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Monday, December 15, 2008

can david swann change politics in alberta?

Alberta Liberals may have selected a new leader this weekend, but they still face the same serious challenges as they did a week ago. New Official Opposition leader David Swann, and competitors Dave Taylor and Mo Elsalhy were only able to convince 6,000 Albertans to participate in the vote, which raises some serious questions about the viability of the Liberal organization in Alberta. As leader, Swann will need to engage the +250,000 Albertans who supported the Liberals in the last election, while trying to reverse his party’s downward slide in popular support over the past 15 years.

The latter is a challenge not uniquely faced by Swann and the party he now leads. As voter turnout continues to slide across the board, it is clear that there is a serious disconnect between the average Alberta citizen and the political organizations and politicians representing them in the Legislature. This poses a serious threat not only to all of our political parties, but also to the existence of democratic vibrancy, a humbling reality that is lost on many of our current elected representatives.

The serious question also needs to be asked whether the Liberals are politically, organizationally, and financially past the point of saving. I have serious questions about the future potential of that party, which was only able to draw around 120 delegates to its recent annual convention. As I’ve written before, as none of our political parties have been able to successfully engage Albertans, it may be time to look outside the traditional party establishment (others have thoughts on this as well).

Though partisan opponents have already begun to label Swann as an 'out of touch academic,' I have a hard-time believing that most Albertans would categorize a family doctor as an academic. This type of behavior dilutes the political dialogue, and is the exact type of lowest-common denominator partisanship that keeps citizens away from political involvement in droves.

In the end, Swann may prove not to be the great leader who leads the Liberals to victory in Alberta, but he is certainly cut from a different cloth than the two other party leaders in the Alberta Legislature. He is not a career politician (both Ed Stelmach and Brian Mason have been politicians for over 20 years) and is not any more charismatic than either of his counterparts in the Legislature, but agree or disagree with his politics, Swann is a devout Christian, social justice advocate, and environmentalist who personally practices what he preaches when it comes to what he believes in, and you can't fault him for being genuine (he has also been one of the few MLAs to seriously engage First Nations communities on water safety and oil sands issues in northern Alberta).

As a politically engaged and frustrated Albertan who is looking to become involved in 1) an organization that is serious about engaging and challenging Albertans to be better citizens, and 2) a viable and competitive alternative to the current governing party, I have serious doubts that the Liberal Party fits these descriptions, but seeing engaged citizens like David Swann get involved in elected politics gives me a little bit more hope for democracy in general.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to David Swann's time as leader. As a disgruntled lefty, I think the time is ripe for all the alternatives to Stelmach-Tory incompetence to come together under a new team.

Dr. Swann has my attention. Let's see what he can do.

Tiny Perfect Blog said...
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daveberta said...

TPB - I'm not sure what about Swann's style would make you think 'academic?' I would argue he gives the feeling of 'folk music artist' than anything else.

Tiny Perfect Blog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
-dj said...

Umm... no. He can't.

It is time to seriously overhaul.

Swann is probably the best leader of the three, but that's not what they need right now. They need a game-changer.

daveberta said...

So rough around the edges equals academic? Thoughtful and rough around the edges is how I would describe it in general.

Curmudgeon-at-Large said...

Speaking of feeling frustrated, I'm frustrated by people who use the expression "one of the only." WTF does that mean, anyway? If you mean one of the few, say one of the few. If you mean the only one, say the only one. If you mean one of only X [where X is a number], tell us what X is. Otherwise, it's just sloppy, uncommunicative language.

I expect better of you.

daveberta said...

"Speaking of feeling frustrated, I'm frustrated by people who use the expression "one of the only."

I've clearly let you down. I apologize... :)

Anonymous said...

-dj: I agree, but how do you change the game in this province? Frankly, given the apathy and cynicism of the voters and the complete erosion of democracy by those in power, the game might well be over already.

The biggest game change at this point is probably for progressive parties to work together. But seeing tiny perfect blog's comments (and commercials) on every comments page on every blog in Alberta doesn't give me much hope--the NDP and Liberal Party's constant beating up on each other has been and still is tiresome and unproductive.

Tiny Perfect Blog said...
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clay said...

"The NDP voted 95% at their last convention against even considering co-operation with the Liberals - so I don't see the issue going anywhere, even if Liberals want it to (and I'm not sure they do)."

Both the Liberals and NDP are dying parties who will only be swept to an even more irrelevant position when the next new party is created and defeats the PCs.

Anonymous said...

How is it that hacks like Rick Bell and Lorne Gunter get paid big bucks to write drivel in their big daily newspapers while commonsensical writers like you do it for for no charge on a free blog?

tjk said...

From my experiences in electoral politics I still am yet to buy into the idea that partisanship drives voters away. It has seemed to actually motivate people to get involved and reach out to their friends and colleagues to get involved.

I highly doubt we'll ever agree on that though.

Curmudgeon-at-Large said...

"he has also been one of the few MLAs"

I feel much better now; thank you.

Werner Patels said...

How is it that hacks like Rick Bell and Lorne Gunter get paid big bucks to write drivel in their big daily newspapers while commonsensical writers like you do it for for no charge on a free blog?

Because that's how the system works!(?) But the mainstream media are reaching the end of the line. Just give it some more time. From what I hear, the New York Times, for example, will actively seek the input of bloggers in a few years' time.

the muffin man said...

This David Swann fellow will take the ALP nowhere. He is just another socialist. Until the ALP becomes a true liberal party again, as it was during the Laurence Decore years, it will go nowhere. Electing a leader who is redder than a fire truck, talks of cooperating with the socialists, and suggests changing the party, is not a true liberal. The ALP will be set back by at least 3 more years by this development.

-dj said...

@Anon 1:28 - You're talking about votes and voters and apathy, that's still playing the same game. I think you're right when you say the game is over, or at least that's the assumption Swann has to make. That lets him start from scratch. Before every renovation there must be a demolition.

@Anon 2:29 - Don't assume Bell and Gunter make "big bucks". They get paid, true, but not well. Ask any writer...

rc said...

"Both the Liberals and NDP are dying parties who will only be swept to an even more irrelevant position when the next new party is created and defeats the PCs."

That makes a big assumption. Alberta is a very different place than it was the last time a newly-minted party swept the incumbent government from power.

Things have changed a bit in this province since 1935.

Besides which, the registration requirements for new political parties in Alberta make it very difficult for such a task to be pulled off, unless of course it has its roots in an already-existent political organization.