7 Dog Years Later.

A year ago tonight, I was summarily rejected by the people of Edmonton Rutherford; caught up in the election sweep of Alberta by the Rachel Notley led NDP – benefactors of a widespread rejection of our 44 year old PC government. In my opinion, history will prove it was PC establishment arrogance that lost the election and had nothing to do with any new ideas, let alone better ones, from the NDP. But the NDP won, and for that they own the right to govern Alberta for four years. I will always be cheering for Alberta – so by extension, I will cheer for them/us. Until of course the next election.

I wasn’t ever 100% sure I wanted to be a politician. I have always wanted to drive my ideas and ideals into good governance; but the role of an elected official was always one that still freaked me out. As an independent business owner and the kind of guy who likes to call a spade a spade, it became very obvious, very fast, that running for office is no place for someone who has a strong opinion and can’t keep it to her/himself.

Frankly, seeking the nomination, the two-months of glad-handing and door-knocking, was in many ways a daily hell. I was expected to bite my lip and told to skip debates, I had my written words changed by the people behind the war-room curtain, and every day as I walked to the doors of regular Albertans, who I am sure I would have normally really enjoyed… I was called a liar, a cheat, arrogant and entitled. Not because they knew anything about me, since of course they didn’t, but because every political race needs a loser and far too many regular citizens think all politicians are assholes. Of course in 2015 our PC party, as a whole, essentially fit both descriptions.

These are not complaints. I quite sincerely found daily energy from the 150 volunteers who gave me their support in time, money and encouragement. Because of the volunteers, family and friends, it was all, almost, bearable. Perhaps like a sexual rendezvous with an exotic stranger, it may come with some exhilarating moments…. but, just as likely, it can leave you with lingering regret, a sore back and some questioning of your own judgement.

So why bother writing this piece of reflective, self-indulgent and essentially pointless piece? Well, basically because I needed to finally put the whole thing behind me. My year since May 5th, 2015, has been everything but politics. I have literally hidden in corners of rooms to avoid having to talk about my brief political experience. I am ready to finally think about what it might mean to get back involved in my community and my vision for all three levels of government. That doesn’t mean I am interested in ever going back to politics… just that I am hopeful for good governance and will be there to help find it.

I am happy to be back writing as well, and hope to publish here more regularly.

Peace, Order and Good Government

FIRST HALF

The phrase ‘peace, order and good government’, a technical component of the Constitution Act, has meaning beyond my understanding; stuff of parliament, provincial vs. federal powers, taxation, etc. The cultural principles of POGG however make sense to me. I firmly identify with it as a Canadian and I suspect most everyone else does too. It’s really who we are as citizens.

Strangely, I thought of this with about 2:00 minutes left in the CFL version of the Battle of Alberta, Eskimos vs. Stampeders. A redux of the same battle from last weekend, an important game for both teams as first place is within the grasp of each. Absorbing the sunshine and a few cold beers, I was with my family and friends, sharing a gorgeous Saturday evening with 41,000 fellow Albertans.

At the exact same time, just one train stop down the LRT line, another Battle of Alberta (a PC party optimist would argue Battle FOR Alberta) had come to a close.

The leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and our new Premier was elected by a group of members smaller than half of the football fans at Commonwealth Stadium. The announcement witnessed at the Expo Centre, by an even smaller group, no more than the first 20 rows of fans seated in our Section X. Also, interestingly, a new Premier for the Province and nary a word from the football game announcer. A smart move by the team, as the Eskimos could ill-afford a misdirected chorus of boos from a cynical citizenry. Even at the PC Convention, the room was reportedly subdued. No raucous after-parties were advertised, the Prentice team avoided the typical hubris of this type of victory; as if everyone knew, “tonight proves nothing”.

I couldn’t help but feel torn. I wanted to be there to hear the outcome, feel the room and assess the character of a Premier who says he is committed to changing how a 43 year-old government, well, governs. But, the Battle of Alberta was still within reach of my beloved Eskimos so I stayed and enjoyed the end of the game .… joining the clear majority of Albertans, at least at that moment, not caring about politics.

