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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

my political reboot.

In many ways, this blog serves as a public archive of my journey through and the evolution of my beliefs about politics and democracy since January 2005. Rather than a disclaimer, an informer is posted in the sidebar to your right: thoughts and opinions change from time to time. I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This blog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot and manifestation of the various ideas running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.
Re-reading my posts over the past year will give a reader an understanding of how my reflections on politics and democracy have evolved. The intent of this post is not be prophetically deep, but sensibly reflective of my experiences and how they have shaped my current feelings towards politics and democracy.

I attended the annual Alberta Liberal Party convention last December October. The Liberal Party was in the midst of a leadership contest, but was only able to attract around 200 supporters to its convention. It was my experience that many of the party members and delegates held a deep bitterness towards the governing Progressive Conservatives and towards the Albertans that voted for them. I may not have liked the outcome of the last election, but I trust Albertans and believe that they are intelligent enough to understand and make decisions. I worked hard for that party in the past, but it was during that convention that I came to the realization that in many ways I had outgrown the Liberal Party.

I am tired of negativity in politics. I love my province and have no patience to be involved in any political organization that thrives off undertones of negativity. At the convention last December and since, I do not see a political party in Alberta that fits this qualification. That is why I left the Liberal Party and have not renewed my membership since.

I have wandered since leaving party politics, I have talked about politics and democracy with many people over the past year, and I have observed that while our politicians continue to focus on the spectrum of left-right politics to define themselves, their parties, and their opponents, it is a fairly insular idea. I am guilty of writing about politics in the left- or right- context, but with all the current political parties floating in what they perceive as "the middle" of the political spectrum, I wonder if the concept is as outdated as the Berlin Wall.

Nothing big has happened without the risk of failure. The risks of not doing something are greater.

This weekend's Reboot Alberta meeting in Red Deer was exciting. Around 100 participants travelled from all the corners of the province - and represented a diverse range of Albertans from vast agricultural- and forestry-based rural areas, villages, towns, and small and large cities.

I am a proud Albertan. In the 1890s, my family followed an Oblate priest from Quebec and settled near Morinville (Alberta was still part of the North West Territories at the time). They worked hard, against many odds, to help build their community. Skip forward one hundred and thirteen years later and I am a third generation Albertan. It is my home. But as proud as I am of being an Albertan, I am less proud of how our leaders have handled important issues like the development of the oil sands, the social issues in Bill 44, and basic issues of integrity in governance.

Participant Sue Huff quoted another Reboot Alberta participant on her blog:
One very wise man stood up and talked about wanting to feel proud of being an Albertan again and how he did not that currently. This pride was not a boastful or arrogant pride but simply the pride of feeling good about doing the right things and doing them well. He noted that the conversations that had taken place at Reboot were about possibility, not just about problems. He urged us to accept responsibility for what is and resist the urge to blame the government. We are the government. We must not feel victimized, fatalistic, hopeless or unable to act. Instead by accepting our responsibility, our culpability for the current state of affairs, we take the first step towards making the change. He marvelled at the increased sense of ownership in the room and the powerful authentic connections.
I am a progressive. A number of discussions last weekend focused on what it meant to be a "progressive" in Alberta. While it is easy to fall into the trap of pigeon holing "progressive" as "lefty," this would not be an accurate description of the real conversations that happened. When asked to define "progressive," the three words I heard that resonated strongly with me were: adaptability, understanding, and interconnectivity.

One of the main characteristics of Reboot Alberta that really struck me was the positive and respectful tone of the debate over the weekend. In a room filled with 100 type-A personalities, no egos dominated the discussion, no ideology dominated the room, and there was a willingness to listen and consider other points of view. Participants were honest about the challenges facing our province, but little of any discussion dwelled on the negative. The conversations focused on the solutions, and how to turn thoughts into action. This is a tone that I would like to see set for the politics of my home province.

I have written a lot about the need for a new political movement, and at times I have wavered in whether or not this is the best idea. There are still questions, but a new movement is emerging. It exists through the participation of citizen in open discussions like ChangeCamp, CivicCamp, and Reboot Alberta. It is open source democracy, a new way of participation in civic society.

