Alberta Party caucus will be growing soon.

Today some unexpected news hit Alberta.

NDP MLA Karen Mcpherson has suddenly announced that she will be leaving the NDP and will be sitting as an independent.

I am going to do some speculation that Mcpherson along with a few others will be joining Greg Clark and the Alberta Party caucus within a year.

The Alberta Party has been working the Alberta electoral scene for years but really has not been able to make much progress aside from some concentrated support in Calgary Elbow. They have been standing for nothing by trying to stand for everything by constantly claiming to stand for the “center” and it really hasn’t gotten them anywhere.

A wise move by the Alberta Party right now would be to solicit and gain as many sitting MLAs as possible in hopes of gaining some prominence before the next general election in Alberta.

While a collection of discontented back bench MLAs is not exactly an ideal caucus, it would bring a great deal more exposure and resources into the nascent movement. Every MLA brings more research budget, more question period time and more of their own following into a party that can’t electorally break double digits outside of Calgary Elbow.

To directly cross the floor into a party without a cool down period is often very heavily frowned upon. It smacks of opportunism or sour grapes and those types of floor crossers are often not elected again.

If a floor crosser wants to avoid the fate of looking self-serving, what they will do is sit for at least one legislative session as an independent. They will then claim to have consulted with their constituents and will claim that their constituents want them to sit with <insert party here>.

Mcpherson’s comments are very telling in her posting. 

In two sentences one can see how she is already positioning herself for a jump to the Alberta Party down the road:

We are missing the middle where we have more in common with each other than we are different.

In other words, already using the ad nauseam Alberta Party claim of being centrist.

I’ll be taking time to talk with my constituents about the way forward; I have the utmost respect and concern for them and I want to hear their views on the best way forward.

As expected, laying the ground work to be able to claim that her future move to the Alberta Party will be at the orders of her constituents.

Since announcing his departure from the UCP caucus, failed leadership candidate Richard Starke has been very active in attending constituency events in Vermilion-Lloydminster and documenting those actions on his facebook page.

There is utterly nothing wrong with that. This is what an MLA should be doing whether independent or with a party.

This activity is not the activity of a man who doesn’t plan to run again. Again, nothing wrong with that.

Starke is no fool by any means. He knows that winning a seat as an independent in a general election is next to impossible. One has to conclude then that he is likely  working the ground with future re-election in mind under a new party banner.  That banner will be the Alberta Party.

Rick Fraser recently left the UCP caucus to sit as an independent. He implied that the party had drifted too far from the center as he perceived it under Alison Redford.

Fraser expressly did not rule out joining another party down the road and a quote from his resignation rings rather familiar:

I will take this time to speak with my constituents before I make any further decisions

Why do I get the feeling that Mr. Fraser’s constituents will tell him to join the Alberta Party in a few months?

I suspect that Greg Clark will be working like a busy little bee in this coming legislative session. All of the MLAs will be in the same city and many lunch meetings can be arranged where terms of joining can be discussed.

Outside of Edmonton, most NDP MLAs are pretty well aware that their chances of re-election are pretty slim. The Notley government is an accidental government and with a united conservative alternative on the ballot it is looking pretty clear that the Albertan electorate will be rectifying that error in the next general election.

Calgary NDP MLAs now face the prospect of going down with the electoral ship or perhaps extending their term by jumping in with the rebranded Liberals with the Alberta Party. An opposition seat could be considered better than no seat at all. The Alberta Party is surely working hard to remind these back bench MLAs that there may be an option for them.

Some MLAs simply aren’t all that sharp and will need to cling to some sort of upwardly mobile party in hopes of maintaining their seats. They rode the wave to get a seat in the first place but don’t really have the strength to win it again without some strong party support from a party on its way up. Will these MLAs jump ship?

Where will the weak go?

We know that opportunists such as Sandra Jansen will do damn near anything to retain a spot in the legislature. I think perhaps even the Alberta Party isn’t ready to take on her vitriolic presence but you never know.

Things change fast in politics. I could indeed be barking up the wrong tree here but I strongly suspect that there is an organized move being made by the Alberta Party to try and build a caucus of floor crossers within the next year.

They can’t act too soon or it undercuts the narrative MLAs need to send out that they consulted their constituents. This fall session will provide an opportunity to organize and prepare for an announcement where a number of MLAs join at once in order to make the biggest splash possible when they change their party status.

It is getting clear that the NDP will not be forming the next government in Alberta and MLAs need to start thinking now if they plan to remain in the legislature in the next term. An election may be less than a year and a half away and setting up within a new party is a lot of work. I expect my speculation will be proven true or proven as pure fantasy within six months or so.

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The sad history of liberals in Alberta.

It is hardly a secret that Alberta is not a liberal friendly province. Alberta has been and remains a frontier for the ambitious and independent.  Agriculture drew courageous settlers in the late 1800s. Oil drew more in the early 1900s and high tech energy related jobs still draw people from all over the world today.

To relocate into a new environment and take a gamble on a new life takes courage. To endure and remain until you have established yourself takes dedication. In other words, since the beginning of confederation Alberta has drawn strong, independent minded people who don’t want or need big government to get in their way. To put it another way, Alberta has never really been a strong draw for liberals.

This can be seen quite clearly as the Liberal Party has languished for over a century in Alberta as a party yet cant form government.

