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Alberta Politics

guest post: the berry patch perspective on the alberta party.

By William Munsey

I was reading a blog the other day by a young guy named Justin who just couldn’t see the Alberta Party as something worth supporting… was holding onto the idea that the Alberta Liberal Party is the natural home to the progressive vote in Alberta.  He described himself as “the kind of person you’d expect to be in the Alberta Party.”  He continued on to describe himself as a young person who lives in a downtown condo with a job in the ‘creative economy’ and a strong supporter of human rights and a proponent of a mostly free market economy.

Young Justin’s blog was pretty good, but I think he’s missing a couple of things.

See, I don’t live in a downtown condo.  I’m not young and my grey hairs far outnumber my brown ones.  I don’t have a cool job in the “creative economy” nor am I ever likely to.  I live in a drafty old farmhouse.  We grow flowers and saskatoon berries, which bring in little money but require lots of physical work.  I spend most of my days in dirty coveralls.  We don’t have extra money to go to the theatre or take vacations.  In fact the only theatre I get to attend offers two girls fighting over one bathroom in the morning.

I can’t afford either the time or money to sit in Starbucks.  I make my coffee at home and carry it to work in a thermos and look for abandoned newspapers to catch up on the day’s happenings.  I have to budget just to buy new socks and long underwear for the coming cold.  The other night, while most people were snug in bed, I was working the job that supports my farm…. lying in the snow, between the rails, under a freight train, strapping up dragging equipment. Two days ago I was up to my elbows butchering a deer that will help keep us through the winter.

If Justin’s analysis was correct, I’m hardly the sort of guy you would expect to have any interest in the Alberta Party.  My world is so distant from the condo dwelling urbanites Justin describes as likely candidates to support the Alberta Party, I sometimes think there’s a time warp between us and I suspect if Justin met me… filthy from head to toe, deer blood on my coat, he might dismiss me completely for someone so foreign to his values we couldn’t even communicate.

But Justin (and a ton of other urban progressives) would be surprised by what we rural rubes know about our province… and for the worry we are saddled with for the future and for what is happening to this province.  Dismissing the Alberta Party as a party for urban Albertans is a mistake. It’s a mistake Liberal Party of Alberta and the New Democrats traditionally make (even though they say they don’t). The truth is, there is as much dissatisfaction in rural Alberta these days as there is anywhere else in this province and considerably more common ground than people like Justin can imagine.

My rural neighbours may never think of themselves as progressives.  In fact, I would say that a majority of rural Albertans strongly self-identify as small ‘c’ conservatives. We might never see ourselves as strong supporters of human rights, but you will never get a fairer shake than in the hundreds of little communities dotted around this province.  We might not be able to tell the difference between modern Twitter and a old-fashioned twit, but we know first-hand the tenuous nature of landowners’ rights in this province.  We may eat wild meat occasionally, but we also understand the vital importance of fresh water, the value of healthy food, the nature of true conservation and the value of our natural heritage.  And more, I suspect, than urban Albertans we can see by the crumbling infrastructure in our small towns that life in rural Alberta is not thriving.

Rural Albertans are looking for a change in government.  To date, the only party who seem to be courting us is the Wildrose Alliance.  I’ve been to their meetings and almost without exception I am the youngest person in the room (at 49).  I have heard the cozy words about “taking back the province” and “bringing accountability back to government.”  Yet there is something stale in the Wildrose Alliance.  They just don’t strike me as an option for a better future for this province… and their cozy relationship with the petrochemical industry frightens me.

So what do we have?  The PCs?  Nope… unless they bring back Peter Lougheed and his band of young thinkers.  The WRA?  Not unless I see some distance from the monied old interests and a lot more youth at local gatherings.  The Liberals?  You’re kidding right?  I want a chance to be on the winning side of an election and the ALP hasn’t had a chance in nearly a hundred years.  The NDP?  (see Liberal… only way more so).

People talk about a party that can capture the imagination of Albertans.  That’s the problem.  Albertans’ imagination and dreams were captured 40 years ago… and they are still being held captive.  I’m looking for a party that sets those dreams and aspirations free again… a party that encourages dreaming and imagination… that will reward and support new ideas that diversify our economy without devaluing our environment… or dismissing elements of our society.  What I am looking for is a party that takes good ideas from wherever they come… the left… the right… the centre… the north… the south… wherever.  I’m looking for a party that offers Albertans the chance to dream again.

I want to counter the perception that the Alberta Party is for young, progressive urbanites only.  What attracted me was the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds.  We may not always speak the same language.  We may not always see the world in the same light.  We may sometimes differ about the best options for Alberta.  That’s all ahead for us.  However, it is the spirit of working together, being respectful of good ideas wherever they come from… and above all the chance to build an Alberta we can be proud of again.

