Dancing across a crowded floor

What a week that was.  

I’m trying hard to reconcile my thoughts enough to have a point to say and by the time I had two or three points I wanted to write down there was another seismic blast under my feet.  The month continues to be incredibly busy and now I’m certain there will not be a let up for at least a few more weeks.  Unfortunate and disappointing and much more motivating to increase my personal productivity and improve my time management.  

One of the problems I’ve had this week is that some of the points I’ve desperately wanted to blog about have been complex and nuanced and multi-faceted.  I love multi-faceted problems - they make you circle them in order to observe the issue keenly from all directions.  The satisfaction of coming to a suitable answer in much more gratifying to me when you’ve taking a hard look at it.  It’s the complex issues that challenge your thoughts and make you understand that black and white answers are often too shallow of a view to take.  When I have achieved a solution to a problem after long analysis and introspection I am much more likely to let that logic become defining to myself as a person.  

But I’m not going to knock out a blog entry every hour.

There’s one issue that I really haven’t spoken about at all this week and I’d really like to has out if only to set my own thoughts in order and make bare my logic.  At first blush I’ve adamantly made up my mind, but after only a few moments of consideration I reverse course and reconsider my position entirely.

Let me develop my argument.

I’ve spent a lot of years in a political wilderness.  I’m a really fiscally conservative guy.  I only get myself into trouble when I lose my head and let someone talk me into going down a path I don’t understand or don’t feel comfortable with.  It will never happen again in my life, that’s a promise and a guarantee and my word remains my bond.  My view on personal finances spreads to how I feel the government should be acting, and frankly I think government in Alberta has done a supremely crappy job over the past 20 years.  This hasn’t been fiscally conservative, it’s just been poorly managed.  I know poor management when I see it.

I feel there has been bad planning, there has been shamefully poor foresight, there has been too little re-investment into our future, there has been an unwillingness to make difficult choices and there has been a complete unwillingness to be transparent and have real discussions with the people at large about our goals and priorities.  I was reminded painfully this week that public hearings have been less about gathering real input and more about establishing an echo chamber for what the politicians wanted to hear to generate an astroturf groundswell.

My cynicism runs deep, particularly from a government that feels they are untouchable, always correct and are the sole source for all the solutions for all the problems in the province.  The Big Tent has not served us well, instead it has truly become a three ring circus.  If you’ve been fortunate to have tickets at the main ring it’s been a pretty good show.  You’re issues have been heard, you’ve tended to gotten action on your problems and the government has put a lot of time and effort catering to your whims and desires.  In exchange, they’ve had a lot of coins tossed down to them and have had no real problems attracting talent and making the audience focus exactly where the government has wanted the focus to be.

But those outer rings have become a show of novelty acts and really cheap carnival tricks.  The show has been less than satisfying away from the main spotlights.  The audience gets thrown a bone once in a while to stop the grumbling, but it is pretty clear that you’re not getting full value if you’re not in the target audience to whom the government is primarily playing.

We’re spending a bundle on health care, but we’re having a hard time attracting doctors and our emergency rooms are stacked 8 hours deep.  We’re at war with those fat-cat teachers and their big, spoiled, entitled union but I walk into my kid’s classrooms and I’m not seeing any gold-plated learning environment and there’s a lot of educators trying really hard to work with what they’ve been given.  Family farms aren’t the norm any longer.  Those that are holding on to their farms are worrying that they’re going to have utility corridors rammed down their throats for “the good of the rest of us” even if the rest of us aren’t sure it’s good.  When I hear of how bad Stelmach has been for Calgary, I think of being told how much Klein ignored Edmonton.  I think of Fort McMurray desperate for workers, desperate for housing, desperate for infrastructure, desperate for community in a place bursting with opportunity and leaching too much wealth away from where it needs reinvesting.  It just isn’t making sense and we are long past due shining a very bright light on our issues and having a meaningful conversation about what’s really going on in this province.

No one can handle all the issues.  No person, no party, no government.  It’s going to take the concerted effort of every last one of us, talking about our problems, sharing our opinions and our issues, putting our ideas on public display and debating them with our passions intact, our minds open and our listening attentive.

It should probably bother me a lot more than it does that I used a circus metaphor.  Life gets a little crazy some times.  What really bothers me are the charlatans at the doors saying the main ring is the only one that matters.  The only issues that are important are the ones that caucus agree to act upon.  The only way to have an issue even come into public consciousness is through the grace of government caucus and no ideas from outside of that realm are worthy of public discussion.

I’ve truly felt pushed out of government because my concerns did not meet with their priorities.  Since then I’ve been searching for anyone willing to have fuller conversations about the challenges we’ve collectively faced.  That has become the driving political factor for me.  The Alberta Party is the secret sauce that matches my values, meets my expectations and represents my vision of the Alberta where I want to live.

