How to remove the Notley NDP from power in Alberta!

parties

My last two postings have been dedicated to exposing Crazy George Clark’s “kudetah” movement for being the impossible dream that it is. No matter how much Clark and some of his supporters want to rail and rave about petitioning or going to the Queen with some misguided, perceived loophole in the elections act, they simply will not be unseating the legitimately and democratically elected NDP government led by Notley.

People are fearful and frustrated with the highly ideological government that Alberta accidentally elected thanks to a collective revulsion to the two right of center parties that Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice created with their gross opportunism. That has led them to seek unconventional ways to change the government and kooks like George Clark are more than happy to lead them down the garden path.

When confronted with the reality that our government will not be unseated by a petition, some of Clark’s supporters often indignantly ask “Well what are we supposed to do? Just sit around and wait for 3.5 more years??”

The answer to that is yes and no. Yes, we will have to wait 3.5 to 4.5 more years to unseat Notley. No, you do not have to nor should you just sit around and wait. In fact, if you do nothing but sit around, Notley will likely win another term.

The way to remove the Notley government from power is pretty straightforward. Notley has to lose the next election. Nothing less.

Our political system is a partisan one. Elections are not always won with the best ideas (though I wish it were so). Elections are won by parties that present those ideas in the most palatable way to the largest segment of the voting electorate. Like it or not, this means that we have to work within the partisan system. That means joining and supporting a party whether financially or with personal effort or both.

The vast majority of Albertans do not belong to political parties. That means that a tiny minority controls these parties one of which will always form government. There is nothing unfair or wrong about this. It simply means that people need to quit abdicating their role in a participatory democracy and start actually participating, even between elections.

I don’t expect a majority of Albertans to ever join political parties or participate in them. I do hope that more people do though as it really is critical to all of our well being.

One huge hurdle that people encounter when considering participating in partisan politics is simply wondering where to begin and what is involved. There really are no simple guides to getting involved or what obligations and tasks would be expected.

I joined my first political party right at the beginning of the 90s as a young, long haired guy who bought a membership from a guy named Preston Manning who was standing in a small booth at the exhibition of the Calgary Stampede promoting the Reform Party. I was thrilled with this little card that arrived in the mail but hadn’t a clue what it meant or what I could do with it. Over years attending local meetings and volunteering in campaigns I learned a great deal and have never been without one party membership or another in my wallet. I like most others went into partisan membership blindly though.

I am going to write on some of the basics of party membership in Alberta. This will be dull to those who are already familiar with party politics (and maybe dull to those who aren’t), but I would like to get a basic guide and resource out there on the interwebs for folks who may be considering getting involved with a party. This will be the closest I come to being non-biased on here.

Choose a party

This is likely the toughest step of them all. Every party of note will have a detailed web site and contact information. No party of note will hesitate to answer all of your questions quickly as they all want to grow their active membership.

Every registered party in Alberta can be found at the Elections Alberta website.

The parties vary very widely in ideology. Careful research is required but as mentioned earlier, their web presence makes it easy to get a general idea of what they stand for.

Buy a membership

How much or how little a person wants to participate in a party is totally up to the individual of course. The first step in participation is being a member.

Every party has a membership system. The cost of a membership can vary from $5 per year to $40 that I saw with one small party once. I think $10 per year is pretty much the standard these days. Most parties provide online membership sales or at least an address where a cheque could be mailed and a membership purchased.

The entitlements that come with membership vary party by party. In some parties, the leader is chosen in a one member, one vote system. That means you could vote in the next leadership election. Other parties use delegation systems but your membership will allow you to influence the delegates sent to a leaders convention through participating in local meetings. Other party members will happily explain to new members how it works. Every party has a constitution or set of bylaws that governs their operation. In those documents one can find out their limits and powers as an individual member as well.

One of the most important things that comes with a membership is the ability to participate in the selection of your local nominee for the next election. In most parties, a nomination race is held and local members can vote to select who will represent them in the next election. This is a very direct and local way to influence your local representation. Nomination races have been abused by parties and sometimes candidates are appointed by parties for reasons of either political expediency or a lack of a local organization.

