alberta party annual general meeting & road to policy 2010.


I have travelled across a lot of Canada and while I have experienced some amazing scenery, in my mind little compares with a Fall drive down the Queen Elizabeth II Highway through central Alberta. The colours of the leaves are changing, the farmers are harvesting their crops, and a new season is just around the corner. This was the drive I took this weekend on my way to Red Deer to observe the Annual General Meeting of the Alberta Party.

Around fifty members of the Alberta Party crowded a meeting room at the Holiday Inn to participate in their party’s Annual General Meeting. It was a typical hotel conference room, but the crowd was different. Where most traditional partisans could easily be characterized by their greying hair or balding heads, this crowd was much more generationally diverse than I have seen at other political meetings.

I arrived at noon and was told that I had missed a series of small fireworks set off by some of the old guard of the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party was formed in the 1980s and existed as a Reform Party-esq fringe party until earlier this year when a new group of mainly rural Party members joined forces with the largely urban Renew Alberta group. I was told that some of these older party members felt that the influx of new members and new constitutional changes were changing the party too quickly. After a thorough debate, all the constitutional changes and motions were approved.

Not being able to piggyback on the resources of federal political cousins or traditional party establishments, members of the new Alberta Party have focused on building their party and policy infrastructure through hundreds of “Big Listen” meetings held across the province. The ideas and feedback generated through these living-room and coffee meetings were used in Saturday afternoon’s Road to Policy session to determine the general areas of discussion that will be proposed at the Alberta Party’s Policy Convention in November.

It was my observation that ideas generated from the Big Listens that were discussed this weekend were not extreme or ideological driven. The ideas were moderate and likely reflective of the views of most Albertans. It felt that one of the biggest differences between this party and the traditional establishment parties is not necessarily policy, but the tone of discussions that are shaping that party.

While some political leaders talk about doing politics differently, the Alberta Party is actually doing politics differently. What I witnessed this weekend did not feel like a political party event, it felt like a real collaborative process.

Some criticism levelled at the Alberta Party since they launched their Big Listen campaign has been that they do nothing but listen. A few months ago, I might have been more sympathetic to these criticisms, but I now understand the process that the party is following. Laying a strong foundation of organization and ideas is not something that can be created overnight and it is critical for the survival of a new political party.

One of the big news items of the day was the announcement by Leader Edwin Erickson that he will resign from his position at the November Policy Convention. At that convention an interim leader will be appointed and an open leadership contest will begin.

The thing that impresses me the most about the new Alberta Party is the group of credible and politically savvy people who have joined its ranks over the past ten months.

New Party President Chris Labossiere was previously involved with the Edmonton-Whitemud Progressive Conservatives and played a key role in Dave Hancock‘s re-election campaign in 2008. Vice-President Chima Nkemderim is the campaign director for Naheed Nenshi‘s Calgary Mayoral campaign and managed MLA Kent Hehr‘s 2008 campaign in Calgary-Buffalo. Their Board of Directors includes former Education Minister David King and Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Sue Huff. At the end of the day, the newly elected Alberta Party Board of Directors consisted of 11 women and 14 men from across the province.

Some people have asked me “why I bother writing about the Alberta Party” and why I do not focus on helping get the established opposition parties elected. The truth is I have a difficult time not getting frustrated when writing about the sorry state of Alberta’s traditional establishment opposition parties.

To me, the characteristics that differentiate what I experienced this weekend from what I have experienced at other political meetings is the optimism of the people in the room. The people I spoke with at the AGM are not driven with a singular desire to destroy the PCs or gain power, but are driven with an optimism to change the culture of politics in this province.

The Alberta Party has proven to me that they can attract competent people and actually understand the meaning of practicing politics differently. Their big challenge will be to translate this into support outside their already politically active communities and into the next provincial election.

25 thoughts on “alberta party annual general meeting & road to policy 2010.

  1. Jordan Schroder

    Looks great, I really, really, really, wish I had time to get involved with them right now, but will have to wait until my current projects wrap in the new year. Great coverage Dave!

    Reply
  2. Avnish Nanda

    “The people I spoke with at the AGM are not driven with a singular desire to destroy the PCs or gain power, but are driven with an optimism to change the culture of politics in this province.”

    Brilliant.

    Reply
  3. Sue Huff

    Thanks Dave. I agree- it was (and is) all about building on people’s hopes for Alberta, not preying on their fears. I was also struck by the moderate, respectful tone, even during the “fireworks” you missed. The original party members want to see the party continue with its grass-roots, democratic, “people-first” attitude. I think we are and we will.

