Monday, November 30, 2009

A Response to Reboot

I want to post some initial responses to Reboot Alberta.

To begin I want to thank Dave King, Ken Chapman and the other organizers for making this event happen; and to thank Bryna and Xanthe for their great work keeping everything running so smoothly. I would also like to thank everyone who attended for providing an impressive combination of intensity and goodwill that made the open-ended organic format of the weekend work so well. Reboot Alberta turned out to have been perhaps the single most interesting conference or event I have ever attended.

At the first session on Saturday someone said “There is a real feeling that the existing parties are failing to address our needs” during the preamble to their remarks. This is as good a starting point as any for how and why this disparate group of people gathered in Red Deer on the Grey cup weekend to talk politics, policy and citizenship. The variety of interesting and articulate people at Reboot was exceptional. There were current and former elected officials, ranging from school trustees to cabinet ministers, partisans of all parties from both the elected and back room crowds, commentators and business people. This diverse crowd of interesting and articulate people gathered together to explore how public life in Alberta might be improved and what it means to be ‘progressive’, if anything. I was impressed by the respectful intensity of the weekend – everyone had something to offer but everyone also wanted to hear what others had to say and the result was an extraordinary experience.

There were a great many sessions running, and obviously I only participated in a small minority of them. There are three that I did participate in that I wanted to talk about, starting with the session on “What is a progressive”. The variety of the weekend was certainly visible in this sessions, which included a PC and Liberal who had rarely sat at an event together without coming to (verbal) blows who warily found that in many respects their concerns matched, if not their prescriptions. The session felt in many ways like we were looking for the walls of a dark room – we knew they were there but not where they were or how they were laid out. In the end there was a broad consensus on a few issues but no definition of what a progressive might be.

I also participated in two sessions around the idea of creating a new political party here in Alberta. Both sessions were large and lively, especially as they included people of every viewpoint on the matter – for, against, and uncommitted or waiting to see what form such a party might take. All of these positions were discussed and many ideas about what parties are and should be were fielded. In the event it looks like the people behind the Renew Alberta initiative are going to move forward with the creation of a party. For what it is worth I wish them luck, these kind of initiatives are essential for the health of our system. It was interesting to see the depth of dissatisfaction with the functioning of our existing parties, whether it be the culture of entitlement in some or of defeat in others, even from those who are committed members of one or the other.

The last session I participated in that I wanted to mention specifically was one on how to improve Alberta through the operation of the existing political system in the province. Thirteen of us (out of 90 or so!) decided that this was the mechanism of change we wanted to discuss, and that group ranged across the political spectrum and generations. I was struck, powerfully so, that this group of highly partisan type A personalities proceeded to have one of the most respectful, on-topic and frank discussions I’ve ever been a part of. No-one so much as interrupted, which is a level of civility I rarely see even among friends! The other striking thing about this session was that we all shared a great many concerns about the functioning of the system, even those from the government or governing party. Unfortunately solutions for these issues within the context of the existing system were thinner on the ground and we were essentially forced to concede that changes are needed.

That session brought out many of the issues that everyone at the event seemed to feeling. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the ‘dumbing down’ of politics and public life, and the nastiness that seems to have increasingly crept in. This is perceived by many, myself included, as a part of the general devaluing of our systems and institutions in general, even by those who are a part of them. I would argue that this is one of the most important areas for us to address, whether you define yourself a ‘progressive’ or anything else. As an element of that is the notable dissatisfaction with the way parties work – whether the frustration of those both within or without the existing ones or those engaged in starting new ones, whether the Wild Rose or the Renew Alberta people. The range and importance of these issues is certainly sufficient to explain the turnout and the passion at Reboot Alberta.

Finally there is the question of what, if anything, will come of the weekend. Firstly Reboot connected a number of people who otherwise would not have met, provided many short term benefits in terms if ideas and conversation. In the long term who knows what those ideas and connections will lead to? Secondly the fielding and discussion, in a very open and extended format, of a wide variety of interesting ideas provided a lot of learning opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly the format and people at this event generated a lot of energy - people left brimming with energy and ready to take action, whatever their field of endeavour. Finally, in addition to the other potential benefits, the experience was so singular that efforts are being made to maintain contact through a Reboot Alberta virtual community, an effort I certainly support and will be a part of. In short there is a very real potential that Reboot Alberta may have introduced an ongoing variable to public life in Alberta, and I am looking forward to seeing how that variable impacts the game.

Some other responses to be found here:
Alex Abboud -
Chris Labossiere -
Dave Cournoyer -
Andrew Mcintyre -
DJ Kelly -
Alberta Altruist -
Johnathan Teghtmeyer -

1 comment:

  1. A very thoughtful and precise view of the Reboot event Alexander.

    I also very much appreciated that the attendees chose the discussion topics and the groups facilitated themselves... What an awesome experience in progressive public engagement.