Monday, November 30, 2009
New party or no party?
I want to take another opportunity to thank everyone for Reboot Alberta. I originally had the names of those four wonderful pioneers and the two hard working associates written here, but I don't want to assume that they have come out completely.
At two points this weekend, I had to make a difficult choice about two conversations of which I could take part. In a nutshell, one conversation had to do with creating a new party for progressives in Alberta and the other one had to do with creating a broad movement for progressive change. Both times, I chose to join the movement conversation and now I want to use this post to sum up my thoughts on that issue.
First off, I want to be clear. I have great respect for everyone who decided to sit in on the new party group and in particular, for all of the people that are working so hard to develop the Renew Alberta concept. I hope that those people will take this critique in the spirit of which it is intended, which is an examination of the pitfalls that can lie ahead for that group. Secondly, I want them to know that I am very interested in the concept and will likely find myself at home in that party.
The main reason we need a new party in Alberta is because we have a strong and complex system in place that needs changing - and the traditional legitimate way to achieve that change is by supporting a party that can achieve it. Furthermore, between here and fundamental change there will be elections and I will need a place to park my vote and direct my efforts.
Thus, my conundrum. As I tweeted incessantly, the party system is part of the problem, but the party is the vehicle with which that change is most likely to occur. Partisan politics has gone awry. The single biggest issue in our parliamentary system is the position of caucus whip. Members cannot engage in meaningful debate about how they truly feel on the floor of the legislature because the caucus will have already voted on each issue. There is no point listening to the points brought forward by the opposition because you are not allowed to change your mind. Legislature debate is an absolute farce and everyone in the system knows it.
I remember the day in social ten when we had a class debate. I remember how everyone studied the issue came in to class with points prepared and chose which side of the room to sit on based on their preconceived stance. I remember how we politely (for the most part) listened as each person presented their points of view. I remember students getting up and moving to the other side of the room because of some passionate points being presented from the opposition.
Maybe I'm still too idealistic, but what is wrong with that? What is wrong with having an open and honest debate about the direction government should head, being humble when we triumph and being proud when we lose.
The problem is the parties are too worried about losing the pockets of power that they have already established and they have party whips to maintain their appearance of strength and solidarity. The floor of the legislature is seen as a vicious battle ground and you better ensure your troops are in line.
The idea of forming a new party is very seductive. Hearing from across the room the birth of what could be the next big party in Alberta was like being one of the Argonauts hearing the sirens on the rocks.
But all too often ambition is inversely proportional to the distance one is from power.
Which makes it very hard for the party to change the system that they just used to obtain power, right Mr Harper?
In the meantime I will be proud to be part of the group that works to keep the party pioneers honest.
PS - Alberta Liberals doomed in an un-party state, in today's Edmonton Journal is a great piece with impeccable timing. Happy Reading!