I was pleased to join a panel of distinguished Edmontonians, including Avenue Magazine Editor Colin McGarrigle and University of Alberta Dean of Business Mike Percy, and elected officials this morning for a CityTV live-broadcast town hall meeting at Enterprise Square. The town hall was hosted by Ryan Jespersen and Bridget Ryan reported live from a classroom at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert.
Representing the Progressive Conservative Association, Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky was a friendly ambassador. As the long-time MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek (he sat as a Liberal from 1993 to 1998 and as a PC from 1998 to the present), these kind of town halls are old hat for the political veteran. Zwozdesky presented a largely scripted pro-government message in his response to questions from Jespersen and the Paul Kane students. His interactions with the other MLAs on the panel were similar.
Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley is always well-spoken and at every opportunity she took control of the discussion with ease, including taking jabs at Zwozdesky over a recently leaked report from Alberta Health Services that the NDP claim include plans to close over 9,000 long-term care beds.
After the forum, I had a really good discussion with Notley about the challenges in reinvigorating politics and civic engagement in Alberta. While she thought I may have been a little hard with my criticisms of politicians, we both agreed that what exists now in terms of political infrastructure isn’t resulting with a politically engaging population. From the perspective of an opposition MLA, I can understand how it quickly becomes a chicken and egg scenario. In our parliamentary democracy, can an already existing political movement invigorate citizens to engage in politics, or will citizens need to already be engaged before a political movement can begin to succeed? I believe that it comes down to values and the mechanisms that citizens feel they can join to express them.
Since becoming leader of the Alberta Liberals and the Official Opposition last December, I have noticed a marked improvement in David Swann‘s public speaking skills. One of the things I like about Swann is his sincerity, and while in a public speaking engagement one year ago it could have been mistaken as awkwardness, it’s now starting shine through. As the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View, Swann is much lesser known in Edmonton than previous Liberal leaders (four of the six Liberal leaders over the past 25 years have been from the Edmonton area), so this forum provided a good opportunity for him to speak to Edmontonians.
Fresh from what he described as a “jet ride” victory in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election, Wildrose Alliance MLA-elect Paul Hinman relied heavily on memorized talking points, but was the second most articulate speaker after Notley. On-air, Hinman presented a reasonable message of conservatism that likely would not have scared away many voters, and he addressed the issue of the politics of scaremongering while on-air.
My more interesting reflections on Hinman are generated from our discussion afterward, when he spoke in the tone of a much harder version of anti-government conservatism. I believe that government can play a positive role in society, but it was clear that Hinman didn’t as we conversed about the roles of individuals, community, and government in irradiating poverty and homelessness (it eventually culminated with Hinman very calmly accusing me of being a socialist).
During the sixth segment of the town hall, I made a point that had been similarly expressed after a recent Globe & Mail column blamed young people for the inspiration deficit in Canadian politics. I believe that it is naive of us to simply expect that young people will automatically buy-in to a political system that is dominated by a previous generation who held different priorities and values. There are young people who are passionate about any kind of issue you could imagine, but that doesn’t mean that they will see value in participating in the currently existing political structure. Young people care about their future and they have valid opinions – and you can watch that passion in the final segment when Paul Kane students questioned the MLAs about Bill 44.
Overall, the town hall was a positive experience. I really believe that there is a lack of solid political discussion happening in Alberta and I hope that CityTV and other television stations host more live-discussions and debates in the future.
(Thanks to Kevin Kuchinski for the photos)
Part 1: Introducing the BT Townhall
Part 2: Out Political History
Part 3: On Health Care
Part 4: The Real Questions
Part 5: The Wake-up Call
Part 6: Apathy & the Next Generation
Part 7: Bill 44 & Closing Remarks