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If an election falls in the forest and nothing changes…ever, is it still a democracy?

May 3, 2015

I’m an outsider to Alberta politics so I’ll try to avoid talking about which party should win or what policy issue is most important. But there are some disturbing, anti-democratic threads in the wave of editorial endorsements for the ruling PC party in Alberta that I want to highlight.

I was going to build a careful argument about the message in the editorials but some of their ideas seem so directly absurd, cautious or insulting to democracy that I think they can almost stand on their own, all emphasis added is my own.

The main argument of all of them comes down basically to this:

Desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures.
Calgary Sun

First off, they all admit the problems and where the anger is coming from:

Jim Prentice…is largely running against the record of his predecessors. So are the opposition parties. There’s a lot to run against.
Globe and Mail

The party must find a way to address a growing list of problems and infighting, or its tenure as ruling party will draw to a close.
Calgary Herald

The party around him (Prentice) still carries decades of rot…The absentee landlords of our public purse binged on us for political gain.
Calgary Sun

They even admit the differences between the NDP and the PCs aren’t that great in some ways:

Mr. Prentice’s budget agrees on the principle (of raising taxes on upper incomes), though his tax increases are smaller than the NDP’s.
Globe and Mail

While we are not fans of the increased taxation in his budget, we understand the end game.
Calgary Sun

In a vibrant democracy, dissent is a needed force.
Edmonton Journal

Yet they argue that voters should be satisfied with a change in leadership of the same party only.

Albertans can anticipate that their government will be countered by a strong opposition after Tuesday’s election, and that’s a reality that should only serve to strengthen the quality of our governance.
Calgary Herald

It (the NDP) could make a fine Official Opposition, but it isn’t ready to govern…But his government deserves to face something Alberta hasn’t seen in a long time: a strong contingent of opposition members.
Globe and Mail

A strong opposition could provide some innovative solutions he hasn’t considered to smooth out the province’s notoriously unstable revenue regime.
Edmonton Journal

That sort of thinking is a clear sign that Prentice isn’t leading the same old Tory party; he’s a leader with clarity of vision and the aptitude to chart a new course for Alberta.
Edmonton Journal

Well, what more could the voters really ask for?

Then there is the scaremongering about the essential fact of democracy, change.

But in this economy, we need to be wary about putting in rookies to run the show.
Calgary Sun

No one wants another costly and divisive election, hard on the heels of this one.
Edmonton Journal

The problem is that the Wildrose is untested. Jean, while a member of the Stephen Harper government for many years, only assumed the party’s helm on March 28.
Calgary Herald

Rather than wavering too far to the left or right, and from a proven path.
Calgary Herald

People seem to disagree about how “proven” that path is, thus the dissatisfaction that shows up in the polls.

But here’s the kicker:

If we’re going to have “generational change,” let’s strengthen Alberta’s foundation, not put it at risk.
Calgary Herald

This is an important point, by “generational”, I think people are actually talking about the one unavoidable, unarguable fact of this election. It’s a sentence that sits quietly two thirds of the way down in every single article about the election:

The Progressive Conservatives have held power, without interruption, for 44 years.
Globe and Mail

That’s half a lifetime, a whole generation. Half the voters out there have never seen another party win, ever. Democracy is about representation and change. More precisely the ability to change government in a peaceful manner. This is something we have only in recent centuries begun to master, but if we never use the power to change, do we really still have it?

Usually once a single party wins a couple times in a row, the opposition tears itself to pieces with internal strife trying to figure out why no one chooses them. Eventually they find an answer which is more palatable to the electorate or someone starts a new party to fill the gaps the perennial party has since no one and no party are perfect. Alberta has done this more than most regions in Canada at the federal level. So why is that the province can’t handle a change at least once every 44 years?

The voters of Alberta have a choice to make on Tuesday and they need to make that choice based on their own beliefs and their own strategic thinking about the situation. This thinking should include the message that it will send to everyone who has supported the PCs for those 44 years if their party wins again. Mr. Prentice may be very different from his predecessors but those supporters and others in the party will get another message which is: “Carry on, carrying on”, because voters are happy with the party.

If that’s the message you want to send, then go for it. But consider it carefully, the rest of Canada is watching and the implications of your choice are going to be the most important political event that has happened since the collapse of the Bloc.

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