Changing Politics – Part 3 “For the people, by the people”

One of the most quotable U.S. Presidents in history was their 16th and arguably greatest ever, Abraham Lincoln. One of his most iconic quotes came during what is known as the Gettysburg Address which he delivered as the American Civil War turned in favor of Union forces.

“That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Quoted by leaders worldwide, this nugget of political genius has become an iconic endorsement of liberty and democracy that has transcended the borders of the United States into the consciousness of populations across the free world.

In recent years, Albertans have seen a substantial erosion of democratic decision-making by our Legislators. Policies have been imposed on Albertans at the hands of a long succession of majority governments that chose their own priorities and direction over the will of the people. Case in point in Alberta: the Carbon Tax.

Prior to the 2015 Provincial election, the current Alberta government under Rachel Notley did not inform Albertans the NDP intention to impose a tax on all fossil fuel usage in the form of a carbon tax. Consequently, if Albertans did not know that this was the NDP intention as a government, how could their votes deliver either consent or a mandate to impose the tax?

Time and again majority governments justify their actions by making claims that they have a mandate from the people, for hidden agendas at election time.

Here’s the fundamental flaw in that massive deception. First, as voters, we know that new governing parties do not put all of their intentions as a government on the table before elections. Second, we know that global and national economic, social and environmental conditions can change citizens’ priorities long before the expiration of any government’s four-year term, demanding that majority governments consult regularly and conscientiously with the people. The net result demonstrates that majority governments do not have the democratic authority to follow their own objectives and direction without the continuous input and direction from citizens and voters. When that model replaces our old majority government traditions, Albertans will have a true government “for the people.”

Somewhere along the way governments in Canada have lost their way. Today, those governments replace the will of the people with their own priorities to win and retain governing power. “Grassroots democracy” have become buzzwords used to bait voters to attract support. Then, the words are quickly dismissed by old parties—and new parties—as they approach elections.

Abraham Lincoln understood that government which respects the on-going and consistent democratic rights of people would seek and carry out the will of those people, first and foremost. In order to enable and empower government of the people, by the people and for the people, government must be continuously accountable to the people, between elections.

Changing politics – Part 2, A home for political orphans

Part of being an elected representative is carefully listening to what the people are saying, not just hearing the words, but actually comprehending what frustrates them and what they want. The number of people who have responded to political polls as “undecided” has grown substantially in Alberta.

The word ‘representative’ has lost its meaning to a lot of the people who are now openly expressing their discontent with how the party structure of government has failed them. Recently in a conversation I had with a gentleman from Drumheller, he described himself as a “political orphan” because he feels he has no political home and nobody worthy of his vote. It’s a term that describes how a lot of people I’ve talked to seem to be feeling these days in Alberta.

The sense of being disaffected politically seems to be rooted in a gut feeling, that regardless of who they vote for, it won’t make a difference because their representative will be forced to toe the party line and put the best interests of others outside the constituency ahead of the best interests of those they’re supposed to be representing. Most experts agree that voter disengagement is most prevalent among the young people. However, very little is being done to correct the actual problem.

Over the last 44 years, spanning 13 provincial elections, voter turnout has averaged just over 50 percent with the 2008 election seeing a dismal turnout of a mere 40.5 per cent. The numbers rebounded slightly in 2012 at 59.9 percent and in 2015 at 58.4 per cent elections but recent poll numbers suggest that another very low voter turnout may be imminent.

It’s worth noting that Albertans had a legitimate alternative to the reigning PCs in 2012 and 2015 that being the Wildrose party. But the rejection of Wildrose as government shows Albertans did not consider them as qualified. According to the overwhelming feedback I’m receiving from inside and outside the comstituency, it appears many Albertans are undecided without a legitimate alternative like they’ve had in the distant past.

A 2013 study done on Britain’s political system showed that almost half were angry with MPs and a quarter not interested in the issues their representatives were bringing forward. The study suggested that the problem was being exacerbated because politicians were not taking voter concerns seriously enough. The most stunning statement to come from the study was that young people don’t think political parties or politicians are the legitimate solution. Our politicians should be paying rapt attention.

Since making my decision to sit as an Independent Member of the Legislature, the feedback has been overwhelming from people expressing their frustration with the current political choices they have. It seems that the feelings expressed from the gentleman in Drumheller that described himself as a “political orphan” is much more prevalent than most people realize. The message is loud and clear, the electorate is broadly dissatisfied.

