Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reboot 3 - Now what?

I was only able to make time to attend the Reboot 3 gathering at the last minute, meaning that I was not prepared or engaged in the agenda-setting stage. I found it interesting to note that the blogger population at Reboot 3 was considerably smaller than the first two, with major cogs in the Alberta blogosphere like DJ Kelly, Joey Oberhoffner and Dave Cournoyer not attending. Congratulations DJ, by the way!

The morning sessions were spent discussing models of ownership and their implications for the management of the oil sands. The table I happened to be at was, to my good fortune, full of passionate, articulate and capable people – one of whom thankfully makes a living as a mediator and was able to keep the conversation moving in more or less the intended direction. While we certainly didn’t arrive at a consensus on how ownership ought to be considered in the area of natural resources we were agreed that it was important for the Government and corporations to think differently on the issue. To me there is, or ought to be, a creative tension between the profit motive of corporations and the social good that ought to underlie government decision-making. Interestingly the table was quite interested in the idea of full-cost accounting, which is hardly a simple or non-contentious topic in and of itself.

The central conversation in the afternoon revolved around the question of what it meant to be a progressive. In examining this issue four speakers gave us their thoughts: Troy Wason of the Alberta PCs, Chris LaBossiere from the Alberta Party, Phil Elder for the Democratic Renewal Project and David Swann of the Alberta Liberal Party. (Speaking in that order) Both Mr. Wason and Mr. LaBossiere talked about their reasons for being involved with their respective parties, and their thoughts on how they feel their organizations are embodying and responding to ideas that can be defined as progressive. Mr. Wason was passionate in his belief that the progressive element of the PC party is a central part of that party. He also pointed out that his qualification as a member of the provinces notional political elite consisted of “paying my $5 and putting up my hand to volunteer”. Succinct and important to bear in mind – our system is run by those who choose to show up. Mr. LaBossiere’s talk is perhaps best summarized by himself on his blog, but he too addressed the importance of engagement.

Mr. Elder and Mr. Swann took another tack entirely. Mr. Elder outlined the Democratic Renewal Project and their plans to encourage non-competition among opposition parties. My thoughts on the undesirability and futility of their project are elaborated in an earlier post . Mr. Swann’s presentation focused on the reasons why the people in the room for Reboot should vote for the Liberals. Interestingly his primary reason was fear – he argued that without the Liberal’s tradition, organization and financial framework none of the other parties before Albertans could advance a progressive agenda or effectively challenge the PC party. Leaving aside the assumption that replacing the PC government is inherently desirable, it is hard to see anything progressive or attractive in this inherently negative formulation. It appeared to me as an attempt by Mr. Swann to dissuade those present from considering the Alberta Party, which, while an entirely justifiable end for the leader of another party to undertake, seemed entirely at odds with the kind of dialogue Reboot exists to promote.

In my view there are two ends that the Reboot name and movement can serve here in Alberta moving forward. I need to underline that my views here reflect nothing beyond my own opinions, and have no bearing on the thoughts or intentions of the organizers in particular or the other participants in general.

To begin with I continue to find these meetings to be a good forum for people of diverse views to meet and discuss matters of common interest. There is real value in a periodic forum to exchange views outside our usual partisan or professional communities, and Reboot has contributed usefully to the political culture of Alberta in that respect. Being exposed to alternative viewpoints is essential in challenging our assumptions. That process of challenging ideas and evolving them under the pressure of new information is in turn a fundamental element of healthy public discourse. I would like to see the Reboot gatherings continue once or twice a year, focusing on acting as a common area in which people of all partisan stripes, or none, can gather to discuss issues of public interest. As a mechanism perhaps an issue or two could be selected for discussion, followed by an unconference format upon arrival to decide where and how that conversation will be focused.

Reboot can, however, be the genesis of something beyond a useful meeting place on the political commons. I would like to see a permanent non-partisan think tank develop from the Reboot community. This organization would study questions of civic engagement, civil society and public policy. The public discourse gains real value from organizations like the Manning Centre and the Pembina Institute, the research they create, the events they hold and the people they train and employ. Given the population and wealth of Alberta, and the gaps between existing bodies of similar nature, there is more than enough room in the public discourse for such a body. (That sound you hear is the pained laughter of the Reboot organizers as I volunteer their idea and efforts for an extensive and labour-intensive expansion.) If the idea is of any interest to anyone but myself I hope to hear from you!

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