Get involved with your local constituency association

In our system, constituency associations are semi-independent, organizational units that are essentially the hub for local election preparation. The associations are guided by their own bylaws which are typically set by the central party. The size and organization of constituency associations can vary from literally nothing to managing thousands of members with dozens of local directors. Larger parties will have contact information for each constituency. Smaller parties may require contacting the central party to find out who your local organizers are if indeed there are any in a formal association.

Assuming a constituency association is active, they will be holding an annual general meeting at some time or another. This is a great time to get involved as the general membership is open to attend and one can see as well as participate in the governance of their association. The first thing one should ask upon joining is when the next meeting is. Many associations hold other events as often as monthly or quarterly that are open to members as well.

A constituency association is often essentially a micro version of the central party organization. There will be a President and a number of other Vice President or directors roles. This depends on the bylaws set out by the party. These roles are usually filled at general meetings and are directly elected by the members of the constituency association. Even the largest parties often have trouble filling these roles and it is often pretty easy to get into a formal role within the association. These are great opportunities to get into the nuts and bolts of the local operation and to get a line on party activities an communications.

The prime role of constituency associations is to prepare to win the local seat for the party. This involves fundraising, local promotion and the selection of a local candidate. The foundation for a campaign team in an election will usually come from the constituency association as well. If one wants to get involved in campaigning (one of the more fun roles in politics), the constituency association is the best place to start learning and perhaps seeking a role in the upcoming campaign.

Depending on the party structure, sometimes only delegates can attend the annual general meeting of the main party. These delegates are usually selected by the constituency board and they will be responsible for representing your constituency when policy is proposed at party general meetings and can vote when the party executive is selected at the general meeting. Some parties allow all members to attend the annual general meeting and allow all to vote on these things.

Constituency associations are usually tasked with finding candidates for the coming election and with managing the nomination race for that role. Nomination races can be some of the most divisive and haywire activities within a party. Emotions can run high and factions can break out that can harm the constituency locally or even the party as a whole. When I served terms on the provincial executive with my provincial party, nothing gave me more grey hairs than the efforts to put out fires lit by rough and tumble nomination meetings. I can think of a few provincial constituency associations that are still a mess today due to ugly nomination meetings over six years ago. As with most things though, the more the merrier. If constituency associations have a lot of dedicated, rational and working members, the nomination meetings can be kept civil. It takes a lot of work.

Central party involvement

The degree of involvement with the central party that an individual can have depends on the constitution and bylaws of the party. The party operations are governed by the provincial executive. Caucus is usually somewhat independent of party governance (or should be) but should be guided by the general principles and policies of the party. The leader’s office is often something of an entity in itself as well.

The party executive is made up of a President, a Treasurer, a Secretary and then a number of other director/Vice President roles depending on the party constitution. In some parties these roles are directly elected by the members at an annual general meeting while others select their executive committee through a delegate system. Some parties will allow any member in good standing to run for an executive position while others have a different process to get nominated for those positions. It will take consultation with your local representative and reading the party constitution in order to learn the process.

The party executive oversees the constituency associations and manages the general operations of the party. Fundraising, communications and management of the membership of the party falls under the role of the executive. Setting up for an annual general meeting and the management of the policy proposals comes through the party executive as well. If one aspires to get directly involved with party management, getting a role on the provincial executive is the way to go. It is thankless and often frustrating but those roles are critical and can be exciting at times.

The roles one can take on within a party are myriad and the dedication of time and resources that an individual can put in is nearly infinite. While having a larger active membership can make party management and movement cumbersome and complex at times, it remains a better way to help ensure good policy and governance from that party.

If a person wants to make an impact in the next provincial election beyond casting a vote, joining and participating in a party is the best route to doing that. I know there are independent candidates and other types of groups that work to influence the electorate and they certainly serve a role too. Reality dictates that only organized parties will take power in an election and becoming a member in one of those parties is the important first step in having an influence on them.

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Cory what the hell are you doing?

I figured that blog heading best captures the content and tone of many communications that I have gotten through phone and email in this last week or so. I may as well get to the point here.