In 1905 Alberta joined confederation and Liberal Alexander Rutherford was appointed as our first premier. Rutherford called an election later that year and established himself an elected mandate. Not too difficult to do when no opposition party system had been created or established yet. It took 12 years before Albertans organized and tossed the Liberal Party of Alberta to the electoral roadside for what has now been a century.

Had there not been a Liberal government in Ottawa in 1905, I suspect that we never would have seen a Liberal party in power in Alberta.

While the Liberals have run in 25 general elections since 1917, they have never come close to winning power in Alberta. Laurence Decore came somewhat close in 1993 by running on a platform more conservative than the Progressive Conservatives. The populist wave led by Ralph Klein beat back that effort and today despite burning through half a dozen new leaders the Liberals are as deep in the electoral toilet as ever in Alberta.

What is a dedicated liberal sort of person to do in such a situation?

Any realistic liberal (there are a few out there) knows that they will never form government under the Liberal Party banner so they need to seek other alternatives.

A liberal can doggedly keep trying under the party banner as they pursue another century in opposition.

A liberal can simply give up and go federal.

A liberal can go municipal where party allegiance isn’t always evident. That way they can campaign conservative and then govern as a liberal upon election while depending on electoral apathy in order to maintain their job.

A liberal can sneak into a conservative party and hope to turn it liberal.

To be fair though, Sanda Jansen is more of a simple opportunist than a liberal. Jansen would have been begging to join the Wildrose Party had they won the general election. Jansen only cares about residing in a government seat. The party means nothing to her.

The strategy of infiltrating and controlling the Progressive Conservative Party was a successful one for a time. From the later years of Klein’s leadership to the party’s electoral catastrophe in 2015 it was evident that the party was leaning far more to the “progressive” side and drifting away from the conservative side as liberal style entitlement scandals erupted and deficit budgets became common again.

The liberal transformation of the PCs led to the development of the Wildrose Party as an increasing number of conservatives gave up on the PC party.

Unfortunately, due to the now legendary act of treachery led by Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice, the electorate became so horrified and disgusted by both parties that they accidentally elected the Notley NDP.

Now, while the NDP “cure” is turning out to be worse than the disease, we are at least seeing some good long term outcomes here.

The liberals within the Progressive Conservative Party were by nature opportunists. Many of them jumped ship shortly after the party lost power. They had no interest in serving as an opposition party. Other liberals hung on in hopes of turning the shell of the party into a re-branded Liberal Party. Those hopes were dashed as Jason Kenney engaged conservative grassroots voters and swept into the leadership last spring.

The upside I am looking at is that the liberal element has been very effectively flushed from the PC party making the ability of creating a unified conservative party viable.

Now where do all these homeless liberals go?

Fear not. They have taken a page from the 1937 Liberal playbook when they tried to come into power under the Independent Citizen’s Association. You see, Liberals realized that they couldn’t win under their party banner so they tried to hide under a banner that stood for nothing. They banked on the electorate being so tired of openly partisan politics that they would latch on to a party that claimed to shun partisanship through being a coalition of independents thus non-partisan than ever. This coalition failed dismally and the first stealth Liberal attempt ended after the 1940 election when the coalition fell apart. If a party wont openly stand for something, they simply cant concentrate support.

Undaunted however, disaffected Liberals are confident that they can pull this off through the Alberta Party.

The Alberta Party has been around in a few incarnations since the 1980s.  In 2010 a group of liberals took over the small party and in hopes of creating the stealth liberal party they desired. Ever avoiding a solid policy stance on anything, the Alberta Party held a painfully long process that hey coined “the big listen”. The logic was that if they claimed to be always listening to Albertans that they would somehow gain broad support. In maintaining this party that wasn’t a party approach, the Alberta Party took the province by storm in the 2012 general election with a solid 1.33% of the vote.

Undaunted, they carried on. They replaced the term listen with “center”. They follow a simplistic belief that the majority of people are in this mushy world of being in the center and that they surly will engage this giant yet sleeping majority and get a firm center (liberal) government in Alberta. Fiercely battling in the 2015 general election the Alberta Party garnered a staggering 2.28% of the vote. Apparently the center was sleeping that day.

Interestingly though, some experienced liberal operatives will be moving into the Alberta Party this time now that they have lost their Progressive Conservative home. A few champagne socialists will likely pony up some contributions to the next campaign as well.

Will the rallying cry of “centrists!” lead to the first Liberal government in Alberta in over 100 years? I sincerely doubt it.

All the same, it is nothing if not interesting to see a tenacious group of people working generation after generation to sell a product that simply does not appeal to the majority and through so many ways.

We are in quite a period of political flux in Alberta right now to say the least. It will be interesting to see where all the chips land in the next couple years and where liberals will go after the Alberta Party loses another general election through running on nothing.

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The Alberta Party still needs to find itself.

hipster

By-elections are a tough thing to deal with in partisan politics.  They are fickle and politically dangerous. Parties are heavily motivated to win political points with a by-election win and often dedicate massive amounts of fiscal and human resources to these snapshot elections. The campaigning essentially turns to white noise as electors are barraged with door knockers, flyers and phone calls from all parties while every street corner becomes covered with a vomit of colorful election signs that few take direct notice of. In the end, a candidate is chosen by what is usually an utterly dismal turnout of the electorate which may or may not represent the political trends of the province or even the city that the constituency is in.

