Many, perhaps most, Albertans have been hankering for a return to the foundations of democracy and to ethics like integrity, honesty, repsect and accountability; perhaps these desires are primary explanation for the meteoric rise of the Alberta Party, the Party I joined last fall because it has set those ethics as foundational pillars.
This weekend I attended the Alberta Party’s Leadership Convention, which, in addition to the successful election of a fantastic leader, Glenn Taylor, was a good opportunity for me to get to know people in the Party and to see Party culture in action. It was truly encouraging to experience and be part of an atmosphere that solidly attempts and aspires to live out its stated values. Nearly everyone I spoke with over the two days was deferential and sincere and most of all filled with hopefulness for the future of Alberta.
Along with the surge of growth and flourishing hope, though, comes big expectations. People – me included – really want the Party to live out what it espouses. Respectful discourse, transparency, open communication and a commitment to removing partisan politics from policy decisions and Party language are all high standards the Party has set for itself.
But then, one of two things can happen: 1) people with high expectations and sensitivities based on bad past experiences can quickly become disillusioned when anything or anyone in the Party appears to fall short, and disengage, or 2) other parties, still mired in old cut-throat, dog-eat-dog competitive political habits, look for every opportunity to point fingers and point out shortcomings.
Recently I’ve noticed a few comments here and there on social and in traditional media either worrying about or accusing Party members of dirty politics. For example, on the weekend, the Twitter feed was displayed on the screen at the front of the room, which was streaming live over the internet. Because anyone use the hashtag that would get their tweet up on the screen, people (some shrewd, some rude) took advantage of the opportunity to question Party ethics and cast aspersions on the proceedings. Although such things should be expected, and probably ignored, some were rankled. Some, including me, took the bait & responded. Place sigh here.
So, to the question: will the Alberta Party hold true to its values and be the “nice guys” of politics, respectful, collegial, transparent, or will we slide off into the ditch, stop listening, put political expedience ahead of what’s best for Alberta, and get stuck in poli-game play? Can we do what we promise and put old-school politics behind us?
I like what Barry Barclay held up on his sign of hope for the future: “All we are saying, is give us a chance.” I think the answer, right now and probably always, to the question is… YES.
There are a couple of reasons, in my opinion, for why “old style” politics WILL inevitably be found in the Alberta Party:
1) Shaking off old mindsets requires some major paradigm shifts (to rely on a completely overused term). Politically savvy (but disenfranchised) people are attracted to the AB Party because of its promise and hopefulness, but we all bring with us our old habits. It will take consistent application of new processes and values and great tenacity to deprogram us and retool our political engines – but it’s worth it!
2) Goading: it’s gonna happen. It’s hard not to respond. Sometimes it’s even good to engage in conversation with a perceived goader, because common ground and mutual respect can be found. Most often, though, it only causes us to engage in behaviour that isn’t coming from our higher selves. When this happens to me – and it does, often – I have to remind myself of what I need to focus and expend my energies on. Answering criticism is draining and futile unless it produces understanding, and provocateurs seldom seek to understand.
3) Grass-roots, citizen engaged politics is messy. Everyone has a voice. Everyone gets to be heard. And we get to be heard when we are speaking in ways aligned with Party philosophies as well as when we’re not. The difference boils down to Party culture. There exists in our province Parties with a culture and even explicit Party policy that muzzles free speech and dissenting viewpoints. The Alberta Party will not do that, and because of that, we will have the good, the bad, and the ugly. That’s people for ya. Albertans have their warts, to be sure, but as Albertans, they still have a right to be heard.
As Alberta Party members, we need to be held to account for our words and actions, and encouraged to shake off old mindsets and tiresome attack-politics, and get on with the task at hand: forging a new day for Alberta. Tearing down is dirty, but building is messy. It’s gonna be messy for us, to be sure, but in a colourful, finger painting, creating-a-masterpiece kind of way.
At least that’s what I think. Tell me what you think.