Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Alberta Party

I was reading a blog the other day by a young guy named Justin who just couldn’t see the Alberta Party as something worth supporting… was holding onto the idea that the Alberta Liberal Party is the natural home to the progressive vote in Alberta. He described himself as “the kind of person you’d expect to be in the Alberta Party.” He continued on to describe himself as a young person who lives in a downtown condo with a job in the ‘creative economy’ and a strong supporter of human rights and a proponent of a mostly free market economy. Young Justin’s blog was good, but I think he’s missing something.

See, I don’t live in a downtown condo (I'd probably jump out the window if I did). I’m not young. Grey hair has replaced my dark brown locks. I don’t have a cool job in the “creative economy” nor am I ever likely to. I live in a drafty old farmhouse. We grow flowers and saskatoon berries, which bring in little money but require lots of physical work. I spend most of my days in dirty coveralls. We don’t have extra money to go to the theatre or take vacations. In fact, the only theatre I attend offers two girls fighting over one bathroom in the morning. Now that's drama.

I can’t afford either the time or money to sit in Starbucks. I make my coffee at home and carry it to work in a thermos, where I hope someone else bought a newspaper so I can catch up on the day’s happenings. I have to budget just to buy new socks and long underwear for the coming cold. The other night, while most people were snug in bed, I was working the job that supports my farm…. lying in the snow, between the rails, under a freight train, strapping up dragging equipment. Two days ago I was up to my elbows butchering a deer that will help keep us through the winter.

If Justin’s analysis was correct, I’m hardly the sort of guy you would expect to have any interest in the Alberta Party. My world is so distant from the condo dwelling urbanites Justin describes as likely candidates to support the Alberta Party, I sometimes think there’s a time warp between us and I suspect if Justin met me… filthy from head to toe, deer blood on my coat, he might dismiss me completely for someone so foreign to his values we couldn’t even communicate.

But Justin (and a ton of other urban progressives) would be surprised by what we rural rubes know about our province… and for the worry we are saddled with for the future of our Alberta. Dismissing the Alberta Party as a party for urban Albertans is a mistake. It’s a mistake the Liberal Party of Alberta and the New Democrats traditionally make (even though they say they don’t). The truth is, there is as much dissatisfaction in rural Alberta these days as there is anywhere else in this province, and considerably more common ground than people like Justin can imagine.

My rural neighbours may never think of themselves as progressives. In fact, I would say a majority of rural Albertans strongly self-identify as small ‘c’ conservatives. We might never see ourselves as strong supporters of human rights, but you will never get