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).