Although singular events contribute to the feeling of the political orphan, they are not the driving factor behind the discontent. From what the constituents of Drumheller Stettler are communicating, the decline has more to do with the structural inadequacies when it comes to the lack of direct representation they have received from political parties available over the past three decades.

As Alberta’s political parties roll out their “one size fits all” policy platforms that fall well short of fitting every Albertan in every constituency, the feeling of personal disengagement seems to be growing. If politicians fail to give people something to be passionate about, why would voters participate?

If you’re one of those people who feel like a political orphan, you may find a home in a ‘consensus government’ option. There is a grassroots rebellion rising!

Please stand by for part three!!

 

Changing Politics – Part 1

At the height of the great depression, Alberta experienced what many considered to be a ground-breaking political paradigm shift. The election of the newly formed Social Credit party displaced the United Farmers of Alberta after their 14-year run as the government of Alberta. It was such a seismic shift that papers across North America took notice, with the Boston Herald running the headline, “Alberta Goes Crazy.”

The election of the Socreds caught even the party itself by surprise! So much so, that they did not even have a leader during the campaign. The first order of business for the shocked Socred caucus of 56 members was to select a Premier designate to lead them into the Legislature.

The 1935 provincial election saw the Socreds garner an impressive 54 per cent of the vote, with an incredible voter turnout of an unprecedented 80 per cent! The Social Credit party took 56 of the 63 seats, the Liberals took five seats, and the Conservatives held the remaining two seats. The incumbent United Farmers were completely removed from the Legislature after holding a majority government for 14 years prior to the 1935 election. The political paradigm hadn’t just moved, it was completely upset by the turn of events.

The fledgling Socred party had only been founded the year before the August 22, 1935 election. A scandal involving former Premier John E. Brownlee, irreparably damaged the UFA party’s appeal, and proved to be politically disastrous. The trigger for the paradigm shift for Albertans was ultimately rooted in the lack of confidence taxpayers had in the UFA. The UFA Board of Directors voted en mass to leave politics permanently and focus on agricultural retail.

Alberta politics in recent years has been eventful to say the least; and there have been severe consequences for those who have tried to short circuit democracy. So why would people be compelled to try something new? Why would they make a shift into the unknown? What reason would be so deeply compelling that it would cause the face of an elected body to be completely disfigured? The answer is perceived unmitigated failure.

It’s reasonable to assume that in 1935, Albertans had a perception that the people they had elected had failed them in some way. Failure is not just doing the wrong thing; it can also be doing the right thing wrong. If we assess the failing state that the Alberta government currently finds itself in, it’s difficult for them to make a case for success when you consider the overwhelming potential of this province.

Albertans are ready for another shift in the paradigm that will send a wake-up call to the Legislature. When representatives lose sight of their primary purpose for being in that House, it has repercussions for Albertans, taxpayers and voters. There are strong signals around Alberta that people are tired of the same-old, same-old. Indeed, more of the same will not fix a problem that is being repeated by parties that find themselves following the same road to failure of the last three majority governments in Alberta.

It appears that the allegiance to a party has eclipsed the spirit of the oath of office and it’s not just confined to Alberta. Direct democratic representation that puts the people ahead of political parties has existed in the NorthWest Territories for some time now. The Voters elect 19 independent Members, in which the elected Members then elect a Premier and seven Cabinet Ministers out of the 19 members elected. The remaining 11 MLAs then become Independent Opposition Members, with the right to vote as their Constituents direct.

The direct democratic governance model used in the North West Territories has allowed their Legislative Members the innate ability to put their constituents’ needs singularly ahead of everyone and everything else ultimately. Isn’t that what we all expect from our representatives? What a welcome departure from Party politics which do not and will not accommodate such independence.

Collateral damage

Often times, with the best of intentions, unintended consequences befall innocent bystanders. In the zeal and excitement of achieving a goal or accomplishment, tunnel vision can often take over. An example of this could be the implementation of the carbon tax.

The Alberta government implemented the tax without the consultation of the people, other than their own political cheerleaders. We can only speculate as to what their intentions were when they made the decision to impose the tax. Regardless of their intentions, the damage has been substantial to the Alberta economy and the confidence of potential investors.

