Monday, July 23, 2007

A Wildrose by Any Other Name...

Nation, I have been watching with unbridled curiosity to see what would come of the latest off-spring of populism in Alberta politics, the Wildrose Party. Avid politi-philes in Alberta know that watching for the "next big thing" in Albertan provincial politics is often as exhaustive and, ultimately, unsatisfying as waiting for Canada to qualify for the FIFA World Cup - history tells you it HAS to happen, EVENTUALLY - but you just aren't seeing it as too likely to happen while you're young enough to enjoy it.

Indeed, Alberta's history is replete with parties that promised to be "the next big thing", and ended up as footnotes in a Wikipedia article. Many of these parties have garnered attention in their formative stages, had lots of media momentum coming out of their foundings, and then quickly dropped off the radar as their policy platforms were high-jacked by extreme elements, or they realized that running a full slate of candidates is prohibitively expensive, or societal trends marginalized the party's key issue(s) before it could get elected to more than a handful of seats.

I thought that, on the 1-month anniversary of the Wildrose Party's founding, I'd take an in-depth look at this party, and see whether it is showing signs of being the political juggernaut that its supporters claim it is on the cusp of becoming, or of being the latest in a long line of also-rans in the "one party state" that is Alberta.

There is certainly a "buzz" in political circles about the Wildrose Party at this time, with some self-described "pundits" all-but declaring that the Tories check under their beds each night for the soon-to-be-governing Wildrose-ers. Indeed, this could in fact be "the Big One", if the Tories fail to keep to the straight-and-narrow, and fail to drastically improve their communications strategy. Laughably, these "columnists" (some in print, some "citizen journalists", aka bloggers) suggest that the Wildrose breakthrough could come this Fall, in a provincial election that they contend is being pondered exclusively due to Tory fear of the Wildrose Party.

I can tell you that the Tories are watching the Wildrose Party, to see what they do. But at this time, the Tories fear Wildrose like a fat kid fears a cup-cake.

The problem is, at this point, Albertans don't even know who the Wildrose party IS. They are, at best, vaguely aware of the new party. But Henry and Martha have no idea for what the Wildrose Party stands. Which makes sense, because many supporters of the new party have no idea for what it stands, either. They have stated that they won't come out with a policy platform until their membership votes on a platform - good, common political sense, but in the meantime, they're being trumpeted as a contender without a single plank in their platform. Electing this party before a policy convention (and the special interest groups trying to high-jack said convention) would be writing a blank cheque - something Albertans are loathe to do. A POTENTIAL force? Sure. But with no clear policy (besides protecting Alberta's interests where they are at odds with Ottawa's), Wildrose has as much chance of being Alberta's next governing party as does the NDP (that is to say, "none").

Case in point: Link Byfield, an officer of the new party, recently wrote as follows:

The small alternatives of the past were not broadly based, and focused on the wrong things. They offered either separation or more right-wing government. Most Albertans have never wanted either, and still don’t.

Okay, so that's a big supporter of the new party, a member and officer, and a media person (and, it needs to be said, a SENATOR-ELECT for Alberta) analyzing the political climate in Alberta to be one that doesn't want separation, and doesn't want the government to move to the right. In other words, be fiscally responsible, and socially progressive - like the Klein Tories (like them or hate them, the current Tory party is NOT the party of Ralph Klein). With a charismatic leader and policies that fall into that grey area ("fiscally responsible and socially progressive"), the government benches could be had.

So, Link believes that Wildrose is destined to be that party... in his words, again: "Most Albertans have never wanted (more right-wing government), and still don't." So, the Wildrose Party, in Link's opinion, isn't going to be a right-wing, socially conservative entity.

Then we run across reports that many at the party's founding meeting were concerned with the fire-breathing complaints that the current PC's aren't "socially conservative enough", and don't represent "family values" (a euphemism for "they tolerate queers and abortionists"). As Alberta PC's nearly learned the hard way during their own recent leadership race, the more people with the same taste who pay to get into the dance, the more likely you'll be dancing to their music, like it or not, by the end of the night. The PC's were nearly driven to the far right, socially, because a lot of social conservatives bought memberships to support a particular leadership candidate. This is the danger of grass-roots politics, which is one of the touch-stones of the Wildrose Party's stated principles.

And therein lies the danger for this party as a whole.

Alberta, on the whole, is not a socially conservative province.

Insert gasps here.