All that being said, it remains crucial that political parties put their best foot forward in these by-elections. A win or even close second can be framed after the by-election as a trend and a party that loses big can and will have their noses rubbed in the loss for months or years to come whether it’s fair or not. While a by-election win does not ensure that the winning party will form the next government, it certainly does look good. A win indicates that voters are willing to accept that party in the right circumstances. A win also demonstrates that the party remains viable and well organized between general elections. These impressions are very important.

Despite the clear importance of making a mark in by-elections, the Alberta Party has chosen not to run a candidate in the upcoming Calgary Greenway by-election.

There are some bright folks within the Alberta Party. The only reason that the Alberta Party is sitting out the by-election is that they are utterly incapable of running in it. They didn’t have a candidate in Greenway in the last general election and they likely have utterly no organization on the ground in that constituency. The party bank account is likely pretty dry as well. Greenway is a suburban constituency as well. The number of hipsters in that part of Calgary is terribly low though it is well served by transit.

Alberta Party leader, Greg Clark is a genuine, smart and likeable fellow. Despite having but one seat in the legislature, Clark has managed to gain a respectable degree of press in that role (I assure you that the Wildrose was not treated so favorably when Paul Hinman was our lone MLA). Clark puts out pragmatic statements and releases on issues and he is generally respected by all who know him.

The problem is, Greg Clark is not just the leader of the Alberta Party. Greg Clark IS the Alberta Party.

In a set of by-elections in late 2014, the Alberta Party focused all of their resources on Greg Clark during the campaign. While this led to Clark to grabbing a respectable second place, Alberta Party candidates running in other constituencies came in with dismal single digit electoral showings. They simply had no volunteers or funds as it all drifted into Clark’s campaign in Elbow.

Less than a year later the Alberta Party used the exact same strategy in the general election. With the solid support base built in the previous by-election and a smartly run campaign, Clark took Calgary Elbow in an upset and became the lone MLA for Calgary Elbow. The Alberta Party has always been heavily populated by hipsters as well. Calgary Elbow contains the bulk of Calgary’s hipster demographic making it an ideal spot to focus their efforts on.

The strategy of putting all of the party eggs into one electoral basket while great for Clark, led to the Alberta Party polling a flaccid 2.28% support across the province. This has to be pretty demoralizing for the candidates and volunteers who did what they could in all of the other constituencies around the province. With 86 constituencies having been left out to dry by the party like that, it is pretty obvious why broad ground level organization has not happened throughout the province. Why work your butt off when the party will only focus on one constituency and one candidate?

The Alberta Party has long tried to be everything to everybody and this sunshine and lollypop strategy is starting to fail. The interminable “big listen” held by the party never really led to coherent policies and while the leadership put out pragmatic statements, the supporters often vocally took stances that were more along the NDP lines. The Alberta Party kept trying to call themselves centrists while their supporters kept pushing to the left. Notley’s win and Clark’s pragmatism has led to many supporters giving up the façade of centrism and simply jumping in with the NDP. Now the party is adrift to the point where they cant even battle a single by-election in their own city.

gregclark

In a bizarre demonstration of how the Alberta Party really doesn’t stand for much in a solid sort of way, Greg Clark joined with Green Party leader Janice Keeping in endorsing Laurie Blakeman as an unofficial candidate for all three parties in the 2015 election. This weird strategy backfired terribly as Blakeman soundly lost the seat that she had held for nearly 18 years.

The Alberta Party needs to define itself as being something more than simply saying “centrist” over and over again while being totally focused on one person in one constituency. If the Alberta Party can’t manage to do this within the next couple years, they very well may end up simply being a footnote in Alberta electoral history.

If and when the party determines clearly who they are and what they stand for, they will then need to reach beyond their power center in Calgary Elbow. They will need to identify voters in every constituency in Alberta (or at least a hell of a lot more of them) who share this new vision. Once identified, these people need to be organized and trained to maintain constituency associations or at least build a strong if informal social organization that can be turned into a fundraising/campaign team when election time comes.

That is a lot of work to pull off in a relatively short period of time but it must be done.

To show how it can be done, one needs only to point to a local Alberta lunatic named George Clark (no relation).

George Clark’s message is simple even if it is utterly impossible and not terribly rational. It appeals to a segment of Albertans and George Clark has capitalized on that. Clark has identified and targeted folks who believe his strategy of bullshit. Clark has then organized these people into petitioners around the province who will be bringing in petitions signed in person by upwards of 100,000 people. George Clark has also raised $27,000 and counting from gullible supporters.

Not bad considering that George Clark’s twitter account is a social media laughing stock with only a couple hundred followers. This leads to my next point for the Alberta Party:

GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA AND GET ON THE GROUND!

A madman with proposals that have been laughed out of every rational political discussion has managed to galvanized and gather thousands of supporters in just a few months. Clark did this by travelling around the province and building ground organizations. He has not bothered with the slacktivism of twitter political engagement. If elections could be won with social media presence alone, Greg Clark would already be Alberta’s Premier.

I am not for a second suggesting that the Alberta Party needs to adopt a platform of bullshit and sell a fairy tale around the province as George Clark did. I am pointing out that the Alberta Party needs to look at the example of George Clark to see what the power of simple messaging and true ground work is.