I’d like to tell young Justin, “we can all meet in the Alberta Party.”  If he brings the latte… I’ll bring the jerky and saskatoon wine.

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This post can also be read on William Munsey’s blog, The Berry Patch Perspective.

10 replies on “guest post: the berry patch perspective on the alberta party.”

Thank you William. You’re 49; I’m 59, and I am urban, but I too don’t live in a downtown condo nor have a creative job – not that I want to criticise someone for that.

I think Justin was pointing out that he is squarely within the demographic that the media has portraying for the membership of the Alberta Party.

And I fully understand and agree with much of what he said – I have voted Liberal in Provincial and Federal Elections since moving to Alberta (from the People’s Paradise – Saskatchewan) over 30 years ago. The exception was this last Federal election, where it seemed to me that the strategic vote in Edmonton Strathcona ought to go to Linda Duncan (NDP) so that’s what I did. First time I’ve voted NDP in Alberta (and I’ve known Brian Mason for 40 years and have enormous respect for him).

But you’re right – the Liberals and NDP have no hope of ever forming a government in this Province, and a new centrist alternative that does not carry all the stereotypical baggage that they do does have, I think, a reasonable chance.

I’ve been following what’s going on with the Alberta Party and Reboot Alberta since their respective inceptions; I know and respect ,many of the key “movers and shakers” in both, and I’ thrilled to read your post from someone who is not an urban political junkie.

For me, it comes down to this – there are those who care about themselves first (Libertarians), and those that care about their community first (Communitarians). I consider myself one of the latter. And I get the sense that you do too.

We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.

For me, it comes down to this – there are those who care about themselves first (Libertarians), and those that care about their community first (Communitarians).

Wrong. Libertarians and Communitarians each care about both themselves and their communities; they just have different views about which type of policies work best.

In response to Justin and William’s thoughts:

I too feel that the Alberta Party is a slick new vehicle for centrist and progressive views. What I’m not a fan of is the veneer that they present: a post-partisan alternative to suddenly engage the disenfranchised Albertan without resorting to partisan muckraking.

Having supported the ALP and candidates for several years, I can tell you that convincing many voters (both urban and rural) that things can be done better is a trying task. It’s hard to think of any aspect of the provincial government not completely entrenched in the PC’s culture of ruthlessness and secrecy.

The ALP has been raising legitimate questions of what the government is doing to the Alberta people – and largely received ridicule and indifference for it. It’s a fact the ALP has never polled particularly strongly, but pundits and columnists have helped ensure stagnation by repeating the mantra that the Liberals will never break through. In Democracy Derailed, Kevin Taft precisely laid out the ridiculous malfeasance of 40 years of PCs followed by steps on how to fix government AP’s Ken Chapman called it wonky and warped. (I’m curious how factual criticism of an inept government is considered wonky and warped)

If the AP does advance their agenda (and it’s still not terribly clear what that is), they might find themselves in the familiar spot of the ALP. Trying to articulate a better way of doing things means helping Albertans understand that the provincial government underfunds, undertaxes, subsidizes cronies, lets land and resources go for a song, creates artificial crises in health care, wages war on dissent and intellectualism, and spends public money defending the oil industry. Which means yes AP, you will have to stand up in the House and acknowledge the great sins of the PCs……something which I think will have you branded “whiners” by some and “ineffective opposition” by others.

I grew up in rural Alberta, east of Calgary. Years later, I ran there for the NDP, a couple of times. My message was meant both for the voters there and for the party – the values that led me to the NDP were the values that I was taught growing up in the country.

– If we’re to have a true meritocracy, we have to have the same opportunities.
– If our neighbours are victims of misfortune, we come together as a community to help out.
– Despite the casual racism and homophobia you might hear sitting in a small town coffee shop in the late seventies, when actually faced with individuals, people are judged as individuals. (Though people remained sure the other billion Chinese on the planet were just as described. It wasn’t perfect.)
– We can do some things better as a community than we can as inviduals. See the UFA, the various Co-op grocery stores, Co-op hardware and agrabusiness stores, and natural gas and electrical co-ops. It’s no accident that public health insurance was born in rurally-dominated Saskatchewan.

Where the Alberta Party loses me is on the assumption that there is something about the ALP or NDPA that means they can’t possibly win. Saying the Liberals don’t have a chance because they don’t have a chance, as this article does, is hardly helpful. They’ve had chances. So have the NDP – there’s nothing intrinsic about the NDP that make them unelectable in Alberta, when they can win in BC, SK, and MN.

Make the argument. This article says they can’t win because they can’t win. Is that really the most convincing reson to try a new party?

