Hey Dad, what's that button for?

When I met Sue Huff in Calgary, I picked up a Big Listen button from the Alberta Party.  I’ve been wearing it around ever since. 

“Hey Dad, what’s that button for?“ 

“It’s to make people ask questions.“ 

“No, really, what’s it for?“ 

Well, that’s a small success.

When I spoke with Sue, the first thing that impressed me was that she really listened to what I said.  None of this faux listening I’ve become accustomed to from dealing with anything governmental.  None of this listening through a filter.  No interruptions and arguing points as I was setting up my argument.  She wanted to hear what I wanted to say.

My mind went back to her blog about why the Alberta Party is taking the time to have the Big Listen process and not just poll.  No one, ever, has solicited my opinion on what matters most to me before.  When I have been asked my opinion it has been discounted, or no one has ever shown the slightest indication that I’ve been heard, or I’ve received a smile and sent on my way, or I’ve been told, “I consulted with the minister and we don’t feel there is any problem whatsoever.“ 

This has been entirely unacceptable for me, but beyond grumping on the outside there was little I could do to promote positive change.

So when Sue sits down and asks what my burning issue is, I have a hard time laying it out on the table.  First, I have a few trust issues - I’m not sure I believe any issue I raise will be handled differently than the way my former MLA treated me.  I see discussion over issues handled well every day around me from members of the Alberta Party, but I’m new to the party and still somewhat reticent. 

Second, my burning issues involve social justice and bias built into our legal system that desperately needs to be redressed.  It’s not the kind of issue you’re going to go to the polls over - at least not today.  Forty years ago it would have been unheard of to fight an election over environmental policy.  Today I cannot imagine having an election without discussing the long term implications of oil sand development.  It’s because we’ve advanced as a society, our understanding and our circumstances have changed over the years.  I don’t feel that we’re prepared as a society to fairly and seriously address what matters most to me.  We aren’t going to get there until we can have an open and reasonable discussion amongst ourselves without condemnation.

Third, as important as I feel my issue may be, I don’t feel that my role as a member of the Alberta Party is to walk through the door with an axe to grind.  I’m there to listen and discuss – in that order.  Fundamentally, my job is to create and foment conversation.  My role is to ensure that not a single other Albertan is brushed aside or their opinion is discounted.  We don’t have to agree, we have to be heard.  My immediate job is to create a forum in Calgary East for those voices to be heard clearly, fairly, and without fear of being squelched.  I’m going to need help, I hope that you are available and willing to join in the conversation.

I’m not going to be on the prevailing side of every argument.  I don’t expect the Alberta Party to line up perfectly with my beliefs.  We may, collectively as a party, disagree with me, personally as an individual, over what I care about.  Once we’ve had a fair and open discussion and agreed upon policy, dissension is still okay.  I may have to accept that my stance on a particular issue is not the agreed direction - or perhaps the party will have to accept that in this particular riding the prevailing opinion is strongly opposed to the party stance and the MLA needs to represent his constituents.

The Alberta Party is okay with this.  How refreshing!  Let’s make that stick.

My job is not to slag any other party.  I want to discuss the ideas and explore as many options as possible to find the best.  Nor am I going to be in the mushy middle - I’ll debate with all my passion and my heart on my sleeve.  There is most certainly a world of possibility in Alberta that isn’t getting fair discussion right now - let’s find a way to give as many people as possible a voice.

I’m not shying away from my issue - it doesn’t take a lot of searching to figure it out.  I’ll be foremost on the floor to discuss it should I ever get standing and a fair hearing.  However it is just one issue of the range of issues we need to collectively address.  Sue, the link I promised (and your homework) is here.

It’s been a great day of opinion and I’ve been thinking all day about what I wanted to add to the conversation.

Chris McClure wrote a fantastic blog that really resonated with me on so many levels.  His reasons for interest in the Alberta Party parallel mine extremely well, and he did a far better job raising points in policy that we can significantly improve in our province.  It surely needs to be read.

I’ve read Glenn Taylor’s entry on Citizen Engagement four times already today and each time it takes a little of my breath away.  I feel hopeful for my province as I read it.  I want a future that mirrors his vision:

My vision of a successful Alberta is one in which our government can move from a reactive into a proactive focus on solutions; an Alberta in which meetings are held with our citizens that gives each of us as much say as possible over the issues that affect our lives and our work. One in which everyone’s input and involvement is important and valued.

The other Chris that I read today was Chris Tesarski where he introduced himself to the rest of us.  I’ve been reading his blog for a while, but it demonstrated to me just how badly we need to have full conversations.  I feel there is so much depth and such interesting people with such talent that I’m going to have to work hard just to keep up. 

Reading about Chris made me think about how alone I felt in that political wilderness and just how many people were out there sharing my feelings.

The more I listen, the more I love about the people I’m working alongside.  I hope every party in Alberta has such great people.  We, the citizens, deserve no less from our representatives.