Could the Alberta PC’s complete a much-needed Extreme Makeover?

Widely Popular Mayors Iveson & Nenshi

Young Progressives – Mayors Don Iveson & Naheed Nenshi

I have been puzzled lately by a widening dissonance in Alberta politics. In our non-partisan municipal elections, we have seen the undeniable trend of electing leaders who inspire our communities to think forward, to be our better selves, and who seem to have a skill for gathering massive followings of cheerleaders and proud evangelists.

Also, it seems, municipal elections last month were an indictment against unhinged rhetoric, as we saw candidate after candidate fall on their own sharp words. This noise, which can be found easily on both ends of the political spectrum, seems to have slayed many a candidate.  Those who chose to act with confidence in their policy and position, doing so with a humble smile on their face and chose positive even playful language, swung a near-perfect weapon against the stodgy establishment or simple angry candidate.

Large margin victories in most mid-sized and large urban centres, went to thoughtful, young, policy heavy candidates who pledged to ”politics in full sentences”. With balanced ideological style; forward-looking, aspirational and inclusive platforms. Modern ideas like open-government, responsible urban development, knowledge economy entrepreneurship, social-enterprise innovation and valuing diversity – seemingly table stakes for most political parties at a provincial level – were the key platform fodder for the next generation of successful municipal politicians.

Beyond this trend, we have also seen an emergence of a new successful personality trait for non-partisan politicians. They are fun, playful and prone to be more honest and human in front of their constituents. We get to know these folks as people like us. They are good citizens of their community, but have also learned something about the 24/7 social media communities they must learn to navigate. Be nice. Be honest. Be real and communicate, don’t just broadcast. Certainly don’t fight for a position if it’s only defensible by an ideology and can’t be reinforced with a good idea.

In Provincial and Federal politics, when we add a layer of partisanship, this model seems to implode. Frankly, it makes sense on one level. A meaningful conversation about ideas, attempt at progress-oriented discussion and eventual good government, suffer from many enemies:

  •     Attacks from ideological foes who will always be there, trying to drag you across to their end of the political spectrum
  •     The seemingly irresistible allure of criticizing any position held by a competing party
  •     A party/caucus/cabinet machine that fights against it’s own parts, to control messaging, consolidate power and manufacture outcomes

 

Traditional “party strategists” seem to want to argue that these things can never change. In fact, the “establishment” strategy suggests perfecting all three of these things, as opposed to transcend them, and victory is a cinch. But, this is shortsighted thinking. As parties focus on attacking others with constant, often mandated feigned outrage, or tie their own hands behind their back with command and control cultures, they are acting in the exact opposite way that the successful non-partisan municipal politicians, have acted, to win with impressive margins.

Probably, more simply stated, we want to elect people who behave like us. Get mad, sure, be passionate, of course… but live by a set of rules first that are respectful and aspirational and you have less chance of trapping yourself in a corner of ideology, ego or pride. It makes sense. In every workplace, home, church group or sports team, we will gravitate to people we like and trust first. They will almost always be hopeful, helpful and humble.

The Alberta Party

The Alberta Party

Many of you know that I was involved in the early days of the Alberta Party and it’s attempt at creating a new model for partisan political success. It succeeded, if only in shilling idealism and acting accordingly. Yet, it can only be considered a failure in electing an MLA. No matter how much it’s candidates exemplified the theories I am making around a new style of politics. I have asked myself why, many, many times…. Why didn’t it succeed?

I blame the Queen. Or perhaps more honestly, the Westminster Style of Parliamentary politics, with it’s plurality voting (first-past-the-post), and an emphasis on PARTY > LEADER > CANDIDATE in most voting situations. Add to that in the last election, a frenzy of last-minute fear around vote-splitting and Alberta possibly electing some radical minded social conservatives… and there you have it. Even I would have voted for my PC MLA if I honestly thought he had been at risk of losing to the Wildrose candidate.

Luckily(?) neither the Alberta Party or Wildrose candidate in my constituency was within striking distance of our popular MLA. So I could vote for the Alberta Party candidate with a clear conscious.  I am not so sure that same luxury will be given me, or the PC candidates next go around.