I have been involved with the Wildrose Party since it’s inception as well as rather strongly involved with the Alberta Alliance Party before it. I have acted in many roles from different positions on the provincial executive to candidate in the 2008 election to moderating the last leadership debates to hosting the party’s headquarters in my office space for a couple years. No by the way, I am not trying to claim that the party owes me something, it does not. I do want to make it clear that I am a dedicated longtime supporter and member of the Wildrose Party. I did not come out of nowhere to raise a stink and I certainly am not a plant from the PCs as one idiot has already implied.

I am not giving up on the Wildrose Party nor am I recommending that anybody else does so. The Wildrose Party is the potentially the best government in waiting in the wings in Alberta and I do hope it forms government down the road.

The above being said, the Wildrose Party has slipped rather badly in it’s grassroots based governance in the last few years as I have been demonstrating in some critical blog postings here, here and here.  I likely will have a few more postings that may make some uncomfortable in the next little while.

I am an unapologetic partisan and have written on that.

I fully understand the need for people to work as a cohesive group for a common cause in politics if anything is going to be done. I understand how loyalty to one’s party obligates one to have to accept some practices, people and actions that may not be what one feels are ideal. Compromise is part of working in a team environment even when the team is made up of stubborn individualists.

Something I have learned though is being loyal to one’s party does not mean that one should stay silent when they see wrongdoing. On the contrary, when things are going in the wrong direction a person should feel obligated to speak up.

The drift has been incremental with the party. I am as responsible as many as I sat silently as we saw one more undercutting of the grassroots after another. Just one more nomination meddled with here and there or just one more principle set aside.

I stayed silent. When speaking up from within (as some are counselling me to do now), I hit the same old rationales from people. “Just let it go, now isn’t the time to deal with that.” or “This is how all the heavyweight parties do it.” or “It’s just the way it is with parties. Learn to look the other way.” or “Just hang on until the election.”

In answering all of those:

If not now, when?

I don’t care how the other parties do things, we are supposed to be different.

The election is past and I can’t think of a better time than now to dig into some of the issues with the party.

As I pointed out in a past posting, only one of the elected 2010 board ran for re-election in 2011 which is more than a little telling of problems. I don’t want to simply walk away. I have put too much into the party these last years to do so and the potential is still all there (I am not going back on the board though).

The vast majority of the members and supporters of the Wildrose Party share the same solid grassroots principles of members being the final authority in party governance. Our party constitution strongly supports this and an active principled provincial executive can address and solve pretty much any issue with the party. They are very empowered constitutionally and have a mandate of being elected by the membership.

As I have posted earlier, some odd business happened with the nominations and elections of the last board in 2011. Very few people applied for the jobs (surprising in such a growing party but unsurprising considering how hidden the process was) and we ended up with a dysfunctional board that only held five meetings in an election year as I posted. As I implied before, I do not feel that this marginalized board was a mistake and do feel that it was purposely set aside to allow others to govern the party unencumbered by executive questions. Even if it was just somehow a sheer fluke of luck that the board happened to be so invisible and unmotivated as opposed to being purposely constructed that way, it is clear that the board needs to be replaced.

As pointed out in earlier postings as well, it has been incredibly difficult finding out even when and where the Wildrose Party AGM was to be held and it took some pressure to get that out. There are many great potential party executive members out there but how will they apply and get elected if the party won’t aid with information as to when where and how to run for those positions? The cutoff for running is 65 days before the event and the cutoff for event notification is 60 days. Since the party won’t put out the call for grassroots executive nominees, I will. As I said, I will not sit back silently any longer.

Despite some blaming the last election loss on policy, the party’s policy will not be on the table at the coming AGM. I would think policy discussion would be something of a priority right now. Perhaps if we had an effective executive such oversights would not happen.

The foundation of the Wildrose Party is excellent. Our leader is exceptional and there are some great members of caucus who I don’t doubt will impress in opposition in these next four years. The Wildrose Party can (and I hope it does) turn itself into the party that Albertans are ready to embrace as their next government. This will only happen if the party stays true to it’s founding principles though and if members and supporters stay silent when things go the wrong way, that will never happen.

So in answering the question at the beginning: I am taking the tough but necessary steps required for the membership to regain control of the Wildrose Party in speaking up about what has been happening. I have pointed out some of the problems and have pointed out the solution. Nothing will be solved if we stay silent and we won’t fix anything in Alberta by turning ourselves into the party that we want to replace in government.

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