The Alberta Party is a young, relatively small and rapidly evolving organization. In Red Deer this weekend at their first policy convention following the merger of the old Alberta Party and the Renew Alberta group. Essentially the party is building from scratch in both organizational and policy terms - a state that implies both vast opportunity and manifold risks.
This past weekend was the Alberta Party's policy convention, following up the "big listen" process that the party had undertaken over the preceding 6 months or more. Tension between diverse viewpoints was a characteristic of the weekend, as the thousands of points that had arisen from the 'big listen' were considered, debated amended etc. There were people present from a wide variety of backgrounds, including former PC, Liberal, NDP and Reform members and organizers, as well as a variety of people formerly unengaged in partisan politics. It was an impressive group, and I found myself learning something with almost every conversation I had all weekend.
What arose from the weekend should be available on the Alberta Party website (www.albertaparty.ca) later this week, as soon as the volunteers can finish with the drafting and formatting. For a party that lacks a permanent leader and is just beginning the process of constituency organizing policy will be crucial, both to define who the party is and provide people with reasons to support its growth. Among the policies I was involved in the discussions for were the following:
- Strengthening officers of the Legislature like the Ombudsman, Chief Electoral Officer, Ethics Commissioner and Auditor General by guaranteeing their funding and ensuring their third-party status. Included in this was a commitment to empowering the Auditor to undertake forensic audits at their discretion.
- All government data and reports that do not contain personal or sensitive information are to be available to the public as soon as they are complete. This includes the information on which official reports are based.
- The Alberta Party is committed to moving all natural resource revenue as investment capital, and to cease its use for directly funding programs.
Obviously these are a small sample of the total, but I was there for these conversations, and I think that these are ideas worth supporting.
In his talk to conclude the event following Sunday's plenary session Dave Cournoyer argued that our existing government has become formatted by its own success. It is organized as a top-down culture, with limited interest or acceptance of transparency. According to Cournoyer, and I agree with him, Minister Leipert's anonymous advisory group is a sign of a government that has lost its way. There is no reason for the identities of those the Minister has turned to for advice should not be public knowledge, especially since the Minister is entirely correct to seek advice wherever he feels it will be useful. The Alberta Party's commitments to transparency and a bottom-up culture are what drew Mr. Cournoyer to join the party, and provide it with some of its potentially defining characteristics. Mr. Cournoyer's address can be found here: http://daveberta.ca/2010/11/my-closing-remarks-to-the-alberta-party/
Moving forward one of the most important issues for the Alberta Party will be leadership. Mr. Erickson stepped down as interim leader this weekend, after shepherding the party through the amalgamation and subsequent rapid expansion with quiet grace, for which members of the party should be thankful. The new interim leader will, I expect, be one of the current board members and will be announced in the immediate future. The sooner the better, as the party now needs to launch its real leadership contest, with a leadership vote to come before next summer. Whoever the new interim leader is they will have the responsibility of nourishing the fledgling party's energy and culture through further rapid expansion, constituency organizing and a leadership race. No shortage of work.
There are a number of people involved in the party I would like to see throw their hats in the leadership ring. Obviously I can't speak for any of these people, and the opinion being expressed is entirely my own! Chima Nkenmdrim would have been an obvious choice, but has likely removed himself from contention by choosing to join Mr. Nenshi at Calgary city hall. I think Glenn Taylor, recently re-elected as mayor of Hinton, would be an intriguing option. He's young, electorally successful, well-spoken and familiar with the province's issues. I am also interested to see if Michael Brechtel, Edmonton ad man and community builder as well as Alberta Party board member, will put himself forward. He too is a builder of relationships who could offer a lot to the race. Also on the board is former school trustee Sue Huff, who has certainly been an active and appealing figure in Edmonton over the past several years and would be an excellent candidate. Again I cannot speak for any of these four, but I do hope that they all give the option serious thought.
Alberta politics is, and has been for several years now, in a state of change. There are two new political parties on the scene, a surprising new mayor in Calgary, and an ongoing conversation about change in every party and at every level of government. This is healthy and exciting. I think that there is a lot of room in Alberta politics for the Wild Rose and Alberta parties, and that the existing parties are all undertaking changes of their own. The tired narrative of Alberta politics as monopolistic and uninteresting no longer applies, no matter what your political views are. This is, I would argue, the most politically active and interesting province in the federation at this time and I, for one, am excited to see how it develops.