Uniting opposition question of choice

Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann has the right idea about solving the malaise of political opposition in Alberta.

When he talks in principle about a new political movement, and when explains that "We have to move where Albertans want us to move" -- he recognizes that the goal is service, not power, and that the needs and aspirations of the population, and not those of political parties, must be the focus.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, on the contrary, walks the wrong path when he talks about electoral pacts "because vote splitting is keeping the Conservatives in power," however much he deserves credit for pushing against the divided-opposition status quo.

It might well be that more opposition MLAs would be elected if those who wish to terminate the Tories' four-decade dominance were forced accept a single alternative -- but herding voters into corrals they wouldn't have chosen on their own is unlikely to boost their confidence that that the ranch is being run for their benefit.

In a province that places great store in the value of choice, surely offering a new one makes more democratic sense than the very negative-sounding step of taking choices away.

In a way, the electoral-pact approach places blame on voters for Liberal and NDP failure, rather than respecting citizens' preference for the Conservatives, and forcing opposition politicians and their backers to confront their own shortcomings.

On the federal scene, it took Reformers and Progressive Conservatives a only a decade to learn this lesson, despite having to overcome animosities and policy differences that make Alberta's opposition rivalries look like schoolyard squabbles.

Surely Albertans of an opposition mindset -- both those currently engaged and those sitting with chagrined resignation on the sidelines -- have an equal creativity and sense of sacrifice for the sake of public service.

Perhaps, in the foregoing remarks, some readers will see an anti-government political agenda. That's not the intention.

The fact is, the majority of Albertans who generally approve of the provincial Conservatives should value a more effective opposition just as much -- because a government looking over its shoulder naturally works harder and better to keep power.

It's instructive to contemplate the recent dead-duck controversy up in the oilsands region, and wonder if -- say -- fear of a politically effective conservation-oriented opposition would have had government more worried about those tailings ponds before national and international pressure got the Stelmach government jumping like a scalded cat.

Who knows what a new political movement would look like, or even whether it would ultimately make sense to absorb both of the current main opposition movements?

If it deals merely with cosmetics such as the name, or fails to deliver a genuine, sincere common purpose, or is unable to bring in new blood and ideas, it probably can't succeed.

But trying to manipulate Albertans into changing behaviour by limiting choice is not the way to go.

Edmonton Journal, Thurs May 8 2008
Byline: Archie McLean

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