    Reply
  4. Connie Jensen

    Chester, I was the recording secretary. 53 people signed in. We aren’t about to try to embellish things. It was what it was, and it was a quality 53!

    Reply
  5. Happeningfish

    Quality over quantity eh, That is the whole problem with these Alberta Party groovers is they think some people are better then others.

    I also heard that the fireworks were much more bigger then you were led to beleive Dave, maybe you should ask Charles Relland as I KNOW he has a different viewpoint.

    Reply
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  7. Joe Albertan

    The Alberta party has no policies and next to no members. The only true conservative party with any traction is the Wildrose Alliance.

    Reply
  8. Midge

    Happening fish – Diverse and different viewpoints are welcome in the Alberta Party as they should be in our province. In a democracy, as we know it, some viewpoints will be out voted, especially when more voters become engaged and involved.

    Reply
  9. Will

    Joe Albertan,

    The Wildrose Party wasn’t always as organised as it is now. And who’s to say that the Alberta Party wants to be seen as a “conservative” party anyway? I know many of the people involved, and they (okay… “we”) come from a variety of political histories.

    So far, the tone of this party is different than anything I’ve ever encountered. The Alberta Party seems not so much about committing to the downfall of another party, but to gather as many people together to build something better than what we have right now.

    Personally, I have great respect for the WRA and Danielle Smith. Do we want to take the place of the WRA or the PCs? Not at all. We want to build as big a consensus of what is possible… and better for Alberta… no matter where ideas come from, and I think there are very good people in all of Alberta’s political parties (some not so good in all, too).

    It’s not us against you. It ought to be about all of us finding common ground where we can, and using that to go forward… rather than finding points of contention and using those to divide.

    We shall see. Skepticism is always good… cynicism? Not so much.

    I’ve been skeptical of the Alberta Party since I began looking into it. At every step forward (slow as they are) they have won me over. I remain skeptical… but hopeful. This is now too good an idea to give up on.

    Will

    Reply
  10. Will

    As for the fireworks at the start… they weren’t all that grand, to be honest.

    The old guard maintained they were against the idea of the Board taking day to day affairs into their own hands… and not looking for “grassroots” approval for every decision. That’s a laudable cause, except that the Board must still bring all of its actions before the AGM for ratification. That’s grassroots.

    Grassroots also comes from the responsiveness of the Board to concerns of members during the year. The concerns of the dissenting members on Saturday were not brought to the Board until very recently. In fact, the dissenting members all voted FOR the actions and motions of the Board which have brought the new Alberta Party into the news… and only pulled their support within the last month. They certainly cannot claim not to have been informed… or involved.

    Why did they suddenly begin to feel uncomfortable? You would have to ask them. I did ask one, and he said it was because of the lack of grassroots input. I countered that for the first time ever, the Alberta Party actually went out and LOOKED FOR grassroots concerns. It also found nearly 500 people who want to be members. I find that much more supportable than pretending to be grassroots by sitting around someone’s kitchen table for 25 years pontificating about “grassroots.”

    It may be that the dissenting members simply felt a loss of control… being unable to control… or even know everyone involved. That is, indeed a frightening change, however, that is what becomes of successful ideas; they attract people who want to become part change. One dissenting member even said of the new Board members that it was “impossible to know all of them” and therefore it was uncomfortable entrusting them.

    That’s a fair comment, too, but as the party grows, it will be increasingly difficult to know everyone involved. That will put the onus on those voting to find out about potential candidates (both for the Board and for elections). A name list and short bio was forwarded to all members and that was a possibility prior to the new Board elections. Why the dissenting members chose not to do their due diligence is not something I can comment on. In the past it was simply easier to take turns being on the Board, but that is when there were 30 members and not hundreds.

    I further ask anyone interested in “the fireworks” to get in touch with the principles involved and talk to them… along with a talk with the Party members who stayed at the meeting and participated in a very respectful process. Simply saying there are dissatisfied members (or former members) isn’t actually saying much. Members of parties join and leave. That’s the way it goes. Lots have joined the Alberta Party because of it’s new vigour… some are deciding to leave because it is different than it was.

    That’s okay too… because it wasn’t very much before the new people became involved and it wasn’t going anywhere of note.

    A political party that does not run candidates and has no desire to seek for seats (an idea expressed on Saturday by a dissenting member) isn’t one that makes much of a difference.