But, and there is a point to all of this, I think we are in a new and interesting time. The Wildrose have made significant progress in cleaning up their policy position and now shun their loose-end ideologues.  This may be window-dressing in an attempt to gain power, and should be easy to expose as disingenuous; but here is the problem… the PC Party is losing its ability to compete using traditional establishment politics. They are losing financial support; they are losing the war for new members, and influential past supporters are fading away. The establishment party, is losing it’s own establishment.

In Calgary, with its independence ethos, being anti-government can be fashionable and recent fights with the government between the Mayor’s office and the Province have replaced a very short-lived truce over the flood response. In Edmonton, where appeasement is a bit more widely held strategy, mostly because of our proximity to government as an employer and vendor, dissidents have simply gone into hiding. Fights over arena funding, university cuts and political meddling into board governance at AHS and other institutions have many questioning this government for the first time.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

Going into this weekend’s PC AGM and a mandatory review of Premier Alison Redford’s leadership, I would argue that the PC party is at an unprecedented inflection point. From every party insider I have talked with, I have heard of concern for the performance of the Premier and the Party; yet consistently have also heard the rational for supporting her. The party lacks the resources and an heir-apparent to make such a significant change with only two years to rebuild yet again. Up until just recently, I would have vehemently disagreed. In my experience, a fire-fast mentality always made for better outcomes. Now, I am not so sure.

It may be a last-gasp, but the Party with a 42-year monopoly has the single best opportunity to govern for another term over any party. Let’s face it; they have a majority power, and the pulpit from which to sell a vision. But it must be an abrupt change in style, and only that, which will save it. By and large I think the government has made the bigger policy decisions consistent with how most Albertans would like to see. Namely, don’t go into extreme austerity mode to balance a budget when we are at least for now debt-free, and experiencing massive growth and economic prosperity.  Sure, some of the cuts to services have been too harsh, especially in post-secondary funding, but to me this government has lost support as much on style. Or lack of it.

By that I mean, the Government has stopped creating a hopeful vision for Albertans, based on well-defined vision for the future and backed by smart policy. They seem possessed with arguing against the only political pressure it feels, from their right. Somewhere around the period where the Premier’s communication office lost 5 staffers in a month, and responded by promoting an attack-style Ontario transplant to Chief of Communications, things have taken a turn towards a nasty narrative. Not just the communications pro’s, but the Premier and her Deputy, have been particularly negative.

But, style can be fixed. Perhaps, it’s just a matter of an Extreme Makeover. This government might want to take some tips from the political success-stories, popping up all around them. Of course, a makeover usually requires throwing out some old things from the “wardrobe” that simply will never fit a new image. Leaning on the analogy, it’s time for the Premier to throw-out some of the worst offenders of a positive and forward-thinking style. At least, publicly and seriously rebuking the attack-antics politics and gamesmanship, at best learning all new habits and bring up some fresh faces into the mix. To avoid any ambiguity whatsoever about the communications department, let me be even more clear. AFTER you have made a humble commitment to act with a different style, hire yourself any of the amazing and thought-leading professional communicators who understand Albertans. They are out there, but in my experience, this line of business attracts idealists and inspired types, so you had better mean a new change in habit.

Obviously the PC’s more than any party, could impact the Province the most in the next two years, if they made a transformation in style and standing.  No matter their failures, the Party is also filled with people like you and me. People who voted for the inspiring forward-looking municipal candidates of the last election, and some MLA’s who want to embrace a new style of politics, to help Alberta be it’s best self. If they could be reinvented to a better version, we all would benefit. Immediately.

BUT and this is a BIG but; are they willing? On paper, this Premier was a ray of hope for many moderate forward-thinking Albertans. Yet many ill-deployed decisions and thoughtless political hijinks have undermined her success on every front. The list is endless if you value either responsible fiscal decision making or stable social programs. But, I am going to give this government the benefit of the doubt, for a moment, and suggest that based on the theory I have presented to you, they are killing themselves with a bad and outdated political model. Namely, shifting and swinging power at problems, instead of building an image of the future Province we all want, and then compelling us all together to build towards it.

If this government could double-down on ideas before ideologies, humility over hubris, acting real vs. contrived, then it’s possible they would find a tidal wave of new support. There can be no mistaking the fact that the political mindset of Albertans has shifted, as it has done again and again over the evolution of this place.

