In order to succeed in Alberta politics, it’s important to not just be something that people vote for in protest, though that has certainly played a role in the rise of the NDP in 2015 and the subsequent rise of the UCP.
In my experience and interactions with people at events, online, and face to face in the community it is clear that Albertans want hope. But hope isn’t an effective governance strategy. They need to see vision as well. We need to paint a vision of what Alberta might look like 30 years from now.
This is what made Peter Lougheed so successful and revered. A grand vision of how things could be.
A big problem with social media and the state of news and political cycles now is that the governing and opposition parties have lost site of the grand narrative – that vision for the future and long-term governance.
We are constantly focused on the next sound bite, the next campaign, the next win.
Instead of representing all Albertans, we have divided into camps that fight for workers, camps that fight for business, camps that fight for taxpayers.
A great government will factor in all of these groups. But they will also think about children, the disabled, our indigenous people. They will look at the forest and not just see the trees so to speak.
But having a vision is also not enough. You have to have a plan. And when you are constantly focused on winning the next election instead of executing a vision for the future, you wind up focusing on the wrong things and being reactive instead of proactive.
We get so focused on the battle between cutting taxes, providing better services, creating regulations, putting Band-Aids on broken systems – that the direction seems disjointed, and you become over reliant on resource revenues, you put yourself in a position where you can no longer fund the services that have come to be expected, you create unrealistic expectations of the value of services that are provided and become focused only on the costs.
The NDP definitely had a vision of making some changes to the way Alberta operates. And they have delivered big changes.
From a data perspective, the economy is hot. But is it being felt on the streets or only on the balance sheets?
That ultimately is what is driving the resentment and anger about the NDP being in government. Politics isn’t rational, it’s emotional. And when you have family and friends who haven’t worked in years, or who have had to leave the province to find work, or have had to close down their businesses, then it doesn’t matter what the statistics are, or what the agenda is – the primary need of a family and a citizen is to have their basic needs met.
Not acknowledging this sooner has been a fatal error for the NDP that I suspect they cannot and will not be able to overcome.
But Alberta is at a crossroads. We have a popular, but polarizing opposition leader who is relying on angry rhetoric and misinformation to garner support. People who are desperate are being sold a vision that can’t be delivered.
We have a beleaguered Premier who is unlikely to be able to hold on to her government. And the governing party will take (and has taken) decisions that will try to tilt the field in their favour, or at the very least try and level it against their opponents.
Moderates so rarely get whipped up and in a frenzy. That has happened to a certain extent with the exodus of Greg Clark as Alberta Party leader. But it isn’t enough. We know that we were angry with the big business, back room dealings of the PC Party when they left power. We know we don’t like the NDP and some of the actions they are taking, particularly putting us on a path of social instability when debt collectors eventually come to call.
At this point in time, everyone who doesn’t like or believe that Jason Kenney is the answer for Alberta has a choice. They can sit at home quiet and assume that his election as Premier is a foregone conclusion and that we are destined to return to the days of Ralph Klein cuts, or they can roll up their sleeves.
Next week we will see leadership candidates start to come forward for the Alberta Party leadership. This is a chance to start a conversation about that missing grand narrative. What do we want Alberta to look like in 30 years? How do we get there? What are the values that we are going to stand up for? The values we will fight for?
Will we be a province that invests in the future, or one that only focuses on keeping taxes low?
Will we be ready to compete with Artificial Intelligence, automation, and tech as foundations for a new economy, that keeps our young and educated at home, or will we allow our post-secondary investments to benefit other jurisdictions?
Will we be able to assure that those who have had amazing wealth and earning in the oil & gas sector are shown that they still have worth in our society and that we will give them value, or we will we marginalize those who drove our economy for so long and empower them to support a Trump like candidate?
Can we continue to support developing our natural resources in a responsible, ethical manner so that we have the financial resources to transition to a new energy economy, or will we take an adversarial approach with our neighbours that prevents us from achieving our future prosperity?
We need innovation. We need collaboration. We need vision.
Is there turbulence in the Alberta Party? Sure. Find me an organization that triples in size metaphorically speaking overnight and doesn’t have some.
But I am and have never been more confident that this is merely the growth pains that are associated with becoming a full-fledged adult party. There is no party in Alberta that presents the blank slate needed for a credible alternative to the UCP. No party that doesn’t have the baggage or loyalty of a federal overlord, and that hasn’t been soundly rejected for over a century by voters (fairly or not).
A leadership race is the time to engage and shape a pragmatic, caring, and responsible party that is values based and will really have the latitude to shape and execute a forward thinking, bold, dynamic vision for Alberta in the next generation.
Us moderates have to fight for what we want, and what we value. And there has never been a better time or opportunity to do so than today. I eagerly look forward to the next several months and where we go from here.