Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reimagining Politics Alberta Liberal Party Style

This weekend Sylvia and I drove to Calgary to take part in the Alberta Liberal Party's annual convention, themed "Politics Reimagined." Less than two percent of Canadians belong to a political party, so much of what follows may seem a little arcane. But the decisions made by party members often have consequences that reach far beyond the relatively tiny circle of partisans. I think that's especially true in the case of the changes wrought by Alberta Liberals this weekend, which have made the ALP the most open party in Canada.
Leadership hopeful Bruce Payne gives fellow leadership candidate Raj Sherman a thumbs-up.
The most dramatic change is the creation of a new membership category - the "registered supporter." In other political parties, citizens must become party members and pay membership fees in order to be eligible to vote in leadership races. Not so for the Alberta Liberals! Now any Albertan can vote in our current and future leadership races, without needing to become a member.

I'm quite proud of this innovation, because it recognizes that most Canadians simply aren't comfortable tying themselves to one party or another - probably a reflection of our common desire to get along with as little acrimony as possible. This resolution recognizes that reality, welcoming anyone to participate without requiring anything more than contact information.

Some pundits are already saying that this change is risky, that it leaves the ALP prone to hijacking by hostile interests. But I don't think these fears are terribly troubling. If the Wildrose or the Progressive Conservatives wanted to stir up trouble, they have the funds to buy thousands of memberships; money is no barrier. Furthermore, these kind of shenanigans usually involve hundreds or thousands of people trying to guess who would be the weakest leadership candidate and voting for that person to sabotage the other party come the general election. But who's to say that they'll guess correctly? Perhaps they'll choose someone who really resonates with voters, despite all expectations.

Even if there were any merit to this argument, I think it's worth the risk. And shouldn't democratic principles include the right to vote across a spectrum of contests? I wouldn't mind having a say in the election of the next PC party leader, the next New Democrat Leader, the next Wildrose Leader. If we all had that power, wouldn't we all be prone to picking the best possible choice for each party? That way, no matter which party wins the general election, we wind up with the best possible Premier. I think that possibility might improve turnout considerably!

For more information on the groundbreaking resolutions passed at the convention, I invite you to read ALP Executive Director Corey Hogan's slick booklet explaining the changes. In the meantime, here are some more images from the convention:

Sylvia and I took a break to explore the shopping opportunities at Cross Iron Mills.
Raj Sherman officially launched his leadership campaign at the convention.

...unfortunately his sign started to come loose halfway through his speech. But Raj was unflappable.
Payne campaign director Neil Mackie speaks with MLA Bridget Pastoor as Andrew Fisher drops a photobomb.
Sylvia and Kim enjoy one of the hospitality suites hosted by the leadership candidates.


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I think this change is a bold but neccesary gamble for the Alberta Grits, and that the potential gains far outweigh the possible risks.

I'll level with you, as Alberta turns more and more into a one-party, snowy Cuba, I have pondered getting a PC membership. What stops me is that I don't know if I would vote for the moderate candidate I most want as premier (like Steady Eddie), or if I would strategically choose someone contentious like Ted Morton, who has a better chance of uniting the progressive vote.

"Whom Jeffs Destroy" said...

Looking into my admittedly cracked crystal ball, I don't see that the Libs will see much in the way of advantage with the new policy in terms of voter engagement. I do not see how the Liberals expect voters to come up with informed decisions without a pre-existing provincewide structure of information dissemination. What I mean is that the Liberals are stuck with the same problem with their internal election as with the provincial election: they just don't reach out to enough regions to appear on the political map against the Conservatives. Whether that is due to a lack of candidates, a lack of funds, a lack of drive, or whatever, this will always hold the Liberals back until they can solve the issue. Asking people to become informed by directing them to a website isn't nearly enough to engage voters, especially the block that are accustomed to voting Conservative.

That's the downside, but the upside is really good, even if the Liberals chose to hide it on page 11 of the NewLiberal publication. Every voter who decides that they want to have their say in the Liberal internal election, whether they vote in good conscience or they mark an X for A. Hitler or I.P. Freely, will have their name and vitals written into the Liberal database as part of their registration to vote. To quote Corey Hogan, "...the contact information is worth significantly more than $5 [the nominal Liberal sign-up fee]."

Speaking personally, although I know I am not alone on this, it's this kind of thing that makes me avoid signing up for political parties other similar organizations that farm my personal data. By making this contact, I waive my right to privacy from that organization, and open a floodgate of junk mail and phone calls I do not want or need. I understand where the political parties consider contact information as one of their most valuable resources, but I don't trust any of them to handle that information with a sense of responsibility any more. If anything, it's like the GI's greedily searching for Private Ryan's dogtag in the Spielberg movie, it's like an abstract game where it's conveniently forgotten that each of the names belongs to someone very real. It's the commoditization of the voter.