Collateral damage refers to the damage inflicted on an unintended target. Whether the consequences are intended or unintended means little to an individual that is the recipient of those consequences, and it does nothing to repair the damage that results.

As political parties in Alberta jockey for position to be the next government, a stark reality is becoming clearer, the marginalization of any meaningful public involvement or input of any kind. Albertans have witnessed an erosion of a connection between political parties and the people they claim to serve, with policy development being created and platforms implemented by the faceless bureaucracy that populates the backrooms.

The political collateral damage isn’t limited to the results of policies and legislation that bring with them unintended consequences. In many ways, the unseen damage to democracy is at the root of the carnage that ensues. Direct democracy is in serious trouble when faceless bureaucrats decide that the voter has only a choice between their carefully selected objectives.

Alberta has a growing serious deficit not only financially but democratically as well. Democracy is about choices; choices that should be left to the people, not faceless bureaucrats that are only concerned with keeping their autocratic apparatus intact.

At some point in the near future, Albertans will be faced with making another difficult political choice. As the days go by, the decision is becoming ever more clouded by a lack of clarity, as to whether candidates will represent their constituents or their party first.

In the past, democracy has been burdened with a lack of free votes for MLAs in the Legislature. The Wildrose party opened that door just a crack by passing the appropriate policy, only to have the backroom bureaucracy and leadership undermine what I considered to be one of the few beacons of democracy Albertans have ever been offered.

In both 2012 and 2015, the PCs and NDP respectively, formed majority governments. The members of both the 2012 PC and 2015 NDP caucuses have, with very rare exception, voted in favor of every government Bill that has been tabled in the Legislature. Theoretically, that means that every Bill the government MLAs have voted on was in the best interests of every riding they held. Common sense tells us this is simply not the case. This means that at the expense of direct democracy, MLAs knowingly and willingly voted against their constituents’ best interests. Not only were the parties complicit, they facilitated, and at times, coerced (whipped) them to do so.

Albertans are rapidly coming to the conclusion that these political entities are putting their self-serving needs first, leaving Albertans behind as collateral damage.

You don’t vote for the tail

In order for a society to achieve democracy it must have the ability to participate freely and equally in the political and economic affairs that affect that society. True democracy reflects the will of the people free from manipulation of the bureaucracy and backroom management of the unelected.

When the bureaucracy overtakes the elected representatives it is often referred to as “the tail wagging the dog.” That refers to the less important and vital parts of an entity becoming more important than the actual people who were elected to make decisions on your behalf. Unfortunately it is something that has become far too common on today’s political landscape.

To properly hold elected representatives to account, we must first distinguish the difference between their responsibility and the accountability we should reasonably expect from them. Responsibility refers to the duty of care the elected representative has to those who have entrusted them with their best-interests. Accountability, on the other hand, is the moral obligation to answer for their actions when carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to you which makes it very difficult to hold them accountable when they ultimately are not making the decisions.

As the elected member of the Alberta Legislature for Drumheller Stettler it is reasonable for the constituents to have that expectation of accountability from me. That accountability came of my own free-will when I allowed my name to stand in the last 2012 and 2015 general elections. My responsibility and accountability is to every constituent – with no exceptions.

It’s important to respect that the electorate has certain reasonable expectations of their duly elected representatives, but unfortunately given the chance the bureaucracy can undermine those expectations. The problem is that the expectations of the electorate have little to no value to the bureaucrats that are ultimately not accountable to voters. As we move towards the decision Albertans are going to have to make in the next provincial election it will be of great importance to avoid the pitfalls we’ve seen in the past.

The preservation of your democratic right is ultimately up to those elected to protect it. In the coming months you will have the opportunity to ask questions of those vying for a seat in the legislature and it’s important that those people understand what your expectations are. It’s important to let people that want to be your representatives know that you’re not alright with bureaucrats running the show.

Our provincial representation has evolved into a process that has become largely undemocratic. The lack of free votes by MLAs in the Legislature and the expectation to tow the party line being pushed by the unelected bureaucrats removes the democracy that should belong to the electorate.

We’ve witnessed years of government elected representatives generally having little, if any, real input into the decisions that impact the lives of those who voted for them. It’s hard to believe that anyone would find it acceptable to have their decision makers unaccountable and unelected.

It’s even harder to believe that they would want the tail to be wagging the dog!

