immediate goal for the people involved with the new Alberta Party is not to form government or to create another top-down leader dominated party, but to help change the culture of governance in Alberta. To “turn fear into hope and isolation into collaboration” by re-engaging Albertans in the way they are governed. If you think this sounds a bit like the language of ChangeCamp, you are correct. Some of the people involved in the new Alberta Party have also been involved or attended ChangeCamp in Edmonton, CivicCamp in Calgary, and Reboot Alberta.

Over breakfast, the example of Nokia was brought up. Responding to changing markets, the Finnish mobile phone company adopted an overlying strategy geared towards collaboration with their customers, rather than purely focusing on competition with other mobile phone companies. When this idea is applied politically, it is a large step away from the traditional confrontational mentality of annihilating your opponents at any cost. It should not be, but it is a novel idea, and not one that any of the traditional political are offering in any sincere way.

Throughout our discussion, the underlying theme I sensed from Erickson, Labossiere, and King was a desire for more accountable, transparent, and honest governance and a greater role for citizen engagement in how Albertans are governed. Essentially, an engaged, reformed, and accountable government reflective of the citizens of this province.

I have already heard harsh criticisms from friends in the PC, Liberal, and New Democratic parties that a new Alberta Party will only serve to split the centrist vote in the next election even further, helping the Wildrose Alliance to win more seats. There is a chance of this, but I have a difficult time seriously discussing vote splitting when 60% of Albertans did not vote in the last election. The traditional political parties have proven that they are uninterested or incapable of renewing themselves beyond what is politically most convenient in the short-term – and that is not good enough. As I wrote in response to comments in my previous post, maybe the new Alberta Party will flop, but maybe they will make politics more interesting (and more positive) for the average Albertan. I’m open minded and willing to give them a chance.

(You can find the Alberta Party online on Facebook and on Twitter)

25 thoughts on “breakfast with the new alberta party.”

  1. "I have a difficult time seriously discussing vote splitting when 60% of Albertans did not vote in the last election. The traditional political parties have proven that they are uninterested or incapable of renewing themselves beyond what is politically most convenient in the short-term – and that is not good enough."

    Well said.

    Personally, I cannot wait to see more choices politically and more authentic dialogue about the type of Alberta we want to live in. I'm excited.

  2. Thanks for your post, Dave. Unfortunately more political choices without changing to a form of proportional representation is pointless. As Edwin is coming from a Green Party background (which supports proportional representation) I imagine he would support an Alberta form of proportional representation (Alberta had proportional rep up until the mid 1950's). A good way of modeling that is setting up a similar voting system within your own party, as the Green Party did. This position would significantly set them apart from the pack.

    I am looking forward to their website to learn what the vision and basic philosophy of the party is, hopefully it is more than just the Frasier Crane "I'm listening".

    Before I get accused of being negative, I am keeping a cautious open mind about this new venture and if I am critical it is because I expect more from them than the traditional old style parties.

  3. Yep, I'm one of those, more vocal advocates that this will further split votes.

    We can't focus on the 60% who don't vote when if there was 100% of voter turnout there'd be vote splitting.

    The system is flawed, and I think it's crazy to think that a new party will help increase voter turnout. Maybe for one election – until people vote and see their vote totally disenfranchised and someone winning the seat with 30% of the vote of those who did vote.

    Not buying that adding more parties is a good way to capitalise on a new right(er) wing party potentially splitting the right.

    just sayin.

    shannon

  4. You may not identify yourself as such, but you clearly have some kind of preference there Shannon, otherwise you wouldn't care at all about so called vote-splitting (which is a nonsensical idea in a multi party system).

    People don't want to vote for the "lesser of a few evils", especially if they see that lesser as being the hapless & hopeless Liberals and NDP. They just stay home and, perhaps smartly, save their time from being wasted at the polls.

    I think the Alberta Party is on the best path to long term success. For these folks it won't be about victory in 2012 though, building a democratic party that is free from any quick ideology will take longer than that. Hopefully they can get a few of their reps elected then to start showcasing how their beliefs will be enacted inside the Legislature (what does a non-partisan party do with their QP allotment? I am curious to see!)

    If you see the right-wing split in 2012 as the "one time" to make big gains, you would be best served by joining the Liberals and helping them out. However Dr Swann and his crew seem incapable of motivating people to do so. His rejection of any real renewal sealed his fate as yet another DOA Lib leader.

  5. Nope, I care about people voting and feeling like their vote counts. more parties make sense in a system that uses either a run-off voting system or (*GASP) proportional representation.

    I'm all for choice, and parties that represent different ideas etc, however….

    In first past the post it doesn't matter who you support, left/right/up/down your vote will always split and, more often than not, the person who, "gets the most of anyone" but potentially overwhelmingly was voted against "earns" the seat.

