The situation is hopeless, but not serious
Troy Media – by Stephen Murgatroyd
Boy, has the Alberta election caused some excitement. The potential routing of a party that has held on to government for 41 years, the ramblings of a Christian pastor running for office repeating what the Catholic church has said for years (that homosexuality is a sin and will result in hell unless the sinner repents), odd comments, to be sure, which the liberal left have interpreted as racist.
It’s all been good media fun.
There has also been excitement about strategic voting: the media seem infatuated with the idea of a minority government in which Raj Sherman (until recently a senior conservative but now transformed into a liberal) or Brian Mason (the thinking man’s thinking man) could hold the balance of power.
Rumours fed by social media
Facebook, twitter and You Tube have been deployed to fear monger, bring to life whispers and rumours and help drive some energy.
Advanced polling numbers look strong, and there could even be a turn out higher than the all-time low of the last election in 2008 when just 41 per cent of the voters could summon up enough energy to get off the couch and vote – down 5 per cent from four years before. If turnout is higher, then at least the media hoop-la has served a purpose.
What has not been talked about are critical policy issues, at least by the two main parties. We do not know what the Wildrose’s real strategy for economic development and the oil sands looks like, and have only had vague hints and clues from the Conservatives. There has been some suggested additions to health care from the Conservatives and some tweaks to the system from the Wild Rose, but no substantial debate.
On education, the Wild Rose policy document makes clear that we are in for major changes – massive reduction in the size of the Ministry of Education, substantial change in how funding occurs, competition for schooling and more charter schools and massive changes in assessment. All we have really seen from the Conservatives is a promise of more schools – more of the same. No substantial debate.
But the Alberta election has been a cakewalk in comparison to a general election I was involved in in Wales, UK, back in 1974. I ran a constituency fight in the most marginal seat in Wales.
There were stories that some Labour cabinet Ministers were in the pay of the KGB, sex scandals around leading figures on both sides (orgies, homosexual trysts, bestiality), wild statements from candidates north, south, east and west and policy gaffes that were simply outrageous. We had homophobic, anti-immigrant and racist candidates. We also had the pleasure of a candidate from the Monster Raving Looney Party whose platform included “the environment – let’s get rid of it! It’s too big and difficult to keep clean!”. So when I look at the Alberta election and the great brou ha ha over odd comments, I see it all as pretty dull.
Albertans need to get out more and see more of the world. They need to see raw politics. There is more mud slung at a single sitting of Prime Ministers Questions in the UK House of Commons than we see in a year of politics here in Alberta. If the most exciting thing that happens is a Christian pastor’s blog repeating what Catholic priests told me virtually every day at school (an all-boys school), then we are in trouble.
A great election in Alberta would involve substantial, meaningful debates about policy and programs. It would involve a systematic media analysis of the issues with conversations about these platforms with those most affected by them. It would involve us looking not just at the leaders (another media preoccupation), but at the front bench and caucus and to understand what the composition and dynamics of government will be like. While there has been some attempts at this, leader-envy and fascination have got in the way of a serious understanding of Alberta’s future and the role government should play, if any, in that future.
The government always get in
When I taught high school we ran a mock election. One of my special needs students said to me as we were counting the ballot papers, “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in”. She is likely right.
There will be all sorts of commentary this Tuesday morning as pundits and the literati try and make sense of what happened at the day before. But campaigning and governing are different things. There is inertia in government that is overwhelming and a dynamic in caucus that is inhibiting. Whatever happens, Alberta will be fine. It’s a resilient place that has handled all sorts of governments over the last 41 years conservative, wildrose-like, liberal. As my therapist told me “the situation is hopeless, but not serious”. Get used to it.