 

How not to get it done

Ronald Reagan once said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

His quote aptly describes the typical inefficiency of government. Where government fails, private industry, more often than not, will prosper. In order for prosperity to have a fighting chance, it requires an atmosphere that is free of market manipulation and over regulation.

Examples of over regulation and government manipulation are currently on display across Canada. Governments across this country have bogged down pipelines for generations. They are attempting to remedy that with; you guessed it, a higher level of government involvement!

The Trans Mountain Pipeline project is a shining example of how government can over regulate and allow objections to halt a project and make it no longer viable for private investors to pursue. Although it’s important to protect the environment, land owner rights and ensure companies are accountable for their actions, there has to be reasonable limits to how far those actions can go.

Both the Alberta and Federal governments have failed to prioritize the importance of the energy industries contribution to the Canadian economy. Now, average Canadians are beginning to feel the negative effects of government overreach. If Alberta and Canada are going to climb out of the self imposed regulatory purgatory, a vastly different approach needs to be taken.

The difficulties investors in Canadian energy have encountered have had inevitable negative consequences for the Canadian economy. 2018 has seen the unprecedented exodus of investment dollars to other locations throughout the world. It appears that this will continue in 2019.

The Canadian energy industry dilemma has accomplished only one thing, self imposed hardship. Consumers of the energy products that have been the foundation of our economic success in the global market depend on a consistent and reliable supply of those products. Canadian energy policies are now creating an impression that our supply is unreliable and inconsistent.

While government plays a vital role in protecting Canadians and their assets from harm, in recent years they have grossly overstepped their role in our lives. Time and again we are seeing corporations that meet requirements to engage in their line of production, effectively blocked from moving forward by endless regulations that add unbudgeted costs and delays.

Nowhere are the words by Ronald Reagan exemplified better than right here in Alberta. Overarching Government regulations have been at the root of most, if not all, of the province’s current economic woes.

If this government truly would like to help move industry and Albertans forward, their best course of action would be to create and stick to a reasonable set of regulations that allow our industries to fairly compete in the global market.

 

Contempt for capitalism

Some time ago in a column entitled, “The DNA of the NDP,” we revealed the origins of the party we see before us today. Its origins lay in the C.C.F. (Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation), an organization that laid out its intent clearly in what was known as, “The Regina Manifesto¹”, which was published in 1933. This manifesto stated in plain language, their desire to “replace the current capitalist system.”

The C.C.F., having limited elected success, eventually merged with the NDP in August of 1961, which is still the modern-day party we see today. As you can imagine, the marriage was based on a lot of commonalities in philosophy and ideological vision.

Within the Regina Manifesto¹ that the C.C.F. adopted at its founding convention in 1933, they spelled out their utter contempt for capitalism and the free market. In the opening statement of the preamble of the Manifesto it says;

“WE AIM TO REPLACE the present capitalist system.”

 That visceral contempt can be found throughout the Regina Manifesto with the final paragraph beginning with, No C.C.F. Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism.”

 The modern-day NDP has since replaced the original C.C.F. Manifesto with what is known as the LEAP Manifesto². The Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, is still listed as a signatory of the document which includes the who’s who of radical eco-activists, who have openly stated they are determined to destroy Alberta’s oil and gas industries.

Like the Regina Manifesto, the LEAP Manifesto openly advocates ending the capitalism and free market activities that generate the revenue that fund Alberta’s Education, Health Care, and Infrastructure that greatly contributes to the higher quality of life of all Albertans. Within the document it clearly states,There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. That applies equally to oil and gas pipelines.”

 Does this sound like something a person that is earnestly advocating for pipelines would put their name to? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Rachel Notley did and her name is still on the registry of signatories³ to this very day. During the fall session, Minister after Minister, while avoiding the actual content of the questions, took great pleasure in stating that they were fighting for pipeline development to get Alberta’s oil to market. Never once mentioning that their leader had signed on to a document that openly advocates against pipelines explicitly!

In order for Albertans to make an informed decision in the next election, they need to be fully aware that the NDP have fully embraced their belief in the LEAP Manifesto and all that it stands for. Capitalism and the opportunity to create personal wealth drive the incentive that fosters innovation that allows us to be self-reliant.

The fact that the Premier’s name still is associated with a document that shows that same contempt for capitalism as the C.C.F.’s Regina Manifesto, should deeply concern all Albertans as we move forward toward a provincial election, I know it concerns me greatly.