There. I said it. Are you happy now?

The reality is that the most popular leader this province has had in decades was a social liberal. He was repeatedly re-elected, by ridiculous margins, because most of the province's voters agreed with either his fiscal conservatism (at first) or his socially liberal attitudes, or both.

Henry and Martha want to keep the money they earn, and to be left alone. They don't want to be lectured about how they SHOULD be living, or how they SHOULD feel about certain social issues, or to be made to feel guilty... if they want that sort of thing, there are plenty of churches to which they can go that would happily supply it. They want their government to tax them as little as possible, waste even less, and leave them the heck alone.

BUT... social conservatism is still a VERY vocal minority. SoCons have tried, and failed, to win the hearts and minds of Albertans through the Alberta Alliance Party on the provincial stage. They then tried to win control of the PC Party, and narrowly lost. Not the type to wander lost in the desert for 40 years (ironically, if you know your Bible), they now see a potential vehicle for their particular view of how Alberta SHOULD be: A new political party, getting media coverage, without a previously-established platform and espousing the value of grass-roots, bottom-up policy-making. "Hey," they think, "if we all buy memberships and vote on the party platform and policy initiatives, we can make this party stand for whatever we want".

And, in all likelihood, they will.

I don't know how to stop this from happening, without betraying the ideology of grass-roots politics, which I agree with more often than not. But I know that if some of the smart and good-intentioned people already within the Wildrose Party can't come up with something to stop this from happening, they're very likely to end up with a party that looks suspiciously like Republican Lite. And unless every centrist and left-of-centre voter in the province stays home on election day, that party will fail to win election.

A party founded in the hope of improving life for all Albertans deserves a better fate than to be crushed by the politics of self-interest and activist minorities. Those kinds of politics just drive a wedge between us as citizens, and polarize us in a way that isn't healthy for a community OR a democracy. Rich vs. poor, white vs. coloured, urban vs. rural, Christian vs. not-so-much, it all boils down to an ugly, ugly state of affairs in our society.

The Alberta of 2007 won't elect a socially conservative party. Link Byfield knows this. Hopefully, the rest of the Wildrose Party keeps that in mind as well.

For more information on the Wildrose Party, visit their website here.

- E.S.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pssst... Hey, You... Wanna Run For Office?

One of the most common statements I hear about the politicians and leaders of today is that they're all crooked and morally bankrupt. "More people of good character and pure intentions should run for office", they say. I agree.

Let's look, though, at the process involved.

First, you decide to run. For simplicity's sake, let's say you're going to run for Member of Parliament. Huzzah! Joe Citizen for MP of, say, Everytown, Manitoba.

So you've decided to run. Now you have to ask yourself, for whom? Will you run as an independent? There's a certain romanticism about it - beholden to no one, David versus Goliath, all that jazz. Or will you run for a party nomination, and eliminate the financial question from the board - at the cost of the ability to act independently? Money IS an issue - it costs many thousands to run and have a chance at winning. So you go the party route.

Now you have to win your party nomination. If the party has any chance of winning the seat, you'll have at least 3 or 4 people contesting the nomination. You'll have to round up between 50 and 500 signatures from riding residents who are probably also required to be party members (unless you're in Calgary - West, but don't get me started). Then you get to go to the nomination meeting, where the other candidates will impugn your character, list the reasons why you are incapable of doing the job, and you'll be faced with a room full of people who were promised various things if they made sure to show up at the meeting and vote - whether or not they cared, or were party supporters or members even a couple weeks ago.

Somehow, miraculously, you survive the nomination meeting, and win the party nomination in Everytown.

So now it's election time. The other parties have hired operatives to dig into your background. During the campaign, it comes out that you smoked pot when you were 15. When you were 19, you had sex with your 17 year-old girlfriend of 2 years - outside of marriage (gasp!). You cheated on a test once in university. You have a friend who is a practicing pagan. And, while we can't PROVE anything, you've been seen having coffee with a neighbour. A single, good looking, female neighbour.

None of these things is even remotely related to policy. And yet, your family - wife, kids, parents, all of them - are reading these allegations, true or not, in the paper. "Leaks" from the other parties. In the local debates, the parties plant protesters to "boo" whenever you speak. Leaflets arrive at doors in the area listing all of your moral failings, real or imagined. Your lawn signs are vandalized, no longer reading "Joe - on your side", but now reading "Joe - child rapist". All parties disavow any knowledge of this horrifying stunt, but it was only posted on main street during the morning rush-hour before your office heard about it, so only several thousand voters made a mental connection between you and child rape.