Invisible Hand: I didn’t say Libertarians care only about themselves and Communitarians care only about community (to the exclusion of themselves). I said that Libertarians care about themselves first, and Communitarians care about others first.

You want to talk “policies” – take a look at the Tea Partiers – the very embodiment of Libertarianism.

Jonathon: I agree with everything you say; the only thing I would add is that I think the most respected Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly is Rachel Notley – not necessarily by the public or the media, but by other Members.

When you read Hansard, it’s very clear that she doesn’t say anything that doesn’t need to be said, and does say what does need to be said.

Now I don’t think the NDP have a tinker’s hope in hell of ever getting elected in Alberta, but I do think that if Rachel moved to the AP, that would give them significant traction.

And yes, I do think that Rachel’s a Communitarian – and puts the greater well-being of all Albertans before her own greater well-being.

Rachel is a lawyer, and could be making 4 to 5 times what she makes as an MLA working for a National law firm – and every National firm in the country would love to have her working with them – because she’s really good (I’m a lawyer, and I know “good” when I see it).

But she doesn’t – because she is more concerned about serving the greater good than what she would be doing in a National firm (serving the good of individual corporate clients).

And Invisible Hand – don’t bother telling me how serving the good of individual corporations serves everyone else because you know what? It doesn’t – it serves the shareholders and only the shareholders. And if you don’t believe me – go read some law.

I didn’t say Libertarians care only about themselves and Communitarians care only about community (to the exclusion of themselves). I said that Libertarians care about themselves first, and Communitarians care about others first.

And that’s what I’m disagreeing with. Libertarians care about others first just as often as communitarians do, and communitarians care about themselves first just as often as libertarians do. The difference is that communitarians believe the best way to help others is by transferring large amounts of wealth and power to the government, which then doles it out as they see fit. Libertarians disagree, believing that the best way to help others is to leave the wealth and power in the hands of individuals.

Your statement is an ad hominem fallacy, attacking the motives of libertarians instead of the effectiveness of their proposed policies.

Also, if someone’s looking to learn about the public good created by individuals vs. corporations vs. government, reading “law” is about the least worthwhile thing they could do. Laws are written by politicians – whose primary incentive is to get re-elected – leading them to create policies that will be popular (or can be sold as something that’s popular), regardless of whether they will do the public any good.

I have to agree with Don. If the only thing you see wrong with both the Liberals and NDP is that they don’t have a chance at winning, then I think you’re making a big mistake, Will. What makes Alberta Party any different in that respect? Has it had greater successes than the Libs and New Dems? Is the Alberta Party expected to take over government in Alberta anytime soon? Parties are what people make them.

You can certainly choose any party you like and work through it to change government. But to say the Liberals can’t get elected because they’re Liberals and the NDP can’t get elected because they’re the NDP isn’t all that convincing. If those are your only reasons for not joining those parties, I would challenge you to take a step back and look again. I won’t discourage anyone from being engaged in politics in any way they choose. I acknowledge that the Alberta Party could have some successes (though I don’t see where yet, with only a little better than a year until election time). But if I was going to put my finger on the party that is least electable if an election were held tomorrow, my finger would not be on the Liberals or NDP.

Thanks for your comments. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that’s had as many… and all of them worth reading and contemplating.

The truth is that I didn’t discard any political party for it’s name. I always liked Kevin Taft and have been happy to have him in the Assembly. I also like Dr. Swann… respect Brian Mason and Rachel Notley… Doug Griffiths… Dave Hancock… and others.

I think there are more good people in politics in Alberta than there are stinkers… but the stinkers hold far too much power.

What Alberta needs are credible political options. If you believe the ALP is electable, that’s great. I hope you are involved in making that a reality. The same for the NDs. When I wrote that I think good ideas can come from anywhere, I meant it. I look forward to working toward a stronger democracy with people from any party… or no party at all.

I have chosen the Alberta Party because of the openness and inclusiveness I feel when I am with others building the party. I think it has less baggage than older, established parties and therefore has potential to attract people who may be biased against looking past labels. Sure, that’s simple… but it’s also pragmatic and the “idea of actually working for change” rather than “working to change perceptions of a party name” makes more sense to me.

I feel the Alberta Party has the potential to be Alberta’s big-tent party, and I am going to work to that end… until circumstances prove otherwise.

I have one major fault/strength… and that is I never believe I am absolutely right. I have the perfect place for self doubt. It allows me to recognise that others might be right… and I might not be. Some people see it as a weakness but I believe it leaves me open to persuasion. So far I am happier within the Alberta Party than I have been for a long time.

That’s what persuades me at the moment.

I appreciate all your comments… though I’m a little surprised anyone even took note of the thoughts of a berry farmer. More proof to me that what we all think and feel matters to others.

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