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.