INTERMISSION

I have questioned myself a great deal lately, wondering (wandering?) for a political home. It’s unlike me to avoid a fight for something and I have searched for answers politically, nearly my entire life. I believe in the systems and science of good government and know that we are lucky to have, in democracy, the best of a bad lot. I don’t take it for granted and yet I have chosen the partisan sidelines. I need to unpack that, and I can only start by letting some thoughts flow freely:

I am convinced that Alberta is basically drowning in ‘Peace, Order and PROSPERITY’. Prosperity, to many, is a good enough substitute for good government; ignoring that for short periods of time, it can be had with or without good government. A stroke of luck, like high priced oil, can also mask a lot of bad government. Of course we may ignore the actual problems created by prosperity: a damaged environment, economic stragglers, or the risk from lacking economic diversity. But, if $150,000 50/50 draw prizes are any indication, we are basically inclined to sit fat, dumb and happy when presented the opportunity. Me included.

I also believe that normal citizens care little for politics and only concern themselves with outcomes (see above); and as long as things are moving along swimmingly, we can ignore the responsibility of having to stay informed or getting involved with politics. This became obvious as I spent a few years of my life trying to help build a new political party with the Alberta Party. Thankless work to say the least, many would argue a complete waste of time.

Finally, I am convinced that many of those who do choose partisan politics, think they can remedy a declining interest in citizen politics with a raised, shrill voice. Attacking and mauling any idea, good or bad, that is not theirs. Crafting ridiculous spin to ridiculous issues, made up for selfish partisan reasons only. A cause and effect, leading to smaller parties and even more cynical citizens. Definitely making it harder for the good ones, fighting the good fight. (This is where many on Twitter have devolved for anyone who follows the #ableg hashtag)

SECOND HALF

I am ready to get back in the game of democracy; if not on the field, maybe as a simple commentator, maybe as a coach, definitely as a fan. As a taxpayer I have certainly bought my ticket and I am going to get my money’s worth.

But in an Alberta context, what is one to do? There are as many opportunities to get involved, as there are bad sport analogies. We must also be honest with ourselves and accept that over the next two years, a Jim Prentice government will reveal it’s ability to provide us good government or it will not. As an Albertan first, I am never going to undermine those efforts. Well beyond that, I am going to hope and trust that it can be done. Mr. Prentice is a very accomplished public servant who had little to gain personally taking on this rotten task – so I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he will reveal his plan and implement many changes to a positive effect.

Also, since I am mostly concerned about the Good Government leg of the tripartite motto mentioned above, (it’s the one we as citizens have the most direct control), it would seem this is the best place to focus one’s efforts. It’s time to support a real effort in reforming the way the government functions. We should be pushing our ideas on transparency, citizen engagement, and good policy. We should admonish the government if they stray from this. But this is our government today, is our home team, like it or not.

Many of my partisan friends will mock this as blind faith in a team that has lost its moral authority to govern, or that “past performance indicates future results”. It may be and they might; but I am going to join the majority of Albertans and eschew the partisan rhetoric.

Good luck Mr. Prentice. Don’t forget that you are playing the game FOR us Albertans. We are your team, not the PC Party.

Go Alberta Go!

Questioning a Jim Prentice coronation

Danielle Smith Leader of the Opposition

Danielle Smith
Leader of the Opposition

I have met Danielle Smith. I like her. She is forthright and a great communicator; fun, authentic and passionate for her ideals.

I’ve known Greg Clark for some time. I really like him. Greg is the perfect example of the new Alberta in my opinion. Young family, entrepreneur who started and built a fast growing knowledge economy business, passionate about a social safety net and innovation in politics, but still fiscally pragmatic and experienced. He is also leading a movement of young, idealistic, and innovative Albertans.

Greg Clark Alberta Party Leader

Greg Clark
Alberta Party Leader

I’ve even met Brian Mason and Raj Sherman, who both interest me. Mason, has been perhaps the most passionate supporter of his beliefs of any MLA I have watched. A great public servant who wears every one of his ideals on his sleeve. I’d suggest most Albertans admire his work ethic, even if his political beliefs are often in conflict with our business-loving ethos.

Sherman, who in my opinion, has troubles containing his hubris, still busts his ass for his struggling party and brand. He is an animated character, and I think a pretty good guy. Even if I wouldn’t trust him to good governance.

But, for every one of these party leaders, I have an idea of their character. They have made mistakes and they have made impassioned pleas about a future Alberta. Love them or hate them, I at least understand them.