Opinions at Reboot Alberta were diverse, but there was a clear belief by the majority of participants that our current political parties are not fulfilling the potential of this province. There were differences in terms of the solutions offered, some wanting to work within the current structure, some interested in working outside of it, and some who believed that a new political movement needs to be formed (like the folks involved with Renew Alberta).

On December 15, 2008, I wrote that I was:
...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.
There were many participants at Reboot Alberta who sincerely expressed and seriously discussed their desire to help create a movement that embodies these two characteristics. If something new and meaningful can be created from of the positive and creative energy of the participants who attended this weekend, I want to be there and help make it happen.


Anonymous said...

There was no Alberta Liberal AGM in December.


daveberta said...

Thanks! It was last October, not December. Corrected.

Polly Jones said...

Do you still want to be part of a viable and "competitive" party?

I ask because I wonder what your thoughts are on the NDP? I feel some people shy away from it because they don't think it is currently competitive.

Historically, however, the strength of labour parties can change suddenly and significantly with socioeconomic conditions.

I appreciate your desire to be open to change. I myself went from a Liberal in 2005 to a socialist (present day). (I even attended a provincial Liberal meeting in 2007 but found the discussion was dominated by how to be more corporate friendly!)
There were a number of factors that radicalized me, but most importantly much better knowledge of global economics.

I'm currently a member of the NDP and find there is a great deal of discussion and dissent on caucus list-serves etc. And, certainly, the dialogue goes beyond the spectrum of left and right...or someone like me would be thrown out!

I sincerely hope that you might attend a local meeting...even if it only proves to be a brief stop on your journey.

Thanks for some refreshing political blogging...I hate partisan blogging even though I am sometimes guilty of it. I hope that I will always open to new ideas and institutions...

I definitely think that all the alternative political parties in Alberta need to begin working more from a place of possibility and less from a place of fear. Sometimes, it seems that discourse and organization is caught in a reactive position to life with the Cons instead of a proactive position that articulates the what and how of policies so people can imagine life under another government.

Robert said...

I agree for a progressive party which is open minded and has a really big tent the NDP are the way to go. I am a Truman Democrat my family is from the states and have always been Truman Democrats, I am at the political center and debate with people both to the left right and center of me on all issues in the NDP. It is wonderful.

Jennifer Smith said...

Good for you! This sounds incredibly exciting. As immersed as I've become with the circus that is the Liberal Party of Canada, I love the idea of breaking through traditional party lines and wish you the best of luck with it.

Do keep us informed.

Art said...

I can't figure out how anyone hopes to change anything without being part of a political party.

By my estimation that is a recipe for keeping the Tories (or some right wing clone party) in power for another generation.

If you simply create some kind of 'awareness' what do people do with that new knowledge to change things - they vote the bums out.

At some point partisan politics has to enter the picture.

Just because the ALP is a group of sad, sour and dour folks, doesn't mean other parties are the same.

Anonymous said...

The unintentional hilarity of these comments is that they demonstrate the same mindset that has prevented "progressives" from getting anywhere in Alberta. The solution offered by Polly and Robert amounts to "hey, just join the NDP, it's already great." Putting aside whether the NDP is electable in Alberta (it isn't), do you really think hoardes of diverse, progressive Albertans will flock to a party with the history of the NDP, and its already well-defined set of values and policies? Are you convinced that an existing party, with all of its pre-existing party drama, has the capacity to re-invigorate Albertans the way Dave proposes? The NDP may be filled with many good people, but like all institutions, it comes with a defined brand and other institutional baggage. Dave isn't talking about the diverse-but-homeless Alberta progressives resigning themselves to make do in the stronger of the two remaining traditional parties. Dave is talking about creating a new political movement. All this hoopla about "reinventing Alberta" and "uniting progressives" may be Obamaesque false ecumenism. But whatever it is, it isn't a proposal that everyone just join the NDP.

And Jennifer and Art also demonstrate why it is difficult to "unite the left." They both make flippant comments about the Liberals, many of whom would be necessary for any sort of meaningful coalition party. I'll be the first to admit that it's easy to find flaws with the Liberals, both provincially and federally. But there are still a lot of people who identify as Liberals. Suggesting they're sad, dour, or part of a circus isn't going to pull them into your tent.

Merlin Durken said...