5 years ago, at the 2008 PC AGM, I saw a party that was broken and lacking vision. I left the party a month later, following many who chose the Reboot Alberta movement. I will return to the AGM this weekend a proud member of the Alberta Party, and a tentative renewed member of the PC Party. I am not going because I have already seen the change this Party needs to persist; I am going because I want to see if it’s even possible.  I am going to see if there is any indication of renewal, any spark of optimism, and any place for idealism. But to do so in good faith, I must also go with an open mind and willingness to help it, if I see it.

To many this might seem like a betrayal of one party over the other. In my perspective it’s the rejection of the very problem that has led us here. Partisanship. I am looking for the best ideas and the fastest way to achieve the best Province.

I’ll let you know what I find.

“…what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?”

Well… you might say… here we go again.

Since the 2012 election, I have been somewhat of a political agnostic. My experience helping build the Alberta Party into a new moderate option for Albertans was an experience I would never give back, yet one that opened my eyes to the difficulties and challenges of partisan politics.

Let’s not go into the story on why it didn’t find greater success, as it would take a book to do it justice; but I can summarize pretty much where I feel the movement Peaked: Just prior to The selection of Alison Redford as PC Party leader. It made sense really. On paper, the Premier was the perfect blend of potential. Our first woman Premier, young, a human rights lawyer with international experience, and yet a reputation for sternness when needed.

But perhaps what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?

After a couple years of an Alison Redford PC Government, it’s possible the conditions are emerging for the Alberta Party to be considered again as an option in the provincial political landscape? What are some of those things?

  1.  The likelihood of a Wildrose government. Danielle Smith is leading the only real organized opposition to the government, and on many issues, is looking more like a Premier than the Premier. They are beating the PC’s at their own game, raising piles of money from a very broad base of support, and they have very much softened their policy positions. The Wildrose will not make the same mistakes the next election, they did the last one.
  2.  The Alberta Liberals seem to be struggling with sustainability. Under the highly polarizing and some might say damaging ego leader Raj Sherman, it seems almost all large donors have left and so too much of the new blood needed to backfill this vacuum.
  3.  The PC Government under Alison Redford has acted erratically on many huge issues, and less than ever, we really don’t know their vision. They have tried to be everything along the political spectrum, and seemingly are beating themselves in the process. Even some bright lights in the party (yes they are there), have been dulled by the overbearing control from a Madame Premier who calls all the shots. These are the last couple years:

 

But… back to my point. The Alberta Party. What to do with this table scrap of the past election?

Firstly, I am happily surprised the experiment from 2009, 2010 and 2011 has somehow persisted. The retail support of the party has virtually disappeared, but as I revisited it over the last month, what I saw surprised me. Several new faces among their support and a fresh commitment to stay the course; build it responsibly, and maintain commitment for a fresh political palate. A new home for moderately minded political Albertans.

** Special shout-out to current Alberta Party President Will Munsey, who seems to personally embody almost every example of the Province. A rural farmer, who also works as a unionized train engineer; an entrepreneur who fits perfectly selling his fresh foods and plants to Urban local-food enthusiasts. Will holds a masters degree and has lived for two-decades abroad. He speaks fluent Japanese and knows a thing or two about the colourful language of hardworking Albertans as well. This man has been instrumental in holding the party up, even if just above the waterline, saving it from possibly drowning.

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

That said, the Alberta Party will not form the next government of Alberta and it would be a twice in a century story for them to form government in even two elections. But when I spent some time talking to each of the candidates currently running for leader of this boutique movement, I found a whole new extreme practicality. The two Calgary based candidates are similar in professional background, as computer and technology service consultants, yet they are also unique in their own approach. Yet again, as they are diverse, they also seem to typify the party in several ways. Fresh, young, new to the scene and VERY gosh-shucks idealistic.

So where am I going with this? Well I am asking myself once again, is it time to give the next chapter of this young book, another look? As I said, can the Alberta Party form the next Government, of course not. The real questions, which I WILL be asking at the only Edmonton leadership forum event, will be around how each of these men will lead the party over the next couple years to continue it’s growth?

How will they make it more sustainable, perhaps more applicable to all Albertans? When will Albertans understand the policy of the party in practical terms? How will that be developed? Finally, how will they afford to keep the lights on, or better said, how will the Party get better at the Business of Politics. Something it has prided itself on shunning… clearly a mistake if it wants to bridge itself to the mainstream.