Here’s the dumb thing.  Now that I’ve found a comfortable spot and feel that I can have a voice and position of value, I want that to be a driving force for all Albertans.  I want YOU to have a political home with a party that represents your goals and values.  I want that viewpoint and opinion to be represented in the Legislature and get away from the “Premier Knows Best” style of politicking that has served us so poorly for too long.

I don’t talk about the “other guys” much, but I’m going to do more of that today than I have in the entire past year.  I’ve been very clear some of my very best friends and family belong firmly with the Wild Rose Alliance.  I love all that that party has done to create a home to raise their values and issues.  I share a lot of the same values, of course, but collectively they don’t represent my views.  It’s pretty hard to not know - or at least not know of - one prominent Conservative that you respect deeply.  Off the top of my head, for every one Tory I dislike I can think of three I consider admirable.  Opposition is a terrible hard place to be in Alberta, but it’s crucial that we have the Liberals and the NDP representing other views and bringing up the conversations that get lost in the political side shows.  Sometimes they’ve done a good job, other times not so much.  But, dammit, if you’re a Liberal or New Democrat in Alberta you should be welcomed for your viewpoint.  It shouldn’t mean that you’re a “leftish” pariah.  We need to collectively grow up a little and do less schoolyard style name calling and more active listening to each other.

We don’t need a Big Tent, we need better conversation.  We need real discussion about the challenges we face, the solutions we see and the achievements we want to accomplish in the future.  We need more voices heard, and less belittling and devaluing of others.  We need less focus on keeping power and more focus on getting things accomplished.

And with that I only finally start to get around to the first topic I want to address from last week.

I spent a lot of years parking my vote in vain protest.  I did far too much holding my nose while I voted, but I knew I had to try to get my point across that I was not being represented.  The exercise was unsatisfying, but not altogether wasted either.  Clearly the democratic deficit has gotten better attention recently and Albertans have started to rally to ensure their views have been represented.

As more viewpoints are represented with party representation, we can find political homes that fit more accurately with our views.  That’s a good thing.  It brings the conversation out of the locked and barred caucus room and into the open where it belongs.  We’re not going to get our way all the time - nor should we expect to - however we deserve to have fair consideration of all of our opinions.  My community may not get everything on our infrastructure wish list, but neither should we be shut out just because we didn’t elect a member of the governing party.  The government must represent us all instead of doing whatever they want on a four year cycle and pandering for votes for a little while during the election.

During those elections, I freely shopped my vote around.  There was a sense of freedom knowing that I could vote for a particular candidate that I liked or for a party just because I liked a particular policy it espoused.  I may have even voted PC again if they ever gave me a reason that I should and demonstrated enough hubris for their complete failure to take my concerns seriously.

My views have changed over the years and shifted in response to circumstance.  I don’t fit particularly well in the right / left scale, nor do I entirely fit into a two dimensional right/left, socially/fiscally scale.  I think my third axis is in response to circumstances at a given time, but it’s pretty hard to codify.  There are good solutions all of the issues we face and they can come from anywhere.  Our job is to listen and recognize when we spot one. We’re not to demean the ideas we dislike, but to decide where all ideas belong in our realm of priorities.  We can do that openly.

That freedom to shop my vote has been the freedom to look for answers.  The Alberta Party has made it one of the pillars of their party.  Of our party.  Less focus on the labeling and more focus on the ideas.  I’m a huge fan of that.  It’s going to draw others.  Last week, it did.

Dave Taylor joining the Alberta Party opens the doors to a lot of opportunity.  We now have a sitting member in the Legislature and that’s fantastic news.  We have a much higher public presence which I’m sure would have happened eventually but having the timing occur in the past week of tumult was rather fortunate.

It also opens the opportunity for criticism that the Alberta Party is a bunch of rebranded Liberals.  That’s wrong, the Liberals have – the Liberal Party of Alberta.  My job is to ensure that the Alberta Party stays true to it’s values and thereby stands as a party to itself, separate and apart from all others.  We all need fair representations of our views and if Mr. Taylor and other sitting MLAs like him share my views and my values I will happily work with them.

I mentioned at the top that my first thought of members crossing the floor was one that made me uncomfortable with the concept.  Upon reflection, I cannot throw up a blanket ban and say it’s wrong.  We have seen the government take big swings in direction.  Some times the parties move away from us.  Some times the governments stop listening to our concerns.  Some times the government egregiously ignores our constituents and they need to make a statement.  Twice in this government members have been ejected from caucus over their views and have had the issue forced upon them.

My driving force is to be a member of a party where I feel comfortable with the value system and where I feel my voice can be heard are carry impact.  I extend that beyond just the voters, but also to all of our elected representatives.  Should an MLA no longer feel a belonging to a party, they need to feel unencumbered to express their personal views and the consensus of their riding.