It really was quite surprising to see that the Alberta Party is so up against the rocks that they cant run a candidate in the Calgary Greenway by-election. They really had done quite well with quite few resources. It is becoming abundantly clear though that they need to really examine themselves and come up with some new messaging and vision if they want to go beyond being a one seat wonder.

Until people really know what the Alberta Party stands for and until they see the party visible in their own neighborhoods, the Alberta Party will continue to languish in the sub-5% popular support numbers.

That is sad as they had potential

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Do we really need campaign signs on public space?

A few weeks ago I found myself in the familiar role of harvesting election signs after the by-election campaign. Again I could not help but note what a colossal waste of resources the placement of election signs on public spaces is. I have written on this before and I think it is time to bring it up again. Having municipalities ban signs on public spaces would benefit both political parties and the pubic in general. It is rare when a policy seems such a clear winner but I think councils need some more nudging on this.

There are a number of reasons why election signs should no longer be placed on public space.

They are ugly!

signs

By the end of any campaign the number of signs piled on public spaces can be astounding and I really can’t think of anybody who likes looking at them massed like that. I have been in the USA for a couple elections and they make our sign placement look scattered in comparison but we are working hard to close that gap.

It is bad for the environment

I am not Mr. Environmentalist by any means but I do appreciate some common sense approaches to conservation. In a general election in Alberta alone there are tens of thousands of signs on public space throughout the province. While the occasional candidate may re-use signs, they are for the most part a one time use thing as the parties tend to change themes, slogans, colors and candidates.

IMG621

I found the sign pictured above while picking up by-election signs. The sign clearly had been laying under the grass for over two and a half years. Signs on private space are taken care of by the homeowner if the campaign lapses in picking them up. Public space signs often end up vandalized, blown away and forgotten by campaign teams.

Public space signs don’t work!

The only real reason campaigns insist on placing signs on public space is that they don’t want to be perceived as lagging behind any competitors. If the signs were only on private space it would have no negative impact on any campaign.

millingIMG626The Alberta Party dedicated almost everything they had to their campaign in Calgary Elbow. To keep this from being too evident, they did spend a small fortune and some time on putting out massive amounts of public space signs in the other constituencies.

While Mr. Millington is a decent fellow and while the Alberta Party got a surprising amount of press during the campaign, Troy Millington got a paltry 2.4% of the vote in Calgary West despite the constituency being blanketed by signs small and large.

Public space signs are no substitute for a real campaign. If they were to have any impact at all, the hundreds of them placed out for Mr. Millington would have brought his showing at least beyond an average polling margin of error.

Removing public space signs will improve campaigns!

Election signs do serve a purpose in bringing about relatively cheap name recognition and when on private lawns can lend a strong effect of momentums as people see where their neighbors appear to be landing on the electoral map. While election signs on public land turn into white noise in the eyes of the voter, signs on private lawns have a real influence on the election.

If the only option for sign placement was on private land campaigns would bring their battle for voters to where it really belongs, to the doorsteps. Campaigns that want signs will have to approach voters directly and engage them. While any real campaign already knows this, a ban on public signs will force campaigns to focus even further on knocking on doors which is better for any campaign.

Resources will be saved as well. Volunteers who used to have to constantly place, repair and maintain public space signs can now be dedicated to something more productive while the thousands previously spent on public space signs can be spent on better things as well (volunteer beer and such).

Campaigns can irritate people and the waste can be astounding with signs everywhere while literature overloads everybody’s mailboxes for over a month. We could simply change this by having municipalities banning public space signs if we could just coax them to put that on the table. I just cant see a downside here.

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Ideology is the real issue.

Naheed Nenshi and peacock

April was an exceptional month of faux-outrage, hyperbole and a fabricated political controversy spurred on by none other than His Worship Mayor Naheed Nenshi himself. A grainy recording of a speech by a Cal Wenzel (founder of Shane Homes) in front of 150 attendees of an industry meeting (hardly a hidden conspiratorial group) was released to the media some months after the fact. In the secret recording, it was revealed that Wenzel did not like the direction that some members of council were going in and was encouraging others to use legal political means to try and facilitate the election of council members who have a more favorable outlook on the home development industry. There really was utterly nothing wrong with this and special interest groups have been participating in elections since the very beginning of elections.

This whole episode was really a non-issue until Mayor Nenshi spotted and took advantage of the opportunity to try and create local outrage against a well respected and established business in Calgary in hopes of polarizing the electorate in His Worship’s own favor. If nothing else, Nenshi has proven himself to be a canny political player if not a principled one. Nenshi even puffed up and scheduled a press conference where he reported that utterly nothing had changed aside from his remaining outraged that people in Calgary may hold a view differing from His. It was a striking spectacle indeed to watch our Mayor create such a fuss over so little.

An ongoing irritation over the course of this conceived dustup was the abuse of the word “partisan”. The Manning Institute was dragged into the whole affair as Wenzel had spoken of developers and homebuilders contributing to the institute to aid in the training of candidates. The manufactured indignation was repellent as “partisanship” was decried by our Mayor and his legion of hipsters supporting him on social media.