So… I invite you to join me as I ask those tough questions of each candidate.   On Wednesday September 4th, (The Facebook event link for more information) – Edmonton will have it’s only opportunity to meet the candidates, ask them some tough questions, before you decide if you want to buy a membership, which is required to vote in this race.

A race that by many will be considered irrelevant… unless you love the challenge and risk of building something new… and some of us Albertans certainly do.

The Wildrose Reinvented. Maybe it’s time?

Maybe it’s time?

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith - WRP Leader

Yesterday the Wildrose Party of Alberta came together and laid the foundation for a more moderate policy framework, mostly by removing or clarifying their contentious social policy. It has yet to be submitted to the approval of the membership, but I think that’s a formality.

By doing this, the rigid social conservatives, those who joined the party to protect ideologically based “Family / Christian Values” will simply be made to feel unwelcome. Which is tough; but the choice of the ideologue, not the Party who strives to align itself with the majority of those it wants to represent. These beliefs fit in a home or a church, but not in a government, which must be responsible to a diverse constituency. Surely Danielle Smith has always known this and now the Party looks to be bending to her will. Which it must if it wants to form government.

I don’t begrudge this. I believe that this is the basic principle of representative government. Go where the people want you to go. The ancient social beliefs of the party were again and again contrary to what the majority of Albertans believe. From climate change to conscience rights… they were offside.  The Wildrose are doing what they are supposed to do… we can’t criticize them for that.

What will obviously happen, is a fracture in their party along the right side, but that is certainly expected; and I suspect Danielle Smith is discreetly thankful for it.

The big story is not that the Wildrose are doing late what every other party has done before them. That was inevitable. The big story is that by doing this, they eliminated the only legitimate reason that most rigid fiscal conservatives were staying away.  These people, have been holding their nose and staying with the Alberta PC Party, which really has become a confused home for everybody who was against the “old version of the Wildrose”, from forming government.

Maybe it’s time?

Maybe it’s time to break apart what is a tired and ill-focused PC government. Maybe it’s time to have a healthy debate about what the solution to our deficit and debt problems should be. Maybe it’s time to challenge how big or small government should be, how ever-expanding health care delivery costs can be controlled, what it means to make meaningful long-term budgets and business plans, and of course how services can be improved.

There are so many of these debates we have avoided for the last 6-8 years, because the PC Party has built their entire existence around being against the Wildrose and not for a better, bigger future for the Province. All it takes is one look at the way they campaigned just a year ago, and the polar opposite positions they have taken since gaining power. They simple expended every bit of energy and political capital they had to hold onto power…. now they are in trouble.

At least the Wildrose have clarified where they stand in the political debate.  They have dropped the ideological background noise that was hurting them and will be fighting on ideas. These ideas will be about smaller government, cost reduction – over any new revenue streams, and a culture of personal responsibility as a cornerstone of the social safety net. Agree or disagree with where they stand; agree with me that these are the debates that we need to be having. One’s really worth having.

The PC Party had better realize what happened to them yesterday and find some ways quickly to define what they really stand for. Why their ideas are better than the Wildrose’s.

Or maybe it’s time?

Maybe the PC Party needs to recognize the dissonance that exists within it. The rigid fiscal conservatives who have only ever stayed to hold onto shortening strings of power, or because they couldn’t live within the social conservative confines of the old Wildose Party…. or… the Lougheed-modelled Progressive Conservatives who hope to find a vision in the balance between smart government and enabling a vision for the future of a post-energy Province. The PC Party of today is neither of these things and rest assured, the mandatory Leadership Review of the Premier this fall will expose and likely exacerbate this dissonance.

Or just maybe… a complete explosion of the Party might be the best thing for the Province and its political landscape. Let new lines be drawn and reestablish for Albertans where they might fit if they were looking for something to believe in.

 

Ralph Klein – The Alberta Everyman who led with authenticity

Ralph Klein gave protesters the finger. He derided “Eastern bums and creeps”. He drank too much. He apologized a lot, often for good reason. But Ralph Klein could lead us with authenticity, because he was like us; with fault.