    Imagine going after voter support if you really don’t care about getting elected. Perhaps someone can explain that to me.

    Reply
  11. Jerry Toews

    Interesting –

    So let me be quite up front about my own political affiliations – I’m a dyed-in-the-wool NDP member and have worked for the Party and individual elected NDP officials in the past.

    My big question is this: why do we need the Alberta Party in Alberta Politics? Is it all about process?

    I’m all about what any Party stands for. The NDP stands for my values. The WRA stands for pretty much the antithesis of those values.

    I really don’t care how they got there, but more about what they stand for. The process question is valid, of course, but at the end of the day it’s an internal one.

    I don’t know what the Alberta Party stands for and neither do they, as far as I can tell. Except it’s about “an optimism to change the culture of politics in this province.” Why is that important?

    I’m not trying to be overly negative or cynical here, just trying to figure out the draw . . .

    Reply
  12. Martin Levenson

    “I think there are very good people in all of Alberta’s political parties (some not so good in all, too”

    And I’m willing to bet there are a lot MORE very good people who aren’t even remotely interested in being involved in political parties, but still have valuable contributions to make.

    I’m not convinced that political parties are a NECESSITY in our political system, but unfortunately, they seem to be the “gatekeepers” of political discourse.

    Reply
  13. Happeningfish

    I think the problem was the illegal and undemocratic use of Proxy voting by the renew people to hijack a party from the members.
    500 members, yeah right, you guys need to quit counting twitter followers as members.

    Reply
  14. A Process Person

    I care about the process – what I value is how a decision was made, even if I don’t always agree with the end result. So I guess you could say my values are fairness, inclusivity, consensus, pragmatism.

    If that’s what the Alberta Party can bring to the table, I’m listening. And so, apparently, are they.

    Everyone else seems to have their lines in the sand, and if they’re not my thing, that’s just tough luck.

    That’s the draw.

    Reply
  15. Will

    Martin,

    I agree with you about the good people not involved. I don’t much care for the idea of parties either. It’s one of the reasons I have hope for the AB Party. I hope it will listen to all Albertans and be open to ideas from everyone (without being party members). I further hope that future candidates be people of personal integrity who will be free to speak their minds and vote freely on issues in the legislative assembly.

    Jerry,
    Good question: “why a new party?”

    I think the lack of success in finding inspiration among voters from either the Liberals or NDs (and even Greens) has led some of us to try a different tack. It is not a lack of respect for the ideas or people within those parties, but it is a pragmatic recognition that their names and histories carry too much baggage (in policy and reputation)… though even undeserved.

    There is simply too much adversarial conflict in the current parties.

    I also think that many of us involved are prepared to accommodate new ideas and question our own beliefs in the pursuit of policy. That opens us up to criticism that we stand for nothing. What it does do, is ensure that we are all open to changing our minds based on evidence. Current parties are perhaps too ideologically driven for some people. There is where my interest lies. I can’t speak for others.

    Reply
  16. dr barry

    Hello all: I have just joined the party after some reflection over the past few months. As I have been a Liberal for over 40 years now both federally and provincially old campaign war horse resume-2X campaign mgr vp policy of my riding association it was not a decision taken lightly. I have great hopes for the AP and its role in the future politics of this province. I am more optimistic about the future now for my business and for my family and I am very happy to be one of you.

    Reply
  17. Josh Kjenner

    Happeningfish: without proxy voting, all of the motions passed at the AGM would still have passed, with votes breaking down to roughly 80% in favour, 20% against.

    Reply
  18. jerrymacgp

    Like it or not, parties are at the heart of the way our Westminster-model Parliament and provincial legislatures (all 10 of them) work. Independents, no matter how articulate or well-intentioned they might be, are simply unable to have any real influence on the political system, 99% of the time (yes, once in a while, there is a Chuck Cadman around to prop up or defeat a Government). Parties also serve to create and organize the team of volunteers necessary to run elections, to develop policy, and to raise funds.

    What is important to understand, then, is what are the policies of a party and its candidates, and how are those policies developed (i.e. the process). Some parties develop policy in the back rooms; others are governed by their rank & file members. Each system has its pros and cons. For example, as an NDP member who believes in grassroots policy development, I will acknowledge that it does have one weakness: it can sometimes lack coherence and marketability. Take it from a one-time (and unsuccessful) candidate: translating arcane policy resolutions passed at a Party Convention into platform planks that can work on the doorstep come election time can be a challenge.

    Reply
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