To begin with, there are no parties in civic politics in Alberta. While the word can be used in broad definitions, it really is not appropriate when speaking of Calgary civic candidates or interest groups. What we have happening in Calgary civic politics is a clash of ideologies which while more subtle, is far more concerning than partisanship will ever be.

To begin with, partisanship is not all that bad a thing and naturally evolves in every democracy whether people like it or not. While parties are usually founded and and run based on ideologies, the parties and party supporters themselves are often pragmatic and capable of changing their policies and ideologies when needed in order to represent the wishes of the electorate. Another advantage of parties is that the policies are usually documented and open as well as the formulation process of them.

The Alberta Party was built by Chima Nkemdirim (Naheed Nenshi’s Chief of Staff) to be a post-partisan party. What that contradiction meant was that the party would mask all forms of coherent policy through fluffy, broad and feelgood platitudes in hopes of masking the left-wing ideology of it’s supporters. It was recognized that Albertans soundly reject hard left wing policies at the polls so this consensus style party was created to try and slide their ideology past the electorate. With Nenshi’s unexpected win as Calgary’s Mayor, the Alberta Party lost the leader expected to take them to the 2012 election and Nkemdirim fled along with Nenshi into City Hall. By masking their partisanship and in having no real leadership, the Alberta Party fizzled to a dismal 1.3% finish in the 2012 Alberta provincial election. The voters were not fooled. Real partisanship has a role and the electorate demands it.

Part of why Nenshi has been decrying a non-existent partisanship within the Manning Insitute has been to mask the hypocrisy in his being a founder of and supported by CivicCamp which is an ideological special interest group that is trying to influence the Calgarian civil political government exactly as the Manning Institute is. Both groups are exactly the same in their basic nature, the only difference is a wide gap in the ideologies.

The Manning Institute is at least honest in their ideology. They say outright that they want to encourage and facilitate conservative policy in municipal politics. There is utterly nothing wrong with that.

CivicCamp on the other hand is very disingenuous in their goals. While they spit out the term “partisan” as a pejorative and try to paint themselves as being a democratic service in municipal politics, they are very clearly ideologically driven with some pretty distinct goals. CivicCamp takes strong and direct stands on policy initiatives such as the ideologically extreme PlanIt document which was spawned from the outright insane ImagineCalgary pap. If you are going to take direct policy stands as a group, you have moved well out of the public service role and right into ideologically driven advocacy. Again there is nothing wrong with this but CivicCamp should be more honest about what they are. Reading through the site quickly indicates the hard-left lean of the group.

CivicCamp carefully tries to avoid mention of the names of the people involved with them as well. One can hide the policies of the group but it is hard to hide the intent when the names of the founders can be seen. Just as the name Manning makes it clear that the Manning Institute is a conservative leaning group, the heavy involvement of occupy Calgary organizer and extreme left-wing activist Grant Neufeld in CivicCamp gives a strong indication of just how far out there the group’s ideology really is. Calling Neufeld a left-wing extremist is hardly an exaggeration when you consider that the guy wants to actually ban air-travel and compared people who use flight to travel to murderers. The hyperpartisan Green candidate for Calgary Centre (Chris Turner) is heavily involved with CivicCamp which is rather telling of the group’s nature as well.

Naheed Nenshi and his followers are ideologues and the clash that is happening in Calgary is ideological rather than partisan despite Nenshi’s attempts to deflect from that. There is an ideology that is heavily stuck on environmentalism, big intrusive government and massive increases of city density and it is pretty clear that Nenshi and some other council members are strong adherents to this ideology. This is not shadowy conspiracy, it is right in the open if people want to look at it. Nenshi helped build ImagineCalgary and the agenda is more than clear in that document. Hiring density zealots such as Rollin Stanley is among the least of the things Nenshi wants to do. Look at how fervently he wants broad municipal powers granted in a City Charter and to increase the taxation reach of the city. Nenshi needs these things if he hopes to meet the goals in ImagineCalgary.

Ideologues are inflexible and linear in the pursuit of their goals. They do not care about collateral damage on the way to what they see as an end and will stop at little to get there. Ideologues tend to be thin skinned when it comes to any critique of their agenda as was seen in Nenshi’s now legendary tantrum with a local developer.

Like it or not, we need parties and the partisanship that comes along with them. We need ideals and idealists too to set goals and broad agendas. Let’s call things what they are though and not try to hide agendas.

The only thing more troubling than an ideologue is one who is trying to hide their nature. Deflecting and pointing at the ideology of others while hypocritically pursuing one’s own ideology is hardly productive.

Among the buzzwords that have been so overused such as “vibrant” and “sustainable”  is the word “transparency”. Despite that word being used so much by our Mayor, we have more in-camera council meetings than ever and the top man seems to be anything but transparent in his ideology. That is unfortunate as the ideology is what it really is all about in the end.

 

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Can we legislate against cheesy campaign songs????? Campaign planners, just say no!

OK what do all of the songs below have in common?

Well for one, they are all Alberta political campaign songs, they all have likely had utterly no impact in encouraging people to vote for their person/party and they all make me want to stab myself in the ear with a pencil.

 I understand that the production of these songs was likely fun and they helped in some small way to bond existing supporters. Come on though, they typically sound as low-budget as they indeed are and only really serve to irritate.

 It took talent and work to create these songs and I can appreciate that. At this time though, I think that talent and effort may better be utilized on doorsteps than in low budget recording scenarios.