Premier Klein also balanced the damn budget.

Ralph wasn’t idolized just because he balanced the budget, which was formidable enough; the success he enjoyed politically was for these two simple reasons:

1. He did what he said he was going to do.
2. He acted authentically.

That we idolize a human being, for acting in what should seem to be a natural and authentic way, says a great deal about the actual rarity of these traits in any person, let alone a politician.

You could argue that being Ralph Klein today would be impossible, or at the least, political suicide. Now our politicians are under attack from all angles. Social media is a 24/7 source of badgering from the peanut gallery, cameras carried on every person, and nary a spoken or written word goes undocumented or un-scrutinized.

But I think this is where the mistake is being made. Politicians have stopped being real, in exchange for trying to become something manufactured.

The mistake in shaping your behavior to some kind of “public-opinion ideal”; is that the shiny, sharp-edge of authentic leadership is dulled. I can’t follow you if you’re spending more time programing your character, than you are demonstrating your real one. Even if that means you might make a mistake. Mistakes are not blemishes, if the intent is good. They are the inevitable by-product of advancing towards something.

Which brings me back to Ralph. He had a vision, albeit a simple one for Alberta. Restore the Alberta Advantage. Come hell or high water, Ralph was going to bring us back from the brink of a $23 Billion debt. But here was the magic of Ralph:

Knowing the hardships we would have to go through as a Province, Ralph knew that people wanted a leader who would stand with them as they go through them. He recognized the willingness in Albertans to take some bitter medicine, as long as he was the first to take it with them. Wearing a denim shirt, as he took it. That’s the Cowboy Way really, isn’t it?

To me it somehow feels like our Albertan political landscape has become less Albertan. Our politicians no longer embody the scrappy risk taker, pioneer, entrepreneur or even “cowboy-ethic” that is undeniably part of our quirky identity.

There really is something admirable in our identity as hearty trailblazers, and yet we have none leading us. Some may have the ideas, but lacking is the authenticity.

I miss Ralph’s World.

Wildrose populism offers no real solutions.

I spent 2 hours on Monday this week in an Edmonton criminal courtroom (as an observer, not a defendant!) Here is what I observed:

– A 59-year old aboriginal woman who was charged with shoplifting. She was charged with her first criminal offense, after shoplifting 8 bottles of perfume, with the intent of reselling it to feed her family.

According to the duty council, she has been on AISH for most of her adult life, was living with severe depression and in the last four years has lived through the death of her husband, her son, her brother and her mother. According to her, she has been battling depression and was just trying to raise money to buy food for her family, and she earns $1200 a month on social assistance.

– Another lady was a 43 year old Laos immigrant, charged with shoplifting $21 worth of cosmetics. She brought to the judge two letters of reference, one from her employer, Tim Hortons, where she has worked for 13 years. Again her first offense, she did not speak English and had a Laos interpreter with her to help her understand the charges.

Two very sad stories that compelled me to wonder what we could have done as a society to prevent the crimes… let alone, why they were consuming courthouse resources, a judge’s time, a crown prosecutor’s time and the helpful, if not harried duty council there to help them. Of course the interpreter was likely provided by the tax-payer as well.

Then this week, we read about a man who was clearly mentally ill, who killed a homeless man who chose to serve a night in jail instead of paying a $100 fine for jaywalking.

What I wondered… is what all this costs? Not just the dollars wasted on behalf of the tax-payers… but of course how has the system served the public need to reform criminals and prevent crimes? Finally, of course… did a homeless man charged with jaywalking need to die at the hands of a mentally ill person… ? I AM a fiscal conservative who abhors crimes against society… but even I know that the charade I was watching was overwhelmingly expensive and offering very little real societal value.

So why is this important?

Today the Wildrose Party did only what they do well. They mocked the government’s idea for an Alternative Justice System, which would prevent these types of crimenals from having to serve penalties like financial fines (if they can’t pay) or jail time, and instead provide some kind of community service.

It’s obvious that for certain smaller crimes, especially first offenses, we should come up with a way to keep the courtrooms clear for prosecuting greater offenses.

The Wildrose Party… who allegedly care about fiscal responsibility… think that the government’s idea of Alternative Justice is a joke. They have chosen to politicize an intelligent response to a complicated problem, with a hacked-up “sarcastic coupon” offering “one-free-crime” coupons from the Premier and Minister of Justice.