I seized on your observation about negativity Dave. I think that is the single reason most of the people I know are not engaged in politics on any level, it certainly is the reason I dislike it. Yet many citizens (like me fer instance)are too stupid to back away from a fight. If we are supposed to be participating, it should be relatively pleasant, at least most of the time, but it's a drag, drag, drag. It's gotta be even if you're on the 'winning team', these days.

Let us reboot. And as DH Lawrence said, let's do it for fun!

Mike Fotheringham said...

I wonder a lot about our collective desire to walk away from institutions to create new ones. There is no doubt in my mind that existing parties are old, tired and in need of major overhauls. However, I fear that by walking away from parties like the ALP, and relegating oneself to a room with other like-minded progressives, we're not going to change the status quo anytime soon. It may be effective to create change in 15-20 years but by then, Alberta may be a shadow of its former self if it continues along its current trajectory.
I would argue that the conversations that were had at reboot this past weekend need to happen in existing parties. There was an opportunity for this type of change when David Swann came in as ALP leader but then party hacks overwhelmed new 'progressive' voices calling for a new positive politics. If progressives were actually united and organized the ALP could have been ripe for the type of change you're speaking of.
Starting a new political movement may be necessary given the current options, but it will never be effective if it doesn't incorporate a number of the existing parties. A further splintering will be the result. I would also argue that all of the good intentions and rosy thoughts that emerged over the weekend would in time be replaced with negativity, skepticism and like if a new party was formed. Not sure if it's the media, how politics is managed behind the scenes or whatever, it just seems that even the likes of Obama fail to put hope into practice.
Dave, I admire your attitude and the energy you put into making ALberta a better place, so thanks and keep up the good work you do.

CS said...

The NDP, Liberals, Rebooters, and Democratic Renewal paople all need to unite to present one new force to participate in.

Vin said...

I find it absolutely hilarious that people are suggesting the NDP as a non-partisan, "big tent" group. They're socialistic, partisan, and incredibly negative. Just look at the elections over the 1990s. 1993 NDP were absolutely disgusting in their attacks on other parties. It's amazing how much short term memory people have.

And to those people who suggest change in Alberta can come from the NDP and Liberals coming together to form a single party? It'd never work. For one thing, that wouldn't win any ridings that the Liberals couldn't independently win. The seats that could possibly flip wouldn't because the Liberals, or the NDP, who would lose out on their preferred factional candidate (since there'd still be a divide even if the parties became one) and there goes another tactical advantage.

It's worthless to talk about that route anyway, seeing that the NDP are so vastly out of sync with Albertan voters. It'd be dragging the Liberals off onto a tangent that'll allow the Conservative to envelope the middle of the spectrum easily and allow for a small niche for the Wildrose to slip in to eck out a meagre existence.

Nothing would change, it'd all remain the same, and a viable, progressive voice would be crushed in the organization of the Alberta Liberals.

This isn't the debate Dave wants, anyways. As per what Anonymous @ 7:23AM said--Dave wants a movement. He wants to win hearts and minds to seeing that there is a greater debate to be had beyond just the platitudes of right or left, NDP or Liberal, Conservative or Wildrose, and any sort of current political discourse. There's something greater to hit upon and develop and we shouldn't be stuck with a false dichotomy in anything: Alberta is more complex than that. It also deserves better.

Keep on doing great work, Dave. Tell me if you ever run for anything--I know I'll vote for you.

Jennifer Smith said...

Just for the record, I do identify myself as a Liberal, and I do recognize the pragmatism of working within the current partisan system. That's why I do it.

But I also believe that outside, trans-partisan movements like the one Dave is talking about can potentially re-invigorate existing parties by giving them a much needed kick in the ass and getting to think outside the boxes they've constructed for themselves.

(and circuses are fun!)

Anonymous said...

"There was an opportunity for this type of change when David Swann came in as ALP leader but then party hacks overwhelmed new 'progressive' voices calling for a new positive politics."

This probably wouldn't have happened if Dave and the rest of his ilk that had gotten Swann the big job in the first place hadn't run off to start ill-defined Reboot Movements. It's pretty easy to be overwhelmed when you're standing alone.

And friends, David Swann is most certainly standing alone.

Anonymous said...

Just because I reboot my computer when it has a problem doesn't mean it will fix anything.

Matt Grant said...

"There was an opportunity for this type of change when David Swann came in as ALP leader but then party hacks overwhelmed new 'progressive' voices calling for a new positive politics."

