Alberta Politics

alberta party planning for fall 2010.

I met the new Alberta Party provincial organizer Michael Walters for lunch last week for an update on what his party is planning in the lead up to their Annual General Meeting on October 2 and their policy conference on November 13 and 14 in Red Deer. Since they joined with the Renew Alberta group in February 2010, the new Alberta Party has focused on organizing and holding Big Listen discussion events to lay a foundation for their party’s policies. They are still a small party, but a growing board of directors and a significant financial contribution have help boost their credibility.

Over the course of our lunch, we talked about many things and the bulk of our conversation focused on what the generic party Constituency Association has become and how it could be changed to affect positive change in their community.

It is probably fair to say that in most political parties, Constituency Associations (or Electoral District Associations on the federal level) operate largely as mechanisms for party fundraising and the election of candidates, which are almost exclusively partisan-institutionally focused exercises. Constituency Associations do play a role in the development of policy, but this is an area that in most parties is largely controlled and cherry-picked by the party central leadership.

What if Constituency Associations were more like community organizations that did not simply act as whole-owned subsidiaries of a central party organization, but as advocates for local community issues? Advocating for the macro-level policy discussion about health care, education, the environment, and the economy are important, but in the rush to develop party policy some of the most important community focused details can get lost.

If we accept that a main reasons for our dropping voter participation rate is caused by a citizenship that feels disconnected with the democratic process and elected officials, could a positive solution be that parties need to be more meaningfully connected to ground-level community issues?

Imagine that there is a derelict gas station or slum-landlord owned rental property sitting in the middle of your town. Neither the town council or MLA have shown any interest in advocating to have it torn down or condemned. Constituency Association members who are trained to act as a community organizers could advocate to change this – collect petition signatures, organize the community, and hold the slum-landlord responsible.

This is one idea that Mr. Walters talked about during our lunch. It may seem insignificant to the macro-level political watcher, but if we seriously want to re-connect politics on the provincial level (and federal level) to the issues that matter most to people in their homes this could be a positive place to start.

A professional community organizer Mr. Walters speaks from experience. As an organizer with the Greater Edmonton Alliance for nine years, he helped organize a community of faith-based organizations and labour groups that have on a number of occasions drawn more than 700 residents to public hearings held by Edmonton’s City Council.

In advance of their AGM and policy conference, they will be hosting five Big Listen training sessions open to anyone interested in participating in shaping the direction of the new Alberta Party. The training sessions will be held in Edmonton (September 7) , Calgary (September 8), Red Deer (September 9), Grande Prairie (September 13), and Lethbridge (September 14).

11 replies on “alberta party planning for fall 2010.”

If we accept that a main reasons for our dropping voter participation rate is caused by a citizenship that feels disconnected with the democratic process and elected officials,

What if we don’t accept that?

Thanks for the comment, Andy.

Then we might need to look elsewhere for a solution.

There are many reasons why the majority of Albertans are not participating in the democratic process. I believe that many people do not because they feel disconnected, that the democratic and political process is not relevant to their lives.

A lot of people get tied down in the voting system argument (if we had [insert Proportional Representation/STV/etc] voting system then more people would vote).

There is a lot to be said about the downsides of our voting system, but I believe that the core of the issue is that people feel that our political and democratic process are irrelevant to their daily lives. In many ways, it has become irrelevant. I believe that our democracy will become more vibrant if more people participate, thus the need to make it relevant.

What I’d like to see is a party to the right of the Wildrose Alliance. This party is already drifting to the left, advocating for censorship of film funds and the establishment of more health boards.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of community associations in Calgary and my experience has always been it’s a fairly small group of concerned and engaged citizens that get involved in those kinds of organizations… the same kind of people who tend to vote. Most CAs struggle to build membership, get people to events, recruit volunteers, engage the nonengaged… the same kinds of things political parties are presently struggling with. So while I love community associations, I think the answer to citizen engagement, whatever the heck it might be, would benefit both political parties and CAs. I don’t think a political party that was like a CA would, in itself, engage many people who are presently disengaged. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea, but will it light some sort of fire? I’m skeptical. Would it make more responsive political parties, probably.

Dave, I suggest looking at the research of Henry Milner, the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the University of Montreal. Much of his research is available through the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP). The “relevance” and “disengagement” memes are popular, but misguided. Decline in overall voter turnout is mostly due to political illiteracy in young voters. It’s not enough to blame the electoral systems, party systems, etc, because most young, eligible voters don’t even know anything about those systems. In fact, abstention is more likely with an older voter. Young voters don’t even know enough to decide to stay home. Read his stuff. It’s a real eye-opener.

“What I’d like to see is a party to the right of the Wildrose Alliance. This party is already drifting to the left, advocating for censorship of film funds and the establishment of more health boards.”

Let the splintering begin!

The Wildrose now has a CA functional in every riding. How many does the Alberta Party have? Has the Alberta Party committed to running candidates in all ridings come the next election? If not, do they have any idea of how many ridings they will compete in? The Alberta Party continues to strike me as a debating society for disaffected Liberals, particularly those armchair quarterback type folks who always know what the current Liberal leader is doing wrong (but you never see these same folks doing actual work, to help make things better).

I’m sure it’s lovely to sit around and pontificate about how to improve voter turnout, but the reality is once a non-voter, almost always a non-voter. The AB Party are focused on a losing strategy if this is their target demographic. While it might be admirable to try and re-engage current non-voters, the party will have little electoral success and in turn interest (and funding donations) will dry up after their strategy has been shown to fail.

Voter illiteracy is only one component of the drop in voter turnout. If it were the entire cause, than voter education programs targeting grade 12 students and piloted in Ontario and many other jurisdictions would have had much better results.

Voting is a function of knowledge, efficacy, and interest, all interrelated. Knowledge speaks to Andy’s point about illiteracy. Efficacy speaks to Dave’s point about disconnection. If you’re interested in the ‘interest’ component, check out a book by Martin Wattenberg called ‘Where have all the young voters gone?’that discusses the role played by cultural and structural factors on youth voter turnout.

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