WAIT FIVE MINUTES, it’s been said, and the weather can change in Alberta.
One day we’re basking in +30, sunshine & shorts; the next, a snowstorm clobbers the Rockies.
Same for politics: it’s been unusually muggy. And next day it’s not. And the day after that…
These forces of nature aren’t about to let up anytime soon.
The price of oil is on the upswing, and so is the queue of companies virtuously promising net-zero emissions. Oil sands oil is not on their wish list.
Alberta is the ugly duckling in the oil patch—a problem of perception we can’t fix—eastern-based banks are reeling in loans to our junior oil and gas players. And it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s going to happen next.
IS THE SKY FALLING?
We hit an inflection point in April of last year, when COVID-19 brought Alberta’s already vulnerable economy to its knees. So much has happened since then, you can’t be faulted for forgetting the Fair Deal Panel (FDP) that canvassed Albertans for their opinions in the months before the plague.
Donna was a member of the FDP. She heard just about all you might imagine one could politely hear from people who are frustrated about their future in Canada. And there was anger—then.
And then there was March 2020. Fear. Lockdowns. And today, it’s safe to say Albertans are in a different place.
You can feel the mood shift. It’s been abrupt.
The revelation of unmarked graves at a former residential school in British Columbia has shifted public attention away from Alberta’s grumble about a ‘fair deal’ to the horror of over two hundred kids (and God knows how many more in the country) hastily buried and promptly forgotten about while in care of the federal government and its religious partner.
People are fed up. And there are sparks of rebellion: In Toronto, angry young people toppled the statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system. The police, uncertain of their role, watched and waited for leadership to tell them what to do. The people doing the toppling were given the benefit of the doubt. This is instructive.
While some are mad as hell, others are looking to move past the anger of generations of neglect. And that means action—a commitment to not ignore the truth any longer, to not deny, and to turn the negative into something uniquely positive.
WE HAVE A CHOICE:
- To change the way we go about governing ourselves; or
- Let the anarchy of whatever goes and how much we can tolerate rule the day.
There is a system of governance that we’ve forgotten about on these plains. And it’s not the one we’re presently working with as a governing model.
Our political leaders in Alberta are performing in roles designed by a Westminster parliamentary system of governance—an import to this territory from 19th century England—that casts the ruling party as decision-making authority and the opposition as critic. This business-as-usual model for governing isn’t working and needs reform (more on this in a moment) because it’s distracting us from what really needs attention. The Premier’s nearly obsessive focus on fulfilling election promises—including a referendum on equalization formulas in Canada’s Constitution—is no doubt heart-felt, principled, and earnest. But it’s creating the conditions for confusion and constrains clear-sighted and quality decision-making.
The Reform Movement (if that’s what history shall record) was birthed in the last century by the political leader Preston Manning and magazine publisher Ted Byfield. It was an ideal that grew out from Calgary, and made sense to the oil patch engineering culture in our province. Engineers work with the principle of break it, fix it, the idea of ‘reform’ in this instance was meant to improve Canada’s machinery for governance.
All good engineers critique each other’s work. They want to make things better. Better for all concerned. And it is in that spirit we encourage our political leaders to consider feedback and different takes on their ideas. These are not personal attacks, but rather critical advice in much the same way that colleagues peer review a hard science report on this-or-that.
To call a referendum on the equalization clause in our country’s constitution will raise expectations that cannot be met. So why go there? Why now?
Rather than trying to fix a problem that no longer exists, we (and countless other Albertans) would counsel the Premier to instead declare a state of urgency, and reach out to ‘critical friends’ and seek their counsel for a different perspective. A coalition is what’s needed in our territory right now; the bringing together of Alberta’s best & brightest; putting our most capable & adept into a political & economic game that’s changed from the one we started out playing.
This is not a novel idea.
In Nunavut there are no political parties. It is a consensus government. Given the tasks that need to get done, a leadership forum selects an executive council; a governance system of bringing the best people forward; a governance model indigenous for centuries in our territory, as well. First Nations leadership (and not the one imposed upon by the Crown) rotated depending on the circumstance that had to be dealt with—a military crisis proposed a very different leader to do the job, than a leader best suited to keeping the peace (more on this in a future blog post).
Engaging with outsiders to evoke fresh ideas and solutions is anathema to people who prefer order and predictability. Even more frightening is the notion of sharing decision-making with others. Yet, in times such as the one we’re in—staring down the storms and wild political weather—is it not smarter to reach out to critical friends for their feedback?
What could happen if the Government of Alberta did?
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY — scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.
7 thoughts on “Wild weather, wild politics…”
I welcome much more discussion on the system of governance in Nunavut (and as it was in the NWT when I lived there 40 plus years ago. It seems it creates much more space to discuss and debate issues, rather than positions. I look forward to more discussion!
Another great example is New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern who won a majority government, but still invited members of the Green Party to hold ministerial portfolios so that her government could benefit from their expertise and perspective on shared priorities.. Imagine if we could try that approach in Alberta!