Mike, I'm not sure who you're referring to, but that's not particularly fair. As is well known, many of the people working hard for David right now may not have supported him in the leadership, including me, but have subsequently done their best to volunteer their time and energy to give David the best shot of winning the next provincial election. David's capacity to win hasn't been eroded by anybody undermining him, and that should be something worth celebrating instead of suggesting some sort of hack takeover has occurred; the number of people who supported David and then ran off to other political adventures without giving him time or their best efforts to create change is what personally bothers me. Change is created by hard work; just because the change some are working towards might not mesh with what you have in mind, doesn't a hack make. I'm sure (in fact, I know) David is thankful for every single person willing to roll up their sleeves to help him out.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points about Cournoyer and others abandoning their man David Swann moments after he was elected Liberal leader. As an outsider looking in, I would say that speaks to the inherit weakness in the party itself. If Dave Taylor couldn't beat a campaign run by the kind of people so flighty as to take off the moment Swann won, well then Taylor's base must have been even worse. Perhaps lazy? I don't know.

Our political system isn't that different than our economic one, both are based on competition. All these non-partisan movements seem to be run by people tired of losing in the market place of ideas. Instead of re-evaluating their own ideas, they want to get together in a format without competition where they can feel a level of respect they never get whilst being repeatedly bested in the electoral circuit.

That's not neccesarily a bad thing, but people shouldn't expect a new movement or party to spring up around those that have tuned out in the first place. Any such party these folks would conjure would be doomed to look weak when presented to the public for judgement. And we already have the NDP and Liberals for those that want weak options.

Mike F said...

Matt, I agree with your sentiments. Unfortunately and for obvious reasons, you took offence to my use of the term 'party hacks'. This was a bad choice of words on my part. What I meant by this was that the big 'L' liberal organizers were more or less given reigns to the party after Swann was elected. It was odd because he more or less ran on a platform of change and the status quo seemed to win out in the end. You may disagree with me that this is a bad thing, that's fine. You were part of a large group of people that felt that 'liberalism' just needed to be properly explained to Albertans so that they could see how wonderful it was and join the ALP. I for one felt that the party needed to change drastically or die. I'm a 'practical' liberal in the sense that I feel it's the best party in Alberta and in Canada right now. But I'm not a dye-in-the-wool liberal who will vote liberal the rest of my life no matter what.
What Dave and others may be getting at is that parties need to become less dogmatic and more practical. For example, everytime you show up at a political event you always seem to have to prove your colours, 'I've been a liberal for 40 years...I've been a liberal since the day I was born...My family has never voted anything but liberal...' Everyone claps and cheers but for the everyday person off the street it seems like a cult frankly.
I'm sure David is extremely thankful for your help and that of the others who supported Dave Taylor. My point is that the 'Liberal-first' vision that yourself, Cory H., Dave T. and numerous others espouse is simply too narrow for Alberta. In my mind the reason why Swann won was not because he had the better orgainzation (because he did not), but because his message of change resonated. I agree with you that most of his supporters either cut and run after the election or more likely, just didn't have the skills to make their ideas a reality. In their absence, the 'Liberal-first' team, I will call it, pounced on the opportunity to weild influence within the ALP so that their vision could be forwarded. This vision was nicely presented in Cory H's document at the onset of the leadership race and was one that I diagreed with then and now.
All of this to say, my point in my earlier posting was that the 'reboot' people had an opportunity in working with Swann after he won. He would have been open to their message and could have worked to make it manifest in Alberta. That did not happen and as you rightly pointed out, Swann has been supported and the ALP has been run by people who largely did not share his vision of change.
In my opinion, it was an opportunity lost and I can understand how you see it differently.
For my part, I live in SK now and my thoughts are my own despite having worked with David for so long. Frankly, I haven't discussed my opinion with him at all.
I consider this a healthy discussion and we may disagree from time to time but the big thing to remember is that we care about Alberta, and for that, we should consider ourselves on the same team.

Josh Kjenner said...

I think this would probably be a good time to make a pitch for the movement I'm currently involved in: Renew Alberta. We're attempting to build a party that will appeal to moderate Albertans, and address some of the issues people speak to above: viability, pragmatism, and the embrace of change.