 When it comes to these songs too, it should be kept in mind that musical genre crosses political lines. I understand that many in Alberta love country music. While I am a born and bred Albertan, I despise country music. I have tried to learn to like it but alas like brussels sprouts I just can’t make myself enjoy that stuff. I would rather listen to a choir composed of Helen Keller clones trying to sing Handel’s Messiah than listen to country music. Does that mean that Wildrose or other parties should then model campaign songs playing classic rock to appeal to folks like me? No! Then the country crowd won’t want to listen. Just stick to platforms.

 Not the end of the world I guess. Many people are complaining about being called too much, too many flyers in their mail and too many ads. Well I want to complain about the rotten songs composed and recorded during campaigns.

 Should you want to torture yourself, by all means listen to the songs below. I won’t try to rate which one is less bad than another. I will post more as they surface if they do. With any luck these will be all I find. 😉

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Whose money is it?

 I will begin by saying I am not terribly enthusiastic with the latest Wildrose Party campaign pledge which is to cut a dividend cheque back to Albertans from future surplus funds. This concept has potential to become terribly inefficient and complicated and I could foresee the administration costs of this alone eating up a great deal of the funds being given back to Albertans. I much rather would see a more efficient and simple cut to the rate of our income tax with any future surplus funds being dedicated to a fund that could generate revenues thus leading to even more tax reductions.

 That all being said, what I fully agree with in principle is getting those dollars back into the pockets of Albertans even if I don’t feel that the Wildrose picked the most efficient way to do so. Government is way too big and encompassing as it is and getting money back to citizens where it belongs is always a good idea.

 Now there is a class of folks who really do not think much of Albertans at large out there. These people feel that we are a province populated by hicks and uncultured folks who really need a big nanny government to guide and direct us in all of our actions and expenditures. We have seen this in the actions of Nanny Redford as the bulk of her legislation has been dedicated towards further controlling the actions of Albertans whether it is in educational choice, healthy living or even control of the disposition of our property. We are not to be trusted with those responsibilities and they really should be taken out of our collectively incompetent hands and put into the wise guidance of a large intrusive government for our own good.

 What has been interesting lately though has been how open this attitude has been getting. Redford came right out and said that she wants to change the very character of Albertans. Nanny Redford truly feels that it is her right and responsibility as Premier to adjust the character of Albertans to whatever her personal vision for us is to be.

Parties even farther to the left such as the NDP and Alberta Party are of course even more inclined to have big-government control all of our actions as individuals thus their minuscule support in a province like Alberta which is populated by individualists.

 Now I do have to thank Alberta Party representative Chris McClure for encapsulating the patronizing attitude held by the big government set in two tweets.

 First Chris said:           “yeah, give the masses back more money to waste, rather than using it to make healthcare and education better. Dumb policy”

 Yes, to these people Alberta citizens are simply “the masses” who are assumed to waste any money that may end up in their hands as opposed to being taken by government. We simply cannot be trusted to have our own money. Now there are two assumptions being made here by Chris. One is wrong and the other is simply offensive. Chris’s assumption that government will always spend excess dollars to improve healthcare and education for Albertans is simplistic and outright wrong. The offensive assumption is that Albertans will simply waste money if allowed to keep it themselves.

 Next in response Chris goes even further with: “if people could spend money wisely, personal debt issues would not be an issue. Expect most people to go buy a new tv”

 Yes, Chris feels if only government were big enough we all would not have personal debt issues. Perhaps we could ban borrowing? Who knows. Chris has made it clear that if we are allowed to have OUR OWN MONEY in our pockets we will simply waste it on unimportant items.

 Now who the hell are you to determine what is unimportant to individuals anyway Chris? It is our money. If we want to give it to charity or blow it on magic beans, it really is none of your damned business.

 Control is what it is all about people. That is why folks like Chris and his Alberta Party and Redford with her Progressive party try to assume more and more control of our lives and why they are terrified of empowering things such as personal choice, property and wealth.

 Again, I may not fully agree with the release by Wildrose Party I most strongly agree with the principle that it represents in that we as Albertans know how best to spend OUR  money.

 It appears so far that only the Wildrose Party is showing the respect  we deserve in working towards further empowering Alberta citizens and working towards the smaller more accountable government that we need and deserve.

 The “beer and popcorn” patronism fell flat when the federal Liberals used it and it will not win the hearts of Albertans as Liberals within the PC and Alberta Party use it either.

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It is not hard to cast a ballot if you care.

 Yesterday’s federal NDP leadership convention was little less than a gong-show. The accusations are still flying over what caused the delays and disruptions to the online voting process. Whether it was an outside attack on the online system or whether the system was simply overwhelmed, the result is a loss of credibility on the party as a whole and questions will be forever asked rightly or wrongly wondering about the validity of Mulcair’s win. Quite a high price for a party to pay in the mad and premature rush to move to online voting systems.

The excuses that people make for not voting are endless as are the theories on how to get people engaged. I covered that in a posting here years ago. Personally, I think the reason that the vast majority of people don’t vote is that we are simply in a spoiled first world society that does not want to distract itself with paying attention to politics much less participate in them. The apathy is simply a form of intellectual sloth that only hard times will change.

