Two Alberta Liberal MLAs lost: Where are the supporters now?

“**Update: Premier Alison Redford welcomed Bridget Pastoor at the news conference, taking place now in Edmonton. Pastoor said, when she told Liberal caucus she was leaving, she “almost threw up” because she was so nervous”

  • Liberal MLA Bridget Pastoor crosses floor to join Tories, by Don Braid, Calgary Herald November 21, 2011

This blog has become my place for Politically Honesty. So let me tackle a divisive concept that I am passionate about: the Position of “Liberal Supporters” within the Alberta Liberal Party. This concept has received some endorsement in Federal and Provincial Circles, so I think it should be examined with a critical eye. Those who read this blog will know that I am not the biggest fan of the concept of having “supporters”- persons within the party who have power to make decisions but who have not taken any of membership or responsibility for their actions.

From a democratic point of view, if one looks at the idea, it is seductive. Democracies depend on the idea of mass participation within our political system.  So why would we not want a party that does the same thing? Well the answer comes from a number of Liberal Democratic Philosophers. People, like J.S. Mill or De Tocqueville, argued that democracy works best when its citizens, or in this case members, have an ‘interest’ in the exercise. Or put differently, if a person has no interest, they should not exercise power.

Think of the phrase “No taxation, without representation”. Coined by the American Revolutionaries, it noted that taxpayers have an interest in the way that their taxes are spent. Accordingly, the Executive – the Head of State, the Head of Government and Bureaucracy – are Responsible to their citizens for their actions. In our form of Representative Government that concept is essential. It also shows that Interest, in this way, is multidimensional. It means a number of things including responsibility, desire, gain and long run commitment.

A good example of this is a home owner. A home owner wants to protect their interest in a house. They purchased the house because they wanted to live in it. The owner would like this house to be an investment and a shelter from the elements. However, much more importantly, this house is to become the home of the owner. It is their place to rest; it is their castle. They can paint it or hang art in it. They can even change rooms within legal parameters.

Those legal parameters mean that a home owner may have a relationship with their municipality. Therefore, one might seek a permit to change their house or run for office to ensure that they do not have to seek a permit to change their house. One can see that being a home owner can bring with it a long run commitment to the community and a desire to change things. However, all of this is borne out in the exercise of that ‘Interest’.

With all of this being said, “Supporters” do not have that same interest within the Alberta Liberal Party. Take me, as an example.  I am a progressive voter and supporter of the Alberta Liberal Party. However, come next election, I will be torn. Alison Redford is truly a ‘Progressive’ Conservative. In most other parts of the country, Premier Redford might be described as a Paul Martin Liberal. Ms. Redford is socially progressive, yet economically conservative. While, she would likely not fit into the Provincial Quebec Liberal Party, Ms. Redford could easily fit into the BC Liberal Party, the Saskatchewan Party, the Ontario Liberal Party and most of the Maritime variations.

Since, the NDP and Wildrose Alliance in this province are quite ideological, come election time, I will have three choices: Alberta Party, Liberal Party or Progressive Conservative Party. Unlike, the Federal Liberal Party, I feel no allegiance to any provincial party. Unlike, the Federal Party, where I may hold my nose and vote, I have fewer problems provincially. For provincially, I am a ‘free agent’. Unlike, the Federal Party, where I will debate policy and explain the divergence of my view from the party, I will not do so provincially. Federally or Provincially, I am not afraid of voting against my party but I am more likely to stand with a party as a member than as a supporter. And I am not alone.

The departure of two prominent Liberal MLAs tells me that the wind is blowing. One crossed the floor the other, an ex-leadership hopeful, resigned. But there is more. If Environics is to be believed, the retirement of Premier Ed Stelmach, reinvigorated the Alberta Tories. In November of 2010, the Tories were in a statistical dead heat with the Wildrose Alliance Party. However, by January of 2011, the Tories were at 38% in the polls followed by the Wildrose – at 26% – and the Alberta Liberals at 22%.

With the selection of Alison Redford, the Tories have increased that lead even further. For Ms. Redford, in the most recent Environics Poll, the support for the Progressive Conservatives has hit the 51% mark. Or as Environics pollster Tony Coulson said, in the November 21st, 2011 edition of the Calgary Herald, “the Progressive Conservatives under Redford are back in a commanding position similar to 2008, before a two-year slide under then-premier Ed Stelmach.”

Where are the Alberta Liberals? Well, Tony Coulson noted that “according to the numbers, there really hasn’t been a change in the Liberal support between July and November”. In real terms, the Wildrose party has 19 per cent support, the NDP has 14 per cent support and the Alberta Liberals are at 13 per cent. So under the “supporter” system, the Provincial Liberals have lost ground and not gained it. Supporters have not swelled the core of the party because they feel not interest or kinship with a party that they might support. This is especially true because progressive voters in the province of Alberta have many choices.

So what do Liberals do? Better still, how do we find policy that makes us more electable? I would suggest that we take membership seriously. Members are those people who pay to become a member and want to get involved. They are people who make a long-term commitment to the Party and those who want to build the party. Liberals have to ask their friends to join the party. We cannot hope that people will wander onto our website and become ‘a part of the team’. They have to be courted an encouraged to act defiantly. They have to be asked to join the Alberta Liberal Party.

We have to learn what it means to be a Liberal. We have to discuss it on/at forums like this one. Once we discuss it, we can develop principles from those discussions. Those principles are the one’s we can than sell to the public. As Liberals, we can than talk with confidence about who and what we are. However, to do this, we need to start with dropping the supporter system.

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