 

Wildrose mocks good Alberta Government Policy

I have been a vocal opponent of the government on some lack of vision around revenue stabilization and economic diversification, as well as the cuts to the post-secondary education system…. but if the Wildrose “ideas” are our only alternative to the PC government… I would support the PC Party all day long.

Shame on the Wildrose Party. They are using red-meat populism to try and scare you into supporting them. Trust me when I assure you they are half as smart as you… and you should be offended when they play these games to try to win your favour.

Until they come up with reasonable policy, to tackle real-world problems…. Well I think they ARE the problem.

Is this the change Alberta wants?

The most recent Wildrose Alliance email newsletter just hit my inbox. (As spam goes, I must admit it entertains me a bit more than the tiring pleas of a multimillionaire from Nigeria.. or the potential of a Mrs. LaBossiere the 2nd from Russia.)

I have always been impressed with their rapid and topical communications on day-to-day events, even if sometimes they do seem to be reaching a bit. But today I was struck with the particularly negative / abrasive tone to their message. I am not a big fan of complete negativity. I love satire, I like tounge-in-cheek, but I really don’t like a baseball bat of meanness on every message. My hunch, which is completely unprofessional, is that Albertans will reject this type of politics. We may be fiercely independent, risk-taking cowboys and cowgirls here in Alberta; but we still subscribe to some good old-fashioned western manners.

Here’s an excerpt from the most recent email to Alliance supporters:

Dear friends,

They did it again.

For years, the PC Party has drifted farther and farther from Albertans’ core values – and they’ve become just as arrogant and scornful of democracy and conservative principles as the federal Liberals ever were.  But this fall, they had one last chance to get back on track. (Underline added by me…. you gotta love the reference to the Federal Liberals. Like that gun still has bullets).

Instead, they chose Alison Redford as their leader.  The PCs were hoping that by picking her, Albertans would be lulled back to sleep and go back to supporting their worn-out, 40-year dynasty.  But boy, were they wrong!  Redford has had one of the shortest political honeymoons I can think of.  Her claim to be an “agent of change” has been exposed as a sham, as she hides from accountability by trying to cancel the fall sitting of the Legislature and refusing to say when the next election will be. (emphasis is theirs).

That’s why today, we launched our first TV ad campaign, spotlighting some of the many ways the Redford government continues to fail Alberta.   It lets people know that now there is a better way, with new leadership and a new government: a Wildrose government.

Beyond the nastiness in the newsletter, we are informed of some new Television Advertising about to hit the airwaves…. now I am really starting to feel like I am in Texas… and the guns are blazing for the Governor’s mansion.

 

And finally… what I love best…. Danielle Smith’s last line in the video “Albertans are tired of politicians who will do anything for power“. If that were true, then I really look forward to hearing more from the fiscal hawk Alliance on why their party is hell bent on buying an airport in the middle of our City, which loses nearly $90M a year in opportunity cost revenue for the City of Edmonton. Since we can be assured that this was not simply doing politics for power, the justification of a nearly Billion $$ policy initiative without member endorsement, must be strong indeed.

I can’t wait to hear all about it. Assuming they can justify buying an airport…. maybe they’ll take our old bridge too?

 

Will the PC’s govern themselves accordingly?

By now we have learned that one of the six PC Leadership Candidate camps was responsible for violating a confidentiality agreement with their own party and it’s members, by distributing a private list of party members to the media. The media allegedly then shared it with Environics (I also question the ethics of Evironics in this case).

This leads me to a very simple question: Will they do the right thing and properly investigate and discipline the leadership contender that violated the confidentiality agreement – BEFORE the September 17th, vote? It’s patently unfair for a PC member to have to vote on September 17th, knowing there is a 17% chance their candidate has no respect for their privacy. It simply goes without saying that at the very least the Party should disclose the violator, even with a wrist slap, so the Party members can vote with this important information. (And let’s be honest, there will be 10’s of thousands of regular Albertans who will chose to vote in this race, regardless of normal party affiliation, to participate in the selection of the next Premier).

So, Bill Smith, will you govern yourselves accordingly?