Declining turnouts are a concern no matter what the reasoning is. Some folks have taken to trying to address the most lazy of excuses in not voting through making casting a ballot even easier than it already is. Online and telephone voting mean that a person does not even need to leave their house in order to vote. Vote casting periods can be extended as well so a person need not even set aside a certain day to spend a minute to vote. So how is that working?

 The federal NDP members had weeks to vote in the first ballot. Barely 50% of MEMBERS bothered to take the literal minute it would take to cast their vote. We are not even talking the general electorate here folks, we are speaking of members of a party.

 Closer to home, the small social media based Alberta Party held a leadership race last year. If twitter alone were an indicator, the Alberta Party would be a contender for the Premier’s office as their membership is indeed very active in social media despite being invisible on the ground. With such an internet engaged membership base one would think that this party would have a great turnout through phone and internet voting. Again barely 1/2 of the members took the minute required to select a candidate.

 The Wildrose Party did mail in ballots and got a much higher turnout in their leadership race than the aforementioned two parties. The Progressive Conservatives did better as well with balloting stations set up around the province. Why do more people actually bother to vote when it actually is more trouble to vote that way? It takes more time and effort to seal an envelope and find a mailbox and even more to set aside a narrow period to take yourself to a dedicated polling station than it would to log in online and vote. Despite that, the more troublesome methods of voting are pulling better turnouts than the easier means.

 I think part of it is that people used the ease of voting as a selling point when pushing memberships. People who claimed it was too tough to get around to voting found it hard to use that excuse when a dedicated partisan was trying to sell them a membership and pointing out that the person could vote online or by phone. These people bought the membership to get a salesperson off their back and in reality they simply did not care. When the window of weeks opened up with they could take a minute to vote they simply did not bother despite GOTV efforts.

 There is a video out there poking some fun at the well meaning by naive Alberta Party goal of targeting people who typically don’t vote. It is pretty blunt but pretty much hits the nail on the head.

 

 The bottom line is that a growing number of people simply don’t give a crap and don’t want to bother themselves with voting no matter how easy it may be.

I am not saying for a second that we should simply give up on addressing this growing disengagement. This is a very real problem in the evolution of our society and taking democracy for granted is never a good thing.

What I am saying though is that the difficulty of getting out to vote is not the problem. If people care, they will vote. Perhaps new online systems will indeed one day be superior to the old ballot box method. I can see many advantages in it with the efficiencies it could bring. The technology is not here yet though and if one thinks it will help improve voter engagement they are simply mistaken.

 Get out in election campaigns and try to get people engaged. That is a worthy effort no matter what your political stripe is. If the person you are working on claims it is too tough to vote though, I strongly suggest that you quit wasting time with them and move on to somebody else. Those people will not vote if you show up on their doorstep and put the pen and ballot in their hands. They simply don’t care.

 

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You can’t have a center without a left and a right.

 There has been a trend lately by some to try and paint the tried and true political spectrum of left/right as being outdated or irrelevant. Much of this attitude is of course coming from some with political interests who are trying to find some mythical middle ground that will appeal to a vast majority of voters. Today the CBC released a poll that concludes that: “Ideology is not guiding Alberta voters.”.  That conclusion is simply wrong. Ideology guides all voters to varying degrees. The only thing concluded is that people no longer self-identify as much with their place on the political spectrum. If a person does not consider themselves to be on the right or the left in political thought, it does not mean that their personal philosophy does not land to the left or the right. This if anything is more an indication of the growing political apathy and indifference. People don’t put time or thought into ideology even if they unconsciously follow one.

 The left/right spectrum is a simple measure and does not cover everything. Very few people fall fully on one side or the other in every regard. To do so is the mark of a fanatic actually.

 Most issues will have responses that clearly can be considered to be either on the right or left side of the spectrum. Just because some people land on different sides at different times, it does not mean that the spectrum is not valid or that it does not exist.

 The right/left measure of ideology is a broad measure and is of use when looking at groups such as political parties. While a party may have indeed have policies landing on both sides of the spectrum, it is their general slant that truly identifies the party as a whole and again the left/right measure is the most basic yet indicative and important of measures for this. A voter has to make their choice based on the broad ideology of the party rather than one policy at a time.

 Here is a note by the way, an almost fanatical pursuit of a mythical “center” is an ideology in itself.

 Can it be denied that Alberta’s NDP is on the left or the Wildrose is on the right? Sherman’s Liberals just released a platform calling for increasing taxes on those they perceive to be “rich” and Redford’s PCs just released another big-spending budget which drifts both parties to the left.

 While some try to cloak their leanings in claiming a center ground and putting out vague and inconclusive policies, their roots always show clearly in the end. Twitter is a great way to see the true leanings of groups and individuals. What you do is watch the tweeters and see which side of the spectrum they pejoratively spit about when annoyed. When a large group of people is prone to bitterly spitting out “right wing” and “right wingers” when somebody has a policy they don’t like, you have just been able to accurately place them on the spectrum even if they did not want to be placed there. In Alberta we have the Kitten & Rainbow party that tries it’s darndest to hide their place on the spectrum. In their being led by a former NDP candidate and in their supporters online loathing of the nasty “right wing”  they expose themselves.

