A political party that is willing to adapt!? Meet the Alberta Party

By DJ Kelly February 24, 2010

It is not very often you hear about a political party being willing to rethink all of its policies and principles. Somehow in the process of moulding themselves into representing what the majority of citizens want, these core ideals that formed the initial impetus for the creation of the party – sometimes decades old and potentially out of date or irrelevant – escape scrutiny. I believe in order to really affect change, we must all be willing to take a deep look inside ourselves to find what flaws may be holding us back. Without doing this, and examining our principles, we would really just be rearranging the deck chairs (policies) on an extremely poorly designed ship that runs the risk of sinking if it were to innocently graze an iceberg.

This is why I have to applaud the Alberta Party. After decades of near irrelevance, the party has lifted up its eyes and has publicly stated it is willing to temporarily suspend its policy document to entertain if there may be a better way.

In case you haven’t heard yet, the Alberta Party, which has been in existence since 1985, last month began having conversations with a group of political upstarts calling themselves Renew Alberta. The culmination of those discussions resulted in an announcement this past week of a “merger” between the two groups.

I know several of the Albertans involved in Renew Alberta. The one thing they share in common, is a passion to find a better path toward creating a better Alberta. While they, like the Liberals, Wildrose Alliance and Alberta NDP, believe we deserve a better government, what really sets them apart is their belief that there must be a more participatory form of democracy in our province. Their focus is not so much on what the other parties are doing, as it is on the 60% of Albertans that did not vote and those of the remaining 40% that felt their vote really didn’t matter. Engagement can be a powerful thing – and it something that the majority of Albertans obviously don’t feel.

The enthusiasm and work ethic of the Renew Alberta people is admirable. As is the vision of the Alberta Party to accept them into their fold to help determine if their policies really do connect with Albertans or if there is a way for them to course correct.

The Big Listen is what the Alberta Party is billing as the focus of this collaboration. And again, I think it is commendable that a political party is willing to let the public at large dictate what their policies should be, instead of a small group of members who may or may not represent the views of Albertans.

Will the Alberta Party be right wing or left wing at the end of The Big Listen? Who knows?! But that’s the thing that excites me. If done right and fair, the one thing we will know for sure, is that they represent the ‘average’ Albertan. If they can build a regular feedback loop into their governing structure, this could make them… well, dare I say it?, the perfect party. One that is not governed by petty politics or the whims of its caucus, leadership or members; but instead one that is directly governed by the average citizen.

Of course all this utopian talk is more than likely ‘pie in the sky’ dreaming. Let’s be realistic for a moment and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Many folks out there appear to be skipping over this step. Jane Morgan, the former executive director of the Wildrose Alliance has raised some very good questions about how this merger came to be within the structure of the Alberta Party’s constitution. Alberta Party board members have done a decent job of responding to her criticism, but at the end of the day it is the current Alberta Party membership who will have the final say. Either they will embrace this new way their party will operate in the future, or they re-trench and leave. I certainly hope it is the former, and that they, as well as their board, improve their governance structure down the road. They will have to to be able to control the beast they could potentially be releasing by putting policy decisions in the hands of the public.

A few people have also questioned the merger of these two groups: The Alberta Party previously dismissed as a ‘right-wing’ fringe party, and Renew Alberta as ‘lefties’. How could it be two groups of people, so different in make up, could come together so seamlessly to work for a better future? Well, if the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ can, in this instance, put aside their differences and come together in the ‘centre’ – which is by definition where the majority of Albertans reside on the political spectrum – then their may just be hope for?intelligent?discussion free of rhetoric after all.

(Another thing that excites me about this new party: the diversity. The Alberta Party stereotypically is seen as older and rural, while Renew Alberta, rightly or wrongly, is seen as younger and urban. How nice to see differing people getting along for once.)

I think the ground work for this partnership is laid out very well in the Alberta Party’s (now temporarily suspended) policy document entitled, “Reforming Alberta”.

From the introduction to the Alberta Party’s Policies and Procedures document we can see what the two groups may share in common when it says: “We demand accountability and responsibility from our elected officials and civil servants… [T]he Alberta Party has created a bottom up organization in which the power resides with the members…”

Even it’s mission statement could be seen as something the two groups might commonly share: “To protect and promote the freedoms and best interests of Albertans.” One of the tactics outlines for how the Alberta Party will fufill this mission is “increase citizen participation in democracy by improving the process.”

I for one, can’t wait to see where this new group may go with lofty goals such as these. Either way, it will certainly be a thrill to watch.