Meet Chris – the Progressive Capitalist

This week’s blog posts and comments have been largely based around trying to define where one might stand on a political spectrum. Looking back, I am even disappointed in myself for falling for the rhetoric and false argument. I simply don’t subscribe to the left-right spectrum, and if I had to find myself on a political spectrum, I would insist on at least the two dimension concept that is propagated at The Poltical Compass. It’s fun, if not frivolous, to test yourself. But what will it tell you? Really nothing. No test, tool, person or party can label you in a political bucket, if you care to maintain your individual political equity.

However, since introspection AND unfettered opinion is an underlying theme to this blog, I decided to come up with a label for myself that I could live with. So, without further ado, allow me to describe what I mean by Progressive Capitalist. (I googled it, and enjoyed this NY Times article on the topic).

Progressive:
I was at the PC AGM last weekend, and was asked by my friend Shannon what I mean when I say that I consider myself a Progressive. For some it’s a hard label to understand, and there are those who will argue that the label itself has been sullied as a left-leaning person prone to liberalism, even socialism. I just don’t see that, and this is what I see.

Progressive to me means changing with the times. Adapting our policies, laws and values with the advent of new information and technology. It doesn’t mean moving away from individual rights, freedoms and responsibilities. I have seen examples of where Liberalism/Socialism hijacks the term Progressive in the effort to spread wealth THRU government, to those who are not deserving of it, and are unwilling to work for it. But I have also seen where Conservatives have intentionally sullied the term, and yet they then try to impose religious values on others, THRU government. Neither are acceptable to me, nor do they represent progressiveness to me.

Capitalist:
Ignoring the formal definition about capitalism, I will say that a capitalist is someone like me, who wants to be stinking rich. I am unapologetic about my desire to create wealth. Part of the Liberal movement as of late has been to associate capitalism with criminal CEO’s who steal shareholder money so they can buy $6,000 shower curtains. But to me, many of the greatest capitalists are actual great philanthropic citizens. Regardless of how much a wealthy citizen might donate back of his/her property, I firmly believe that the wealth of our society simply would not have been created without the ingenuity and efforts of those who are willing to apply themselves, and take risk.

So from a governance perspective, I would say get the hell out of my my way when I am trying to create wealth, but get between the unethical capitalists who might not care who he/she harms in their effort to create wealth. What does that translate to in real words? Well, it means having practical legislation and oversight in public financial markets, and sustainable viewpoints on the preservation of our environment, and the protection of workers in areas of safety, equality, etc.

How does this translate into Government or worse, Politics?

If I was forced to summarize my Progressive Capitalist manifesto into one or two paragraphs, while sitting in my recliner and giving it only a few minutes thought, it would look like this:

A progressive capitalist government should be held responsible for protecting those who can’t help themselves, using pragmatic distribution of our wealth (taxes), but must also steadfastly maintain an environment of innovation & individual freedoms and rights, so that same wealth can be created by those who do it best, entrepreneur’s & capitalists. Those freedoms and rights must be universally applied to all races, either gender, and people of any sexual orientation or religious or non-religious ilk.

A progressive capitalist party would be inclusive of all (big-tent) but use tools like free voting, transparent donor lists and a charter of individual rights for it’s members, to protect itself from special interests, be them internal ones like religious values, or extrenal ones like corporate special interests who only care about their profits.

Of course, that was extremely easy to write, and would be nearly impossible to apply. Our existing structure of Parliamentary Democracy is flawed in many ways, and as Senator Grant Mitchell reminded me this week, our form of Democracy is the longest standing and most successful of all democracies. Although that may be true, I do feel that as a Progressive, I can expect it to evolve with new information, ideas and technology.

I am looking forward to the end of the month, where I will join about 100 others at the Reboot Alberta event in Red Deer, to discuss how progressiveness can be applied in today’s government. The options being discussed are varied, ranging from shaping a new party, to re-shaping one or combining several. As excited as I am about the weekend, which will undoubtedly be filled with great political discussion, I am less confident that a new movement will get it’s start. Either way, we need to find a way to neuter the far ends of the spectrum, and get our current government to start thinking about “changing with the times. Adapting our policies, laws and values with the advent of new information and technology”

We get the government we deserve?

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following quote under Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) from Lettres et Opuscules Inédits, vol. 1, no. 53 (1851) (Letter of 15 August, 1811):

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite. (Every country has the government it deserves.)