Election day comes - and you win! A win for the good guys!

Now you sit in government (obviously, you weren't running for the NDP). You show up for work every day before 7, and you're at work in various committees and panels, as well as sitting in the House, returning calls and letters from constituents, and making media appearances, until well after 9 each night. You see your wife and kids a few times a week. Your dog forgets who you are. Your party whip is speed-dial 1 on your cell-phone, and your mother is speed-dial 8. You're making about $80,000 a year, all told, and all it's costing you is your relationships with those you love, and the fact that the 65% of voters who DIDN'T vote for your party in the election now call you all sorts of nasty things, and refer to you by your last name only. "Everyman's a sycophant", the educated ones claim. "He's just a mental midget, holding onto his seat by sheer luck alone.".

But you keep at it, and 2 years later, you're rewarded with a junior cabinet post in a mid-term cabinet shuffle.

So now you're working from 6 until 11 - 17 hour days, only 4 of which happen in front of cameras. Your wife starts an affair. Your kids start calling him "dad", and you "Joe". You get seen having a late-night meeting with a single MP, and the papers scream bloody murder about the affair you're having. It's in the paper for 4 days, until Paris Hilton stubs her toe. You've gotten a raise, though, and if you can hold onto your seat for a few more elections, you can count on a government pension for the rest of your life. Every opposition MP makes nice with you behind closed doors, but calls you an incompetent yes-man in front of the cameras.

You keep your nose to the grind-stone, though. A year later, your ministry announces plans to build infrastructure in British Columbia. You fly out, coach, to attend the ground-breaking ceremony. While you're there, in front of the cameras, protesters scream obscenities at you and accuse you of doing nothing and working 4 hour days, 4 days a week, while suckling at the taxpayer teat. Then, with cameras rolling, one walks up to you and slams a pie in your face, protesting the government's stance on climate change/Native land claims/Middle-East peace initiatives.

Sounds like fun. Where do I sign up?

And we wonder why it's so hard to get well-intentioned people involved in the system.

- E.S.

Monday, July 9, 2007

More Potential Pie-Throwing Idiocy

Nation... if we've been over this once, we've been over it a thousand times. Trying to smack a politician you dislike in the face with a pie isn't protest. It's not clever. It's not cute. It's not funny. He or she doesn't have it coming for ignoring you, not writing you back, being a jerk, or having unpopular policies.

What it IS, is assault.

Striking someone with ANYTHING without their consent is assault. You could hit them with a feather pillow and it would be assault - because in this society, you're NOT ALLOWED TO HIT PEOPLE YOU DON'T KNOW. These are the rules we all agree to live under - it's a condition of civilization. We all agree to, for example, give up our right to steal other people's property, because we don't want our property stolen.

I understand that people are facing hardships. I understand that people want rent controls and affordable housing, and consider the lack thereof a condemnation of this government... I understand your frustration - I really do. I'm a renter in Calgary. Not a day goes by I don't feel a sense of dread as I check my mailbox for envelopes with my landlord's logo on them. But the right to protest does not supercede the right of the Premier, or anyone else, to personal security. You think he's an ineffective, hillbilly boob who doesn't understand the cities? Take his job away by voting against him, or by RUNNING against him. But if you think the best way to shed light on your plight is to smack him in the face, then be prepared for the people around you to cast off the shackles of civilization as well.

The Enlightened Savage is sick of the degradation of debate in this country to the point where, rather than having an enlightened discussion, we are faced with morons who would rather just throw a pie in a politician's face. To bring my disgust and frustration to the attention of the media, I think I'll go find a pie-thrower, and punch her in the face.

Seems a little extreme?

It is. So knock it off. If assault is good for the goose...

- E.S.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Back in the Saddle

Nation, I apologize for being incognito over the past several weeks... suffice it to say, real life intervened in a most difficult-to-ignore way, but now that things are back to a semblance of normalcy, the Enlightened Savage is back in the saddle!

Now then, on to the issues of the past 2 weeks...

