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Thursday, July 17, 2008

feet on the ground.

Last Monday night, I attended the Town Hall on Democratic Renewal at Edmonton's Glenora Community Hall. With almost 200 people in attendance, I was pleasantly surprised (considering it was a political event in the middle of July).

Hosts David Swann and Laurie Blakeman were joined by panelists Sarah Arthurs (who has organized similar meetings in Calgary), Calgary Herald writer Les Brost, political consultant Ken Chapman, and past Green candidate Joe Anglin. Also, in attendance were MLAs Kevin Taft, Harry Chase, and Bridget Pastoor, City Councillor Ben Henderson, a number of past MLAs, and past PC candidate Wendy Andrews (who gets special props being the only past Tory candidate at the event). Also there were Blake Robert (the artist formerly known as Alberta Tory), Troy Wason, and their merry band of Blackberry-toting PC staffers.

Though this wasn't exactly the most Tory friendly crowd, the crowd of Liberals, NDs, Greens, and Independents contributed some good non-partisan discussion over the course of the evening -- ranging from how to revitalize our ailing and antiquated electoral system to how to re-engage Albertans in their democratic process to how to improve change the overly confrontational style of our politics. With potentially less than 40% of Albertans having voted in the 2008 election, there was lots of interest in finding positive solutions to move forward.

Overall, I was most impressed with Joe Anglin. After leading central Alberta landowners in the fight against Bill 46, Anglin earned an impressive 22% while running for the Green Party in Lacombe-Ponoka in March 2008. Though some might not like his "agitate, agitate, agitate" kind of style, I found him to be impressive on his feet and would be a formidable candidate no matter which banner he was running under. With no shortage of talk about the creation of a new political movement in Alberta, I hope that people like Joe Anglin are there to take a lead role. As Les Brost put it that evening, "labels are important when it comes to marketing, but mean nothing when it comes to substance."

Putting "feet on the ground" is how Anglin described his impressive results in Lacombe-Ponoka and how any new political movement needs to be founded -- by cultivating the sincere grassroots support that none of Alberta's current political parties can claim to have.

As Jason Morris at wrote in his very thorough rundown of the evening:

"In the end, I left the meeting no longer wondering if it was possible that a new political movement could be formed in Alberta, but wondering instead what form it will take."
After Monday night, I tend to agree.


Jonathan said...

Would the Alberta brand of politics be branded as confrontational? I tend to think the opposite: things happen in such a rushed manner, with token or no consultation that discourse never truly has a chance to take form.

I might call it "dismissive" politics, but I'm not sure about confrontational.

Anonymous said...

I hope that something positive comes out of this. Less than 40% voter turnout is embarrassing.

in transit said...

Joe Anglin's example is something that all aspiring candidates and nascent political movements should take a lesson from. He is combatant, down to early, engaging, and not afraid to call a spade a spade.

What he was able to do in Lacombe-Ponoka is a feat. The future is in a "green" movement and it is an issue that is a clear contrast with the Conservative Party on both the Federal and Provincial level. True conservatives are conservationists and green in nature, what we have in Alberta are institutional natural governing parties - much like the Liberal Party of Canada on the national level. Progressives getting together at meetings like these could lead to some positive change for the future, even if it just leads to a larger opposition in the next few elections a change is on its way.

A said...

I was impressed with the caliber of the forum - both the panelists and (most) of the Q & A.

There were a couple of blind spots and sour notes though.

Between "to merge or not to merge," "putting feet on the ground," and "education! nobody talks smack about education!," we missed money, systemic electoral reform (other than one question at the end about direct democracy that I don't really see as being a helpful turn in the conversation), and re-engaging young people, to name a few of the issues I'd tag as salient to a series discussion of democratic renewal.

The re-engagement of young people in particular struck me as a gap. I counted less than 50 people whose age I would ballpark as being under 35, and of those people, I'm not sure if any of them were people who weren't staffers, bloggers, or people whom I know from their respective track records of exceptional (as in, the exception) involvement and interest.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a process that builds some meaningful momentum. It seemed like it could be a pretty good start.

Anonymous said...

Larry Booi had a great column on democracy in Monday's Journal.

CD said...

Not that I was at the meeting, but I appreciate the play by play from Gauntlet.

It occurs to me that the UofA prof had a good point. It's not conversation we need, nor discussion, it is dialogue. David Bohm has a great essay "On Dialgue" that explains what this means well. It's not about being oppositional, but more about recognizing and ackowledging. So it no longer becomes an adversarial and defending process. It's good to talk about this (especially at a seemingly opposition run event), but really, it should be the government MLA's that institute this-of course they have the BATNA, so it's in a way up to them. At least, on an institutional level. It's a long process, but it gets down to some of those essential and unmentioned assumptions we have about our democracy and political system and institutions.

Here is where I must agree that it comes down to values.
From where I stand, the way the opposition parties will gain sway, is when the deep culture (to borrow a phrase) reflects different values. How we communicate these elements to our youth is primarily throught the education system. So, on this point, I'm definitely with Ken.

Anyway...thoughts from a coffee shop in Vienna. A world away...

Marnie Tunay said...

I agree with jonathan that "dismissive" might well be an appropriate label for Alberta politics.
But, Dave, your statement that the Tories don't enjoy "sincere grass-roots support???" Wasn't the image of being a sincere, grass-roots kind of guy exactly how Stelmach became premier?
Marnie Tunay

Anonymous said...

I am pleased to hear that it went well. Let's hope that something good comes out of this!