¹ https://www.socialisthistory.ca/Docs/CCF/ReginaManifesto.htm

² https://leapmanifesto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Manifesto-en.pdf

³ https://leapmanifesto.org/en/whos-on-board/

Fingerprints tell the story

When solving a mystery, detectives often rely on the physical evidence they find at the scene. One of the most powerful pieces of evidence that can be brought forward is the fingerprints left behind by the perpetrators.

Alberta’s fight to get our energy products to market has been the subject of much debate and opinion in recent months. The debate is due in large part to the price differential Alberta receives for it’s energy products when compared to our competitors throughout the world.

Alberta’s ability to move our energy product to market in a timely fashion is, in large part, a self imposed problem. Many of the issues that have contributed to this situation that has now become critical, have the fingerprints of people who should have been working towards solutions all over it. Those fingerprints are on the agreements that saw people who openly worked against Alberta.

With people such as David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman openly attacking all things petroleum, it makes absolutely no sense why any organization or government department would even consider contributing to their campaigns. Unfortunately that’s exactly what has been happening under Alberta’s current government. Many of the members of the Alberta government’s own caucus have for years protested all things petroleum and actively worked to shut down our energy industry.

In the fall Legislative session that just wrapped up on December 6th, there was a chorus of voices from the government side of the house declaring they now, one and all, support Alberta’s mission to get our product to markets around the world. It left this MLA wondering exactly “How did we get here?” and how did we end up in this predicament we now find ourselves in.

Some of the fingerprints weren’t hard to find, particularly when you have a government Minister going to the extent of penning the forward for a book by an extremist that has shown open contempt for our province’s largest revenue generator. Some of the other fingerprints also come back to those currently sitting in the Federal government caucus.

With forces provincially and federally working in concert against Alberta and Canada’s economic backbone, it’s almost as if they don’t understand how important the revenues generated in Alberta truly are. It’s only now that they’re getting the message loud and clear that the activities they’ve participated in previously have empowered the very people working against the most ethical oil production in the world coming from Alberta.

With billions of dollars filling the coffers federally and provincially that have the financial fingerprints of Alberta all over them. It makes the words of support from those guilty of contributing to the current situation completely hollow and absolutely meaningless.

With an election in Alberta’s near future it’s important to remember how we got where we are today and exactly whose fingerprints are all over what has kept us from creating our own wealth in Alberta.

Electoral trust

Most of us believe that we have some form of trust with the people we elect as our representatives. In order to establish and maintain that trust, it is up to a representative to be forthright and honest with their constituents about their intentions. Unfortunately, it appears that the current Alberta government doesn’t share that principle.

Alberta’s Finance Minister often mentions how his government has Alberta on “the path to balance.” Yet his government has yet to explain how they are planning to reach this balance he speaks of. He’s clearly indicating that they will somehow do this without budget reductions while still ramping up spending as they have done for over three years.

Meanwhile the government disingenuously argues that the Opposition seeks to harm Albertans – a claim severely out of touch with reality.

It doesn’t require an economics degree to understand in order to balance Alberta’s budget, the spending growth we’ve seen in recent years will need to be restrained. But does anyone believe the government has the self-control to stop their spending binge? The Alberta government is either misrepresenting their intentions, or they have another mysterious way to generate revenue in order to balance our finances which they aren’t willing to share with us.

With Alberta facing crushing debt that the government are contributing to in record amounts, something has to give. With Alberta government Ministers offering up little more than hollow rhetoric intended to distract Albertans, taxpayers are seeing their personal finances falling deeper into the red.

Now imagine if your household finances were in the kind of shape the province’s is today, with spending out-pacing income by a wide margin. Now ask yourself how you would need to respond personally?

At the same time, the government’s anti-business policies are driving away investment and much-needed revenue to pay for essential social programs. The government is only making the problem worse.

There’s obviously something the government isn’t telling us. Perhaps it’s something like what they didn’t tell us prior to the 2015 general election. Their ‘tax on everything’ we all know as the carbon tax. Can Albertans expect even more tax hikes and new taxes if the government gains a second term? With the government’s past record, we should all be very, very concerned.

Albertan voters can only trust that they are putting their mark beside the electoral candidate that most honestly represents their views. They only get those chances every few years. They need to be able to trust that person.

Can Albertans trust our present government?