So, let’s shift to Jim Prentice, the heir apparent to the PC Party of Alberta. What do we really know about him? Sure, It could be as simple as me not knowing him personally; maybe he is the finest character known to politics. I just don’t know. I hope we will learn more about him. He has certainly been very quiet when it comes to Albertan issues.

But, let me share with you how I FEEL.

Two weeks ago at at the Edmonton PC Premier’s Dinner, I was lucky to be the guest of some great Albertans. Two past Premier’s Chief of Staffs (to Klein & Lougheed), a First Nation’s Chief, and an Edmonton business Legend, all at my table. We were treated fairly quickly by a visit from Jim Prentice, for obvious reasons.

Jim Prentice PCAA Leader Candidate

Jim Prentice
PCAA Leader Candidate

Mr. Prentice was surrounded by a throng of party insiders. I did feel like I was witnessing the chosen one. I don’t begrudge Mr. Prentice for this, what a great position to be in. But I did pass two judgments in that moment:

  1. What has this man yet done to connect with the party machine, to prove that he has a plan to give it the reinvigoration is most desperately needs? The tribulations of the party are not entirely due to the bad leadership of Alison Redford. Much of their problems are a result of desperation in clinging to power over a genuine interest in reinventing a politic commitment to service for Albertans.
  2. Why does this party get so excited about a messiah figure, and not realize that it needs to rebuild its relationship with regular Albertans? Does the party desire to rebuild its infrastructure to serve the citizen and party member, as opposed to just their elected official. Finally, why does it pretend that things are A-OK as long as a popular new leader is found?

 

I can be convinced that Jim Prentice is a great potential Premier of the Province, but ONLY through his actions. He has chosen an old-school approach to his early leadership campaign, which relies on the typical PCAA maneuvers, and is ignoring what I think is important in any political movement in 2014. Show Albertan’s, the general public, your authentic self.

This is why I am actually more interested in seeing a PCAA race, which includes other interesting PCAA candidates. Ric McIver has been a lesser known, but certainly more authentic candidate from the start. As a Calgarian, I simply don’t know him as well, or understand his style. I have read that he is trying to tackle the “everyman” narrative, and that’s a good thing, but I am still unconvinced he has the “Royal Jelly” to transcend the party past with a renewed vision for Alberta. In a different set of words, he strikes me as a “Ralph Klein Light”. Not bad, necessarily, but not NEW, and not INSPIRING… In my opinion, certainly not enough of a character to beat Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Party, who are the best version of old politics in Alberta right now.

 

Thomas Lukaszuk Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour.

Thomas Lukaszuk
Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training & Labour.

Thomas Lukaszuk however, has an interesting potential. We know him quite well. He acts with authentic impulse on almost every issue. His social media presence in the last three years as a cabinet minister, has been polarizing to say the least. But, assuming he was playing the “bad-cop” role for Premier Redford on the Advanced Education file, we can describe him during that time as an “aggressive loyalist,” at best. Many, and I wouldn’t disagree, feel that his handling of the post-secondary (especially U of A) funding crisis was an abomination. Interfering with the Board of Governors in full public, was poorly handled and not consistent with the way the government in Edmonton has typically dealt with its appointees and normal supporters.

BUT, I have to give some credit where credit is due. Lukaszuk has been 100% authentic with us. And as much as he may have offended some Albertans, he has also made up for it by being one of the most tireless political workers I have witnessed. As past PC MLA Doug Elniski has suggested, none of the potential leadership candidates understand the grassroots public service as well as Minister Lukaszuk.

A leadership race can be a fickle and interesting thing. Day by day challenges from the opposition (outside the party) and the opposition (within the party) can make a hero transform to zero very quickly. Jim Prentice is the most accomplished individual in the race. Hands down. But he is also the most vulnerable, and deserves a tough analysis of his vision for the province.

I don’t know if I like the man or not, mostly because he is still an unknown local personality. I do wonder this:

How much can he connect with regular Albertans? How much does he value economic diversification or democratic transformation? And how much is he committed to changing the way the PC Party serves the average party member and citizen?

If these are a few of the ways we evaluate a successful Leadership candidate in Alberta right now (It’s how I do), I like Thomas Lukaszuk, Greg Clark, Danielle Smith, Brian Mason and Raj Sherman… at least right now, until we hear from the polished and old school Jim Prentice.

I like them better, because I feel I know them. I FEEL I have seen into their heart, if only a little bit. Not just their expansive wallets.

I like authentic, servant leaders. Even if they are not perfect.