When I worked in community development, it was so gratifying to see the community come together around an issue, brainstorm about solutions and develop a customized response. I learned that a community of concerned, engaged and connected people is one of the most powerful, creative forces out there.
I think I’ve always been a community builder. I remember being Vice President of the Student’s Association in Grade Nine, brainstorming with the executive about how to foster “community” (school) spirit and engagement. Some things never change.
Over the years, as I’ve been involved in leadership in many aspects of community, I’ve always believed in consensus-building. Yes, in the end the “buck” has to stop somewhere, and that’s what leaders are for, but human nature is such that we all feel better about decisions that are made when we can contribute to them in some way. It’s common sense, really.
In 2007, when I left my community development job with the Town of Penhold and was elected to Town Council, my aspiration was to build bridges between Council and community, and to ensure that the community felt involved and included in municipal decisions and direction. I’ve learned that it isn’t always easy, but engaging community is always worth it.
Although I’ve always been interested in provincial and federal politics, getting involved in municipal leadership made me very aware of the importance of developing strong relationships between the different levels of government. I tried to get involved with the political party that I felt largely represents my political leanings, but I felt like a square peg in a round hole because of disparity in values and culture. Eventually, I quit attending functions and drifted away.
By 2010, I was politically homeless and feeling, like many Albertans, that there were no real political options. I’d figured out that I didn’t want to be pinned to some spot on the political spectrum, or tied to a narrow bandwidth of political ideology; I just wanted to be able to contribute my thoughts, ideas and opinions without being labelled or dismissed. I wanted to work with others in community to share ideas, identify issues and together come up with creative solutions. You know… community building! I kept seeing these posts on Twitter talking about something called a “Big Listen” and decided I wanted to host one. That was a great experience. The folks that came asked 3 questions:
– What are the issues impacting you in your daily life?
– Where do you see Alberta in 20 years?
– What are you grateful/hopeful for?
They took careful notes and afterward sent them to each of us who attended to make sure they had accurately captured our comments and intent. Wow. Pretty different from being told what I need to espouse in order to be accepted and heard. Later that year I attended another Big Listen, which reinforced that these folks were serious about listening… REALLY listening.
The folks behind these forums were from the Alberta Party, a reconstituted party fresh out of the hopper in early 2010, committed to rejuvenating democracy by listening to ALL Albertans (not just people within the party who agreed with one political perspective) and inclusive grassroots policy development. When they talked about being a party that builds instead of a party that tears down, returning Alberta to integrity, transparency, respectful discourse, and accountability, my heart leapt. The process I believe in AND the values that matter to me? Could it be true?
Of course there’s a much bigger and longer story about how I went from joining the party to running for office. Long story short it’s just glaringly apparent that Albertans are poised for change and the time to make it happen is now. There are many who don’t want the same-old, and they don’t want the newer version of the same-old. They, like me, want the free exchange of ideas in a respectful way that together builds something amazing. They’d like sensible decisions arrived at through consensus. They’d like the needs and wishes of Albertans to be respected and valued above caucus solidarity. The list goes on and on and on and on. I’ve got no agenda except my love for Alberta, my region, and building community. I’m not a big shot or a mucky-muck, which means I’ve got nothing to lose. What I do have is passion for my province and for building community through grassroots engagement.
The explosive growth of the Alberta Party – over 2000 people have joined since I did – is an indication that people all over this province are being, drawn to the concept of dialogue. Listening. Talking. They feel the same way as I do: they want change and they want to have a say in provincial decisions and direction. I think what attracted me and so many others will continue to attract, and together we can build something amazing, because Alberta deserves it, and certainly, Alberta needs it.
I am the Alberta Party Candidate for the constituency of Innisfail Sylvan Lake. Come with me and let’s build this together!