Two decades ago, I was involved with a student newspaper. It was called the Calumetro and it was published by the Calumet College Student Government. It was one of many publications that enhanced the student experience of York University’s Main Campus and it taught me all sorts of things. While preforming several roles, including Editor-in-Chief, I learned how powerful the written word is and how powerful the skill of listening can be. When I attended the Alberta Party AGM in Red Deer, as an observer, I was reminded of my younger self.
For when I wrote pieces for the Calumetro, I learned to listen. While, it killed my younger self to keep quiet, I did. When I was quiet, other people would describe their truths and other people would explain their opinions. When I kept quiet, I learned; and, when I kept quiet, I grew. It was that earlier self which came forth. As an Observer, at the Alberta Party AGM, for the first time in twenty years, I had to keep quiet.
For unlike, the Alberta Liberal Party, the Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) or Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), the Alberta Party was not mine. The Alberta Party was not one of the many ‘liberal’ gatherings I had attended. As a Liberal, I had attended policy conventions, leadership conversations and annual or biennial AGMs. I helped to start a youth club and was a part of a university one. But this gathering was different; here I was just a fly on the wall.
Yet, with all that being said, everything was familiar. Alberta Party members talked about evidence over ideology. Alberta Party members talked about inclusiveness over exclusion. Alberta Party members talked about not going down the path of fiscal irresponsibility or social moralism. The speeches could have been given at any Alberta Liberal Party AGM. This was highlighted when Nirmala Naidoo took the stage as the Master of Ceremonies. Not so long ago, she had been the guest speaker for the Alberta Liberal Calgary-Bow ED’s AGM in 2016 and the co-chair of the Alberta Liberal leadership process before resigning in 2016. I was there and I remember that. Yet, she was, and still is, a good Liberal.
Kara Levis is a good Liberal. After all, Ms. Levis is the president of the Liberal Party of Canada’s National Woman’s Commission. She was there. Esmahan Razavi founded Ask Her YYC, and, like me, had been a member of OLP. Ms. Razavi is a “good” federal Liberal; yet she helped to moderate a session. Kerry Cundal is a good Liberal and a good team mate. When the previous candidate could not represent the Trudeau team in 2016, Ms. Cundal stepped up and became the Liberal candidate. After she ran against former Progessive Conservative Ron Liepert, Ms. Cundal was hired by the Trudeau Government to help bring in 50,000 Syrians into Canada. If I wanted I could go on. There were many people who I knew including Jodi Miller and Robert Walker, both of whom I met while on the Calgary Centre Liberal Board.
Now, I am not going to say that I recognized everyone. For, there were people who might identify themselves as Red Tories or former New Democrats. I met Karen McPherson. Elected as a Notley New Democrat, she crossed the floor earlier this year to become an independent and found herself into the Alberta Party fold. However, in many ways, this felt like any Liberal organization that I had been a part of: people of different stripes sitting down and talking; people with different points of view, sitting down and getting to know each other.
This truth was solidified in me when Greg Clark talked about us being “treaty people”. That’s right, he said that all Canadians are people who live together because of treaties and the people that came before us. Mr. Clark talked about reconciliation and understood that Red Deer is on the border of Treaty 6 and 7. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt at home and my values were respected. The Alberta Party was not something which was distant but something which was very familiar.
As someone who has always argued for policy over partisanship, the question that held my focus was simple: “why fight?”. Why fight people who were work with on a federal basis? Why fight people who share so much of our same values? Why can’t all people who look for conversation, compromise and evidence based solutions work together and get over their own partisan rhetoric? It was startling that I did not hear a bad thing said about David Khan, the Alberta Liberals or the Alberta Greens. All that was lamented was the ever increasing polarization of Alberta. All that was admonished was a palpable ideological push from the UCP and the NDP. As a pragmatic geek that appeals to me. While, I weep for the loss of tradition, the loss of names like Rutherford, Sifton and Decore, the possible end of a party that brought Alberta into Confederation; I also know that the province matters more than one party.
In the future, when I see my friend Dr. David Swann or get to see my colleague Grant Mitchell, I can tell them that nothing lasts forever and that change sometimes necessitates unfortunate events. However, if our values are to protect the least among us, we must have a bigger stage. I realized that I promised, in a Tweet, that I would not talk about merger for the month of November. However, the kinship I felt was strong that I felt that I had to break my promise.
If our aim is to provide the most benefit without harming various individuals or minorities, we must grow our base. If that our goal is to be courageous and propose new public policy, then we need friends that will stand with and among us.
I believe that growing a movement is the way to change Alberta. For, only in creating a strong pragmatic and centrist base can we have a dynamic vision to move towards. Only in discussing a potentially glorious future, will we have the words and themes through which we can attract more Albertans. Let us not be afraid because Alberta longs for a non-ideological future which is better than its present or its past. We can see this because both the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party haven’t crawled into the abyss. Both parties have shown that belief in greater good, courageously speaking the truth and witnessing what is are powerful tools. However, we do also need to shake hands and embrace the Other. For, that is how a person or organization grows.
Diminishment only happens when you refuse to be open. That is how ideas die. So let us take the more hopeful approach, let us embrace. Because if we, the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberal Party, want to ask Albertans to embrace our pragmatic solutions, we should be able to do the same and provide a home for all of us.