 If the electorate truly was free and clear of ideology they would have rushed to embrace the Alberta Party that furiously is trying to claim the center. Alas, the disingenuous stance of this is transparent to voters and is reflected in the Alberta Party sitting at 2% in the polls despite years of claiming center ground. People may not self-identify much in ideology, but clearly they chose sides when it comes to parties.

 Recognizing and understanding left/right positions is important when consuming data from think tanks too. If one doesn’t recognize the Fraser Institute as right or Parkland Institute as left, then you will not be able to take that grain of salt when looking at their statements and studies.

 Left and right are indeed only two sides of a complex equation but they are still valid general measures. To broaden things into a four way measure, Political Compass brings authoritarian and libertarian into the mix. Left and right are still rather essential of course. While the quiz is not perfect or all encompassing by any means, it is fun and does give an interesting measure of where one lands on the spectrum.

Give it a try and see where you land in comparison with the political leaders on the chart below.

Now below we see where I land. Looks like a dead-zone when compared to existing and past political leaders. This may indeed explain much about my history of personal political success 😉 Either way my ideological place is distinct if in a minority and there is utterly nothing wrong with measuring it and thinking about it.

 A person should not pidgeonhole themselves within one side or another of the spectrum. That closes thought and is indeed the route to extremism whether left or right. Most people have thoughts that land all over the place. The center is a moving target. There is no sense fighting to find it. Choose your place issue by issue. It will be found by most that trends emerge and one isn’t as close to the center as they imagined they were.

 Left and right don’t measure it all but they exist as sides on issues and are valid. They are not going away and we should quit pretending that they are.

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You have to earn your way to the big kids table.

Every election we see the same thing, the fringe parties and their exiguous but dedicated and vocal supporters begin making noise and demanding that their party be represented in the televised debates. It is understandable why these fringe groups want to participate. Many people remain undecided until the debate and use that broadcast as almost their sole means of making up their mind as they have an opportunity to see the leaders of the main parties demonstrate their ability (or lack of) to lead our province. It is because of this importance of the debates that a bar must be set though and we can’t have an important event like this cluttered with the leader of every tiny party in the province participating.

 In 2004 it was the Alberta Alliance (now Wildrose) that was protesting and making noise demanding that Randy Thorsteinson be included in the debate. They even had some people waving signs outside of a TV station but to no avail. The broadcasters had set the bar by saying that a party needed an elected member in the legislature in order to participate in the debate. The Alberta Alliance had Edmonton MLA Gary Masyk who had recently crossed the floor to join the Alberta Alliance. The powers that be decided this was not good enough as Masyk had not been elected under the banner of the Alberta Alliance.

The Alberta Alliance was running candidates in all 83 constituencies in that election as well. That still was not enough to sway the broadcasters and the debate was held with only the PC, NDP and Liberal leaders in that election. Fair enough.

 Now we come to the latest vocal complainants; the Alberta Party. While their presence on twitter is notable due to them having a handful of prolific posters in their ranks, their impact or even recognition among the Alberta electorate is simply insignificant. The fringe Alberta Party barely registers 1% in Alberta polls, has no member elected under their banner in the legislature, will be lucky to nominate even 30 candidates in the election and as far as can be seen is totally broke. Why on earth should their leader be allowed to take up 20% of the time at the very important debate?

 The Alberta Party scored a tiny coup when embittered former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor broke his promise to sit as an independent and crossed the floor to join them. Taylor never got over the Liberal Party’s rejection of him when he ran for the leadership and joining the Alberta Party was his final way of giving the finger to the party that got him elected in the first place. It must be noted, Taylor does not have the gumption or courage to actually run under the Alberta Party banner. He will be taking off with his severance package as soon as the writ drops presumably to try and find another job in broadcasting. At least Masyk was willing to run for the Alberta Alliance after he crossed the floor.

 It is pretty clearly established which parties are worth broadcasting to the province in a debate in the coming election. The PCs, Liberals, NDP and Wildrose parties all have members sitting in the legislature that were elected under their own party banner. They are all polling well above the statistical margin of error (no other parties are) and all are clearly in positions to be winning some seats at the least. Aside from the Liberals, all of them will be running significant numbers of candidates in the election. It will be important and interesting to see the leaders of these parties debate. That will not happen if every crackpot leader from the rest of the fringe parties takes part however.

A party can work it’s way from fringe status. What the Alberta Party supporters appear to overlook is that to do so takes years of very hard work. Paul Hinman was tireless as the leader of the Alberta Alliance party as well as many key supporters within the party. With countless meetings across the province, many policy revisions, news events and releases, recruitment of new and strong people and a receptive attitude to mergers and compromise, the party broke free from it’s fringe status and is the contender that we call the Wildrose today.

 Essentially what I am saying to the parties at the fringe is if we could do it (get mainstream sized support), you can do it. Until then though, you simply don’t rank a seat at the debates.

 Social media does provide for alternatives though. A community hall could be booked and a cage match debate could be held with the leaders of the Social Credit, Communist, Alberta, Evergreen and Separation parties that all want seats in the main debate. This circus could be live streamed and archived on YouTube. It could provide some welcome comic relief in what will doubtless be generally a serious election.

 The word that springs to mind when I see fanatical fringe party supporters demanding things is “entitlement”. Face it guys, private broadcasters owe you nothing nor should they. Quit complaining and put your nose to the grindstone. Complaining will never break you free from fringe status but hard work might.

 
 
 
 

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