This just may be the longest blog I've ever written in my life.
It is inherently impossible to include all the ideas that culminate here. Instead I have to pick and choose and summarize as best I can from the intricacies I’ve been able to tease in my mind for some twenty or thirty odd years.
If you know my personality and my style, I’m not about to change now. I’ve been that slightly irreverent, smart assed punk ready to crack a mildly funny, self deprecating joke each and every chance I can get and none of that is going to change any time soon. Couched in the middle of that joke is meant to be a somber and serious thought - and make no mistake, I think long and hard about issues I care for passionately. Some people like me, some people loathe me. Both are okay by me – so long as we can keep a degree of respect between us.
I’m a guy that really hates to be pigeon holed, primarily because I have such a hard time categorizing myself and my own views. I try really hard to be open minded and willing to change and adapt when faced with alternative facts, but I also try to stay steadfast and unwavering in my beliefs. It’s when the “steadfast” crashes into the “open-minded” that the little old hamster wheel in my head goes spinning out of control and I have to re-evaluate my views or opinions. I’ve flipped opinion on some major issues through the course of my life and I’m continuing to learn along the way. I’m a really smart guy, and most of what I learn teaches me just how little I know.
I’m willing to bet that it’s right at this point one or two of my good friends just figured out what I’m about to write about.
To describe me, you have to understand that I’m a prairie boy - a construct of Southern Albertee. Although I’ll point out I was born in Vancouver and therefore not a “real Albertan” and probably every bit an average Albertan since most of us tend to come from somewhere else. Those who really want to understand me will know that my grit and fibre comes from the Palliser Triangle. I grew up knowing bullshit comes from bulls and shouldn’t come from people. We don’t shy away from any of it because it’s just part of the life around us. Don’t throw it around, because you may just be living in it - spread it on the fields to fertilize next year’s crop. Water means irrigation and irrigation means crops and crops mean barley, wheat and canola. Bow Island has beans and the good corn comes from Taber and the family farm we all came from seems mostly to be a memory.
I’m not from a farm, but I’ve always been around a farm. I can plough a more-or-less straight line, I can swath, I can bale, I can combine - but you probably don’t want to set me up on the new combine just yet. I’ve run grain trucks plenty and I’ve manned a cattle run once as a kid during branding.
The good years of my childhood were in Rosemary, Alberta. I best loved the small towns, but moving from Hanna to Calgary was one of the best things that happened in my life. Sure, I was a bit of a rube in a city of somewhere around a ridiculous 600,000 people, but I had opportunity for the geek to bloom that just didn’t exist in rural Alberta. I liked the city - it gave me a chance to look not so screwball for liking school and finding new interests.
Makes me suffer a bit as the “Jack of all trades, master of none” but I’ve managed to scrape through. And I’ve made myself laugh and amused the hell out of some friends along the way.
And right now, a couple of those friends are wondering if they were wrong above, and a couple others are dying for me to get on with it.
My single favourite quote from Calgary’s 2010 municipal election was Naheed Nenshi talking about the crazy mix that makes up him and the crazy mix that makes up Calgary. I am most definitely part of that crazy mix and consist of a wild mix in and of myself.
I’m a little rural, a little urban. My head’s in the stars, my feet are on the ground. I’m an uber-geek and my daughter hates it when I “geek out with the computer talk” but I’m conversant and knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. I’m just shy and hate small talk. I am my own brand of crazy mix as you are your own brand of crazy mix and there’s something there that I find interesting. We may like or dislike each other, but I’m interested in what you’ve got in your makeup that can change and improve me as a person.
I’ve got problems in my life I need help to address. If you’ve got a solution, we ought to at least try to find a way to talk about it and see how we can manage. Homo sapiens sapiens remains a social species and we best find a way to exist within a societal structure.
I believe that everything in life consists of compromise. There are no black and white answers, and any time someone hands me a “silver platter” answer it is - invariably - wrong in some sense. The proper answer is neither black or white. Life is complex, I am complex, you - the reader - are far more complex to simply pigeon hole you into a simplistic and formulaic category. We need to talk and to listen, observe the issues, discover possibilities, discuss ideas going forward and negotiate and compromise our priorities to tackle.