Premier Stelmach Makes Cabinet Additions

Good move, if a little transparent. Stelmach needed more urban representation, and more women in cabinet. Now, he has both. Ceremonial or not, nobody can accuse Stelmach of ignoring Calgary with a freshly-minted Deputy Premier from the city. Now, the trick is going to be whether Ed can go on the offensive, take the fight to Bronco, and give Calgarians a reason to come out and vote PC in the next election. An election which, if the Stelmach government wants to retain ANY semblance of democratic legitimacy, needs to be held in the first half of 2008, polling numbers be damned. The longer he waits, the more that Henry and Martha will want to vote him out, just to prove a point.

UFO Enthusiasts Get Letter From G.G.

Well, those NDP voters need to come from SOMEWHERE, right?

Tories Will Overhaul RCMP, Inquiry Deemed Unnecessary

The RCMP badly needs a re-boot. Corruption, politicization, cover-ups... this is not what the Canadian public has come to expect from those proud few for whom "Maintain the Right" is supposed to be more than a catchy turn of phrase, but rather a way of life.

That being said, the Federal Tories need to do this in public. I know that Stock Day seems to think that Osama gets CPAC, and further, the Torie just have a general hate on for ANYTHING relating to an inquiry as being non-productive, drawn-out pits of taxpayer dollars. BUT, if you're trying to differentiate yourself in the public eye from the OTHER guy, the last thing you want to do is run plays from his playbook. The "real work happens where the peon voter can't see it" mentality, whether or not it's the true view of the Harper Tories, can't be held aloft publicly in this manner. It's a public institution, funded by public dollars, and carrying a public trust. This needs to be done in public. Voters like to feel important - if you don't make them feel that way, they'll remind you when they get the best chance, on Election Day, just how important they actually are. Ask Brian Mulroney's Tories, after the boss left them high-and-dry to face the wrath of the voters.

Ed Says We Need a Royalty Review

Darn tootin' we do. The only thing more embarrassing to Alberta than the current infrastructure deficit after how many years of multi-billion dollar surpluses, is the idea that we may squander our future economic health as well with meaningless reforms to the Royalty system.

Alberta, and Albertans, need to get more for their oil and gas than they are, currently. Increasing our share of the royalties will slow down production, without a doubt. It will hurt the economy, without a doubt. But the oil companies will come back, without a doubt. Because they HAVE to - the oil isn't going to dry up and blow away and end up in Palm Springs. If they want it, they've got to pay a fair price for it. Because it belongs to me and you and the people of Alberta, and we need to be sure we're getting fairly compensated, so that our government can afford to give us the things we need - like roads, hospitals, mass transit, a high-speed rail line from Calgary to Edmonton, scholarships for medical students, reduced student loan loads, income tax reductions or even elimination, schools, teachers, Alberta Sheriffs, protection for our parks and forests, affordable housing, et cetera, et cetera...

Stephen Versus the Senators

The old adage goes "You get more flies with honey than with vinegar". I don't know if Harper has tried honey, but I think the Canadian public is behind him on this one. This isn't an issue that's up there with climate change, or where our next meal is coming from... but Canadians think the Senate needs to change. The Senate hasn't said that they disagree, they've asked for an opinion from the Supreme Court. The bottom line is, the Senate WILL change, because the Canadian public will demand that it do so. The only question is, will it do so of its own volition? The Senate had best not fight this, because as all true hockey fans know... the Senators just can't win the big one.

Belinda's Battle

Politics is a game. What Ms. Stronach is going through is a life-and-death struggle. Like her politics or not, she's a real person, with family and friends who love her. I'd like to think I speak for all of the E.S. Nation when I wish her a speedy recovery and a long, happy life ahead. There's a rant in there somewhere, about how we can cure baldness and erectile dysfunction but can't do jack all about cancer... but that's for another time.

Jack Layton: Screw the Afghans, Let's Get Outta Here!

According to Jack Layton, too many people are dying in Afghanistan. His solution? Leave. Of course, then many thousands more will die, because Omar and Hedy in Kabul don't have self-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in their spare room - they've got photo albums and a used baby crib. But to hell with them, says Jack. Let their neighbours kill them - it's not our fight. Pull the troops out, and we can talk about this like adults. Neville Chamberlain, meet your soulmate.

Sorry, Jack... that's not what Canada's about. We're about protecting and defending those who can't protect and defend themselves. Standing on the sidelines and watching innocent people suffer never struck me as an NDP value. As one of your heroes might have said: "We do not do these things because they are easy... we do them because they are hard."

Nation, that should give you plenty to chew on. Never fear - I'll be back on the job MUCH sooner than last time. :)

- E.S.