My opinion began changing when I thought Guy Boutilier acted courageously to stand up for his constituency.  I felt challenged when Rob Anderson did not resign and stand in a by election.  I felt a equally uncomfortable that he didn’t and indignant that he’d be expected to follow different subset of rules.  When Heather Forsyth crossed the floor I had a distinct understanding that she felt as strongly as I did that the Tories has walked away from her.  If we elect good people they’ll stay true to their selves and true to their constituents especially when the party doesn’t stay true to them.

And here is where I know that I’m in the right party for me.

I’m part of the membership working on getting the Constituency Association for the Alberta Party going in Calgary East.  I know it’s going to be a lot of work.  I know there are great people working alongside me.  I know there are great people working against me.  That’s fantastic if we can all be represented.  The true goal is to get people engaged with their governance.

Should I be on the CA, there’s a chance that I may have to deal with an MLA crossing the floor.  What makes me happiest is that the Alberta Party has created policy in advance.  They’re pretty simple to follow and reasonable to achieve.  I’m relieved that others have done the heavy lifting of setting guidelines.

I don’t have a problem with Dave Taylor’s scenario.  He left his former party, sat as an independent, got interested in the Alberta Party and decided that just maybe he shared common ground and felt comfortable as a member as they researched each other. I’d rather he didn’t make a pledge about a by election at all, but he will stand for election soon enough and his constituents will make their judgement.

My second scenario is an MLA that may not fit with the Alberta Party values.  I think i can be pretty comfortable saying, “Your values may not line up with Alberta Party values, perhaps you should look at another party.“  Everyone doesn’t have to fit under one tent any longer, we all deserve a place where we can express ourselves.

Likewise, should my Alberta Party MLA decide he or she better aligns with another party and crosses the floor to join them, I’d hope that they could express their reasoning clearly for me to accept their decision.  I may work twice as hard to try to defeat them in the next election, but it’s pretty hard for me to justify holding someone in an untenable situation.  I’d hope that I would treat the MLA respectfully.

We ought to wish our representatives actively represent us, the citizens, and not the party they belong to.  They have to represent us whether we voted for them or not.  That’s going to require active listening and open debate.  That has not been the hallmark of the past government.  I want to change that and I want to allow room for our MLAs to align better to our collective beliefs.

It’s going to be messy once in a while and some hard feelings are invariably going to develop.  It becomes imperative that we keep the discussion open, honest and respectful so we can understand how our values and priorities align and where they differ.  There shouldn’t be surprises about where we align and how we feel priorities must be ordered.

It doesn’t mean that we have to repeat the same old game that we’ve played in the past.  We have control over how we will deal with MLAs crossing the floor.  We can set our parameters of how we want our representatives to behave and enforce that they live up to our standards.  You can’t cross to join the Alberta Party without accepting that one of our requirements is that you “agree to undertake a citizen engagement process consistent with the principles of the Alberta Party.“  Mr. Taylor is going to ensure that he engages with his riding and his constituents will have plenty of opportunity to express their opinions to him.

What I find interesting is that when I consider thinking about a large number of MLAs crossing parties, I see fewer crossings in the future.  I do not want to ever again see a member of the government ejected from his or her party for expressing their views.  The Alberta Party expressly makes the distinction between dissension and disloyalty.  We’ve left a lot of room for public discussion and respectful disagreement.  We may even go to vote disagreeing on some details.  I’d much rather see a dissenting vote made with integrity than a an MLA voting for what’s wrong for his or her constituents in order to maintain superficial party solidarity.

It makes what Guy Boutilier and Rob Anderson did much more admirable.  We need to improve democracy in Alberta so members like them can stand on their principles.  I’m very pleased they found their answer in the Wild Rose Alliance.  Now Dave Taylor has an opportunity to comport himself with dignity and respect.  I hope he will retain his passion and be a forceful and effective member for our party.  You can argue vehemently and still be respectful.

In my vision of Alberta politics we have a number of parties, all of which are aware of the issues at hand because we’re discussing them publicly.  MLAs get feedback from all their constituents, not merely the ones that voted them into office.  Debates are fierce, spirited, heartfelt, open and respectful.  Because the MLAs are actually in touch with their constituents, they know when the prevailing opinion opposes a bad law and they feel they have the ability to dissent on the basis of informed principle.

It’s far too idealistic to expect it to happen, but we can make some significant steps forward with increased transparency and more public debate.

Through transparency and public debate we don’t have to lock our dissent within caucus and we feel less need to eject a member because they voiced the opinion which should be obvious in their riding.

I want to see the end of one party rule.  I want the end of where you have to be a member of the governing party to get anything accomplished – unless you’re a particularly exceptional MLA, of course.  I want open and public conversation.  None of that is unrealistic to demand.  It’s not an unobtainable goal, it simply requires engagement of all citizens and a willingness to have respectful discussions with each other.  The answers may come from anywhere, we need to be able to listen in order to hear when the good ideas arise.