Provincial legislation requires the signatures of 0.3% of the electorate (currently 7050 people) for registration of a political party. We initiated our petition campaign last weekend, and we'll be working toward 7050 signatures over the coming months. We're very much interested in finding people to help us reach this target, and to help us shape the party into something that can address some of the shortcomings of current parties while maintaining electoral viability.

If you're interested in getting more involved, or learning more about us, I'd suggest joining our group at, or checking out our website, (where you can't do TOO much for the time being, but you can sign up for updates, or get in touch with us using the "contact" link at the top right of the page).

Merlin Durken said...

Anonymous at 1:14:00 pm - wouldn't it be great if it was that simple?

Anonymous said...

I applaud your idealism, but between the tweets I get about this Reboot Alberta thing and the Green Oil book, it seems like the participants are just being taken advantage of in yet another business venture coming from Cambridge Strategies. How much support will you get if the hard work of making the change turns out to be unprofitable for them?

Anonymous said...

Your first mistake is leaving the Liberal party. The problem with progessive politics is that it splinters FAR too easily. You would probably have been able to be more persuasive by changing the party from within.

Conservatives have been supremely successful because they stick together even when they disagree on stuff. If progressive Canadians stuck together instead of the habitual infighting we have now, we would easily have a majority of votes.

Anonymous said...

The trick in politics is to get a large number of people moving all in one direction--that won't happen if Alberta's progressive voters keep arguing amongst themselves, splitting into groups that ridicule others of like mind (i.e. members of the Liberal and NDP parties seem to be a favourite target in Reboot postings). C'mon all--why aren't the Rebooties joining with the DRP? (I hear the Rebooties rebuffed any attempts at cooperation with the DRP.) Why are the Liberals and NDP afraid of the DRP? Why are the Greens not backing the DRP? It's all so ridiculous. We can attend our individual "feel good" conventions, organizational meetings and strategy sessions but at the end of the day, if we can't get together and recognize that we all want the same progressive future for Alberta, then we will languish in opposition forever. Shout it out from the rooftops--let's work TOGETHER for change in this province!!

Darren said...

A lot of people phone and text while driving. Does that mean we need to rebuild the road system so that people can phone and text safer? Same goes for politics - is it easier to change our habits or change the entire system?
We seem to live in a "here I am now, entertain me." mentality where people expect things to be delivered to them with no effort on their part and that includes politics. We expect political parties to cater to us and inform us. The government spns one way, the opposition spins the other, interest groups spin their own way and people disconnect because it's all too confusing.
People need to take a far greater role in shaping their governments and if that means reading up on an issue so be it. Take the time to cut through all the spinning and find out the facts on a given issue. That might mean you'll have to turn off So You Think You Can Dance for 20 minutes but so be it. Personal engagement takes effort. If more people took more responsibility in keeping themselves informed we wouldn't need to talk about revamping the system.

And the Liberals failed because they didn't think there was anything wrong with their message, only the way it was being communicated, which is why last year's convention was so disappointing. They had a chance to radically change their message but instead decided all that was needed was to turn up the volume. We can see how that worked out.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:35 - Hallelujah, praise be to Jesus, someone finally said it.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty hard to effect any kind of change when the two opposition parties seem perfectly content with their current station and spend just as much time attacking each other as the government.

Connie said...

Just the simple fact that this kind of discussion is happening gives me hope for some real change within my lifetime. (I'm guessing that I'm older than everyone who has responded. It's a pretty good bet.) I admire David Swann for his integrity and his intelligence. Others in the Liberal caucus have proven similar qualities. And I am pretty much in line with what the Liberal policy book contains. But I live in rural Alberta. Rural Liberals could probably hold their Christmas party at my kitchen table. For many years now, I have tried to do what I could to bring some change to our political landscape. That has become my guiding beacon. Dare I confess that for a brief moment, I even thought about joining the WRAP -- partly to try to move them closer to the center, as if I could. But mainly because people I meet in rural Alberta were all abuzz about that party after their leadership change. However, I cannot swallow fast enough. And the "NDP of the right" will eventually settle into its niche, way over there>>>>>, and growth will stop. I missed the ReBoot Alberta conference by one day. It was full when I applied. But I have read with mounting excitement the blogs, and comments that have come out of that weekend, and have had several conversations with some who were there. Finally, it looks like there is a political home for me. Thanks, Dave and others, for keeping the conversation going.