I love political debate, but sometimes we forget that in our modern democracy we do in fact elect the leaders of our government, and of course our government. So in a funny way, no matter which side you may fall on a political argument, we are all to blame.

Tonights election in Paradise, Newfoundland was a perfect example. 19 year-old Curtis Coombs was elected mayor by a whopping three votes. Now I am not even going to suggest he shouldn’t have won, clearly he should have. But when you read the comments on the local newapaper’s website, there are comments like this:

“This doesn’t seem right… He has no experience in any politcal circle. Paradise is a growing town and we need someone with experience to guide us through our developmental stages. I am sorry but there are more Ralph supporters than Kurtis. Most people I spoke with didn’t bother to vote because we figured Ralph would win in a land slide. There are 4 individuals in my own family who support Ralph but didn’t vote. While I realize my mistake and wish I had voted, I feel that I cannot and will not support this mayor.”

Well people of Paradise, if the majority of you expected others to do your duty for you, and that was for incumbent Ralph Wiseman to walk away with the election, you screwed up. Also, to the supporters of young Mr. Coombs, good on you.

Now who’s betting with me that Coombs ran an engaged Social Media campaign and attracted new young voters to the election, finding a new way to get people engaged?

So what? Well, it makes me think even more about the 11,400 students on Facebook who are with me against Section 9 of Bill 44. In the next few weeks I will be doing everything I can to keep this issue alive, and something tells me I am siding with the right demographic. Stay tuned. As a hint, the PC AGM is where this discussion can be brought back to the front-page.

Awesome.

Some unsolicited advice to the ‘Old Boys Network

There is simply no reason for any leader, of any organization, to ignore social media as a fad, waste of time or something that can be delegated to a department.

The old way of doing things involved paying professionals to develop your message. It could be vetted, checked and double-checked, and finally approved by the layers of your organization. You had time to think about your message, and in doing so it’s likely that the message was accurate, if not a bit neutered. Once your audience received and consumed your message, they were limited to debate in person, over the telephone or one-way mediums like television and radio. If they had an opinion, and wanted to share it by word-of-mouth, your downside (and upside of course) was limited to the inefficient methods I have mentioned. Maybe not screaming into a vacuum, but damn close.

What’s changed? Well now your hundreds, thousands or millions of stakeholders suddenly control their own media channel. Your problem is that you mock this channel as the time-wasting plaything of kids, geeks and housewives. What you don’t see is that they can now talk in real-time, in a highly leveraged manner, where one persons comment can become a meme shared by many with their Twitter followers, Facebook friends and blog-readers. At the very least, think of social media as word-of-mouth on steroids.

If you’re not familiar with the term re-tweet, you have a responsibility to your organization to learn what it means. If the Facebook question “What’s on your mind” isn’t clue enough, perhaps you should go back to studying the basics of word-of-mouth.  I know you understand word-of-mouth, so why do you dismiss the newfound ability of millions to spread their word so easily and rapidly?

I know why; I was just testing you. It’s because you are scared, and you don’t understand them. Oh yeah, and one more thing, you hate that you can’t control the discussion going on within them. But before you run out and consider hiring a social media “expert”, you should ask yourself one simple question.

“If virtually anyone from any walk of life can adopt these new tools, maybe they’re simply not that difficult to figure out? Maybe I have a responsibility to see first hand how they might actually serve my organization, instead of trying to lock them down, or delegate them to a department?”

Trust me when I say that you can’t control what is said about you or your organization in the social networks and web 2.0 world that we now live in. What you can do is establish your own identity, share your own thoughts, and encourage others to do the same. Let your employees become your biggest word-of-mouth ambassadors. Don’t be afraid of making small mistakes in a blog comment, or sharing a little too much personal information in a tweet. BUT be afraid of the day when all of the conversation is happening without you, and your obvious attempt to get into the conversation with zero history and credibility leaves you marginalized as a single voice among many.

That is the greatest element of social media; each individual begins their social network journey at the same place and all voices are considered equal. From there, you get what you give. Sure you can engage a consultant to help you set your strategy, but one-way messages are a thing of the past, and glossed over public relations will never again be able to suppress the real-time thoughts of the masses.