Together we are a composition of that crazy mix. Our individual mixes must find a way to structure together to make a crazy mix that is our city, our country.
I like this crazy mix - even the parts I’m not all that fond of.
I went through university in the late 80’s and a bit in the early 90’s. In the time I went through I saw tuition rise substantially and in my view the quality of education dropped substantially through the years. We voiced our concerns professionally and unprofessionally, appropriately and inappropriately. It made no difference in the long haul.
Those were the years of the 5 percent cut across the board. Don’t you see? The government had consulted with Albertans and that was what we wanted. I felt really cheated because I’d been trying to speak for years and what I wanted never seemed to come up in the conversation. It felt like I hadn’t been heard at all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of balancing the budget and being fiscally responsible. I’m not entirely convinced that taking 5% across the board was the best approach to take - and I’m certain that it hurt more in some areas than in others. To this very day I think we continue to pay the price on some of the horrible decisions made back then.
They were the years of the ideological black and white answers. For us or agin us - and there was no room in the middle. There was a whole lot of consultation with Albertans, but it amounted to a whole lot of talking at me and not any listening to what I was concerned about. I’d been left on the outside looking in.
Over the ensuing years I’ve felt more isolated. I’ve seen poor choices made in education, in health care, in resource management, in budgets, in environmental stewardship, in riding alignment, in royalties, in strange rulings from the speaker of the house; I’ve got issues with a significant number of choices our government has taken over the past twenty years. And I’m not happy about it. The opposition has been pathetic in my view - failing to hold the government accountable for their poor choices, failing to present alternative and better ideas, failing to create interest and generate political excitement.
Alberta has not always been like this. Alberta has had more than it’s share of great opposition personalities. It’s pretty hard to live in Alberta and not know the names Grant MacEwan, Grant Notley, Lawrence Decore, Sheldon Chumir. I could never figure out why Kevin Taft never gained more traction. Lately I’ve been disappointed with both sides of the legislature - and I don’t believe the present opposition problems stem from David Swann or Brian Mason. It’s a bigger issue than just swapping out the leader.
I’ve voted for a lot of different people and parties over the years. I became uncomfortable with the PC’s during the Getty years, I was lost once the Klein years came. I have knowingly cast a futile vote against the Tories since 1993. I don’t want to vote against the government, I want to vote for the people and ideas I support.
After saying I don’t like to pigeon hole myself, I usually get lumped as a Red Tory. I am very fiscally conservative, but in general I have a progressive social viewpoint. I just do not line up well on a left and right scale - I pick and choose the best from where it lies.
Anyone trying to fix me in place based on the mayoral candidates I liked probably had a conniption. I made my choice after hard thought on my own standards - it’s hard to find a common theme based on policy. What is the common theme was that my primary choices proved to be good communicators who declared a clear sense of direction that lined up with my values. I always stated I’d be happy with someone I clearly disagreed with who could engage me with clarity.
The election was great for me, I felt genuinely excited to be part of something so interesting and vibrant. It’s something that sadly can never happen in Alberta on a provincial level, though. After the city election I was asked if I was looking forward to the provincial election - I said no, I didn’t expect any changes for the better provincially and I had no interest fighting a futile battle.
We have no room for anything outside of the big tent in Alberta. At least that’s the way it has been for the past 40 years. But I’ve been frustrated with a government that is not fiscally conservative enough for me and has been reprehensible in it’s actions towards programs such as AISH. There just hasn’t been a place where I could fit into the poltical spectrum here.
The fumbling of the Stelmach government has not only turned me off, but it’s turned off thousands of other Albertans. I’ve welcomed the rise of the Wildrose Alliance. They are a terrible fit for me, and I am a terrible fit for them, but they’re bringing debate and a better home for some of the more socially conservative friends and family of mine. Initially my hope was that the PC party would be free to take more of a centralist stance and be more open to policies I’m comfortable with.