Well, Donna, I do like the concept of which you write, that of a consensus government. I truly do like it. But, but, but…
I think that a consensus style CAN (as distinct from will) work, but only when the population is relatively small and relatively homogeneous. In such a setting people are likely linked by blood, friendship, or other direct ties and have very similar values and aspirations. I do not see anything at all like that in Alberta. I think that we are (relatively, that is) large, composed of strangers who do not know each other and have different goals, values and aspirations with a terrific potential shared future.
I understand from talking to lawyers (I am not one, but am a retired accountant) that in a legal proceeding each side puts forth its own views (whether a trial or a business negotiation) and evidence is tested (a trial) or argued (a negotiation) and then the parties arrive at a decision.
Politics as it currently works in essentially such a fashion. The problem arises when, I would posit, that the political parties are concerned with gaining / maintaining power or detracting from the power held by their opponents. I think that there is too little consideration of the common good. Now, having said that, I do understand that one side will say that the other “… is only catering to their fat cat friends…” or, alternatively “… serving their union masters…” and so forth. I truly think that these talking points are often correct – without the pejorative language, that is – simply because each side sees that their supporters are those that actually do serve the maximum number of members of the public. Unfortunately, the various parties see evil incarnate in the form of their opponents.
So, I guess that I am Pollyanna [sorry, that is an old reference – remember, I am retired]; I do believe that many of our political representatives are trying to do good. Again, however, but, but, but. At a certain point, I worry that politics is a career – “a calling” – and the “party line” takes over.
I do worry greatly about those who have formed their careers exclusively in government or have been there sufficiently long that they may as well have done so – hello, Jason and hello, Rachel. I worry that those types of folks have become captives of the system and I therefore am very much beginning to think that term limits are an essential item; that is a relatively recent conclusion for me.
To conclude, I believe consensus is a wonderful model for a small homogeneous population – and a wonderful aspirational model for other jurisdictions. We, however, are a large heterogeneous population that is dynamic and wonderful simply due to that heterogeneity and while we might aspire to consensus, I believe that the messy stuff of argument and testing is a necessary process to bring out the best result in shares Alberta future.
The people of Alberta need to pull their heads of this gigantic orifice that they have been living and quit whining that Alberta is a victim and realize that the problems that exist are to their own making. No one told us to keep relying on fossil fuels as our source of revenue or deny the reality of climate while electing political leaders for decades who would continue ensure that no change would ever come. If aliens were to visit our great province they would conclude that we are another example of a failed species.
Donna, it seems to me that both things may be true.
That is, in some ways, Alberta IS a victim. Now, having said that, so what – what are we going to do about it?
I agree, we don’t want to keep relying solely on fossil fuels. I agree that the climate is changing – but then it ALWAYS changes. I further argue that whether humans are to blame for the climate change is or is not true is simply not relevant; society has decided – whether correctly or incorrectly – that is the “correct” approach that is the “truth” and we have to live with it.
I simply don’t know any aliens – I do know strange people, but not aliens – so I will not speak to how aliens would judge us. I do know that we are responsible for our own future. Many people have argued that Alberta has failed to diversify it’s economy but I truly think they are absolutely wrong insofar as Alberta has TRIED to diversify it’s economy for the last forty or so years but, so often, those efforts were misguided and expensive – just think of the government boondoggles over that period in which the province has tried to encourage / subsidize / push forward / etc. various industries, technologies, etc., all of which were oriented to the great god of “diversification.” I would also note that many new industries have developed in Alberta due to our educated workforce, our technological ability, etc.
Ultimately – sorry, this is going to sound lame – we simply need to do better. We need to do more to generate additional new success stories.
Our resource industry is getting more and more efficient and – believe it or not – that includes carbon efficiencies. We need to lever what we have learned in the resource industry to wider application in the larger economy. We don’t need any more government programs of massive nature, large expenditures of money, etc. What we do need is to take those things we already do well and to make them more useful in a larger world.
So easy to say but hard to do. But, that is where we are. Retired folks like me are the past and, to some extent, the present; we are not the future but we can assist our children and grandchildren in utilizing the technologies and techniques that have been developed in the resource industry to wider use.
So, ultimately – yes, that word again – it is simply a long slog, one foot in front of another, using the revenues from resources to fund the push in new directions. More of the same (the successful same, please – not the unsuccessful same).
You speak in the language of stewardship Ken. It’s true; we are stewards of this territory called Alberta.
The metaphor of aliens is used because it is the only being that might be objective and look logically at the fate of our species. Noam Chomsky has used this metaphor quite a bit. In terms of the climate always changing, I think that you need to consult climate scientists like Michael Mann on this. While the climate has changed it has changed quite dramatically over my short lifetime. The scientists might debate the effects of this change, they don’t debate the essential point that humans are the drivers of this. While it is true that there are Albertans who do accept the science, but many still don’t. These individuals elected the politicians who like Ralph Klein and others who did nothing or very little. You are right that we need to do better but until we actually look at the fact that we are the authors of our misfortune we won’t actually do better. In terms of diversifying our economy this might be possible given that even average citizens who differ with me believe that the oil industry won’t employ the same number of people as it did before. One final thing to mention is that while there are many people who were displaced since the oil shock happened in 2014, I would remind those individuals that the reason many are reluctant to feel sympathy for them is that for years when the boom was going on many didn’t prosper and many people struggled. I think if we want help, and I believe that this is right, we really do need to show a bit of humility.