    I don't care what party you represent, that is a democratic deficiency.

    Shannon

  6. You are absolutely right, Shannon. Your "choice" is meaningless in a FPTP system if the party you support has no hope of coming first in the riding where happenstance or the latest gerrymander has placed you. We need to replace FPTP with a system that insures that every voter's vote means something–and PR is the best for that, though preferential voting is also an improvement on what we have plus something that we had in Alberta until 1959.

    Until the voting system changes, we need to elect the candidate in each riding who: a) is committed to changing the voting system; b)has some chance of defeating the right-wingers who've run this province since forever.

    Alvin Finkel,
    Democratic Renewal Project

  7. PR is a joke. With PR who do you go to in your area if you have an issue? No one. The individual is lost in PR.

  8. Anonymous 2:49 makes a good point. The way that most people interact with the provincial government is primarily through their MLA, who is elected in a FPTP system for a defined region and someone who, most likely, lives in that region, so they are aware of local issues.
    The first question most people will want to know is who they contact when they have a problem. For all it's perceived problems, FPTP answers that question very clearly.
    It's arrogant to presume that just because "your party" can't get elected that the sytem must be broken.

  9. It's arrogant to assume winning a seat when 70% of people who voted voted against you that you represent that constituency.

    PR has a whole host of problems, but we're crazy if we think under the current system party solidarity has your elected official representing the constitency. An MP elected in PEI votes the same way an MP in Alberta – how is that representing your constituency.

    There's a balance to be found and many systems to look at.

    Shannon

  10. PR can mean a million different things. If you are going to advocate for electoral reform, then please elaborate on exactly what alternate model you are proposing – otherwise, it is impossible to have a meaningful discussion.

  11. Oh how the post-partisan rhetoric is so much different from the usual lambast-your-opponents fare:

    “Fortunately for you, there is a party (in which you apparently hold an official position) which will accommodate your narrow minded, old-school political perspective.” – Charles Relland, President, Alberta Party

    “Every other political party has a completely different model, and one that creates distrust and barriers for the disengaged to participate.” – Chris LaBossier, Director of the Alberta Party

    “The traditional political parties have proven that they are uninterested or incapable of renewing themselves beyond what is politically most convenient in the short-term – and that is not good enough.” – Dave Cournoyer

    A rose by any other name, my friends… In short, welcome back to partisanship. (:

  12. Yeah, I agree with Matt. The new boss sure looks like the old boss, though you've got to love spinning a party totally devoid of policy as one without "barriers".

    And let me add, this is all retarded. Utterly, utterly retarded. Could you all come back to earth here? The Alberta Party is as relevant as a Canadian Alpine skier.

  13. Thanks for all the comments, folks. This bit of news has certainly generated some interesting discussion.

    Matt, I'm not sure where you are welcoming me back from. This has been my opinion for a while.

    As for the other two quotes, I agree that the comment from Charles Relland was unnecessarily negative. Old political habits die hard. The people involved with the Alberta Party need to do better than that. I hope they will remember this.

    Cheers,

    Dave

  14. I think Alvin is pretending to be Anonymous Shannon because he needs to prove everyone wrong that no one likes him.

  15. nope. Turns out I'm the real deal (don't like to post anonymously – think it's chicken shit but it's a pain to sign into a blog I rarely use).

    I am also certainly not a big proponent of Alvin Finkel or the Democratic Renewal Project et al. but there are certain things we can agree in.

    At this point in the game, i don't care WHO people vote for (that comes later). I just want their vote to count (at every level – provincial/federal/even municipal votes get split), and flatly right now – they don't.

    Shannon

  16. Dave, you’ve been genuinely forthright with your opinions in this regard. I’m responding more to the posters and Twitterers and such that claim righteous post-partisanship out of one side of their mouth, and disparage other political projects out of the other.

    I’m curious about your opinion regarding a noticeable phenomenon in political participation: when an individual is on the ground floor or inside of a party, and it responds to your particular ideas and efforts, suddenly your party seems so much more horizontal than the rest – so much more grassroots and reflective of what real Albertans want, no? I felt like that in the ALP when, as a 24 year-old, I had the opportunity to manage and incumbent MLA’s campaign. I suspect you, fresh out of student politics, might have had the same sense when you were given the responsibility of coordinating communications for Alberta’s main opposition party. Chima managed Kent Hehr’s election campaign and, along with Kent, coordinated a constituency that, as of 2009, had the third largest membership of any ALP constituency association in the province. Chima could, and probably still can, get David Swann on the phone or for coffee on request.

    My point is, while members of other parties would disagree about their brand being broken, it’s a valid argument worthy of debate. What’s a little irritating is this assertion, which is no different from any other assertion of superiority proclaimed in the tradition partisan way, that the Alberta Party will listen while no one else does. All the parties make efforts to listen. When a breakfast table can literally encapsulate the core of your strength and source of your ideas, it’s easy to accommodate. Give it time to grow, and you’ll notice the same familiar strains and pressures: divergent ideas, personalities and visions. Then you'll have to develop your own ways of dealing with these pressures.

    Our differences, you and I, for the sake of personalizing this, I sincerely think are largely strategic. Some of this rhetoric is what a wise man once called “peeing on people’s shoes”. If Alberta Party members are looking for dialogue and a new way to do things, this is the wrong way to go about it.

  17. This is the fundamental flaw with the openness and accessibility that Dave preaches.

    He was treated as important, he was given important responsibilities, he failed. And he failed without the maturity to deal with it, so he started blaming other things. The name, "a culture of defeat", external things.

    Did they play a role? Maybe. But should Dave look inward at himself and the people who were around him in the inner circle of the Alberta Liberals in 2008? Definitely.

    I honestly wish the Alberta Party the best of luck, but if you ask me the problem with progressive politics in this province has little to do with "listening" or "accessibility". It has everything to do with a lack of grownups being involved – at any age.

    Politics counts. Politics are important. Stop gaming it out. Stop with the "post-partisan" nonsense. Just – please – get to work. Sell memberships, raise money, train volunteers.

    You're all addicted to the drama of your small battles, and you're forgetting important things are at stake. You lack discipline. Until you get past that, the Alberta Party will break into new parties, those new parties will break into new parties, and we can enjoy living in the Balkan States of Progressivism, watching our opponents content to set the agenda.

  18. Yeah, Dave. You should feel really bad about this… and stuff.

    Haha.

    The Liberals are going nowhere fast. They don't need any help.

  19. Matt, thanks for the comments. I've always appreciated that you always try to lift the debates and dive a little deeper into the arguments.

    
I agree with you about the comments on Twitter. Though I do find a large amount of value in the information and links on twitter, it also has the tendency to become a giant online echo chamber (at least the #ableg hashtag does).



    I think that the phenomenon you mention is real. As political people, it is exciting and can be extremely fulfilling when you are on the ground and deeply involved in a political effort. I felt this for some time while I was working for the U of A Students' Union and for the Liberal Party. It was an exciting time to be working in politics in Alberta and I gained some incredible experience during that time. There are many reasons why I left my position in December 2007 to return to the University. While I and many other people believed that the Liberal Party would make some gains in the 2008 election, I'm not sure many Albertans (or Liberals) were seriously under the impression that they would form government. I wasn't driven away because they couldn't form government, but the idea that a party could simply spin its wheels in the mud for eternity (and that party members would be satisfied with that) felt pretty defeatist to me. I had better things to do with my life, and so far that decision appears (and feels) to be the correct one.

    

I have a lot of respect for some of the people involved in the Liberal Party, many who I consider good friends. David Swann is a good man and I will say the same of Kevin Taft, who I have had the pleasure of working with on a number of occasions since then.



    There is something endemic of the traditional political parties that they cannot change. In the 2008 provincial election, 60% of Albertans who did not vote, showing that the current parties are not connecting with Albertans. This was true in 2008 and I do not see much that has changed in those two year. Democracy only works if people participate, and right now people aren't participating.

    Critical changes need to be made and the current opposition parties are too politically weak to step up to the challenge. Something new is desperately needed, maybe new groups like the Alberta Party can provide this change. At least they might, along with the Wildrose Party, serve to shake things up a bit!



    -Dave

    PS This said, I should probably be more mindful in the future of painting with such a wide brush. Thanks for reminding me of that, Matt.

  20. "I have a lot of respect for some of the people involved in the Liberal Party"

    Name names. Who don't you respect? Who's the problem?

  21. In the 2008 provincial election, 60% of Albertans who did not vote, showing that the current parties are not connecting with Albertans. This was true in 2008 and I do not see much that has changed in those two year. Democracy only works if people participate, and right now people aren't participating.

    The responsibilty also rests with the parties to connect, in their language, their ideas and their actions. I think it has less to do with people having a responsibility. If they are inspired, much can happen.

    Perhaps, they just do not want to be inspired…

  22. It's super interesting that the Alberta Party says they have no policies, and are going to design them around "what they hear." I suppose that depends on who you talk to. There comes a point when you have to take a stand, and decide who you're going to represent, or if you are going to represent the values that merely keep you in power. The usual questions of a political party.
    Shannon (Phillips)

  23. I'll maybe believe that this Big Listen is actually going to be an interesting exercise in innovative governance, maybe, when I start hearing specifics about the process. Until then, I can't help but assume this is all just a lot of talk.

    It'll certainly have political legs, though, if Janz is involved. That guy could build a functioning political network out of turnips and rubber bands.

    Jim Storrie

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