Instead I’ve seen the most blithering arrogance I could imagine. This has really come to a head over the past month. It is unacceptable to hear the premier state there is no health care crisis while there so clearly are major problems which have consistently been raised by the ER doctors. I’m disgusted with the “Distracted Driving” law. The law itself is a distraction and can only be ineffective and unenforcible since we already have laws about driving without due care and attention which should be enforced now. The last thing we need are more ineffective laws on the books.
We’ve seen meddling with AHS - an unelected, unaccountable and apparently grossly overpaid body that the government doesn’t even trust to do the job that the superboard has been entrusted to do. When the number of health boards was reduced to nine regional health authorities and did not produce the expected results, it was pure folly to amalgamate everything to one and expect a better result.
The unforgivable for me, however, should be very clear from my stance from Calgary’s mayoral election. I stand whole heartedly for open debate, defining issues and clarifying the vision that lies ahead. The government has such a clammy, white knuckled grip right now their hands are numbed, but clearly so is their outlook because for all their attempt to control the spin it’s so clearly coming undone.
The Tories sad mishandling of Raj Sherman’s criticism stands as the issue which will bury the PC party to me forever. It is completely unacceptable to me to quash open conversation. This is a very important issue, it needs to be discussed openly and publicly and we all deserve to make an informed decision. Burying debate wrapped in caucus confidentiality shows the paternalistic, arrogant, bullheaded attitude of a simplistically ideological party too long in power and out of touch with the populace. This isn’t just a government not listening to me, this is now a government only listening to their own droning and shutting out any outside noise.
It’s not just urbane city folk. Friends who have more of a handle on the rural side tell me they’re tired of it, too. Tired of underused hospitals, tired of being pawns, tired of being taken for granted, tired of talking and not being heard. Kinda the same as those city slickers, eh?
As far as I’m concerned, Klein separated me from the Tories, but Stelmach has destroyed the PC brand in my mind every bit as badly as Trudeau has destroyed the Liberal brand in Alberta. I know those are strong terms and I know that many will argue with me vociferously. To those I say, “Wonderful. Let’s have that argument. Let’s have it openly and publicly. Let’s have that discussion in full sentences and leave room for nuance and subtlety, negotiation and compromise.”
I was interested when The Big Listen began. It was pretty interesting to see the process unfold. I was cynical that it would come to anything more than public consultation had brought from the Tories in the past. I’ve listened favourably to news of Reboot Alberta and eventually the Alberta Party.
Just prior to the Alberta Party’s policy convention weekend, I was asked if I was going to attend. “No, I don’t really have the time or the money or was I even slightly interested in joining the Alberta Party.“ I’ve never been a member of a political party in my life, nor do I ever intend to join one now.
“You don’t have to be a member to attend.”
Huh? Seriously, what? That was unheard of. A policy convention where anyone can participate? It’s not even “pay to play”?
News came fast and furious that weekend and became more and more interesting. People I’ve grown to know and trust from the municipal election have become involved with the Alberta Party. Policy that I can support and believe in started to be established. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but disagreements are not squelched, they’re discussed and acknowledged. Not everything is fleshed out as fully as I wish, but the work is ongoing and I’m willing to share the load.
We need an open and accountable government. We deserve to have adult conversations and informed debate. It’s time for a change. Calgary demonstrated that we can affect positive change around us. The budget that was passed proved that a new approach can be effective and beneficial to us all.
The issues I wish to raise are going to require serious, in depth conversation and not sound-byte politics. Scapegoats are not an option. Paternalism is not an answer. We need some grown up solutions.
I am determined to stay engaged and not fade away. We will raise the level of debate and through debate return to better ideas of a better Alberta. We deserve so much more than we are getting now.
After I post this, I’m filling out that membership I claimed I was uninterested in. I’ve found my way out of the political wilderness and I have found my home again. I am part of Alberta, Alberta is part of me. It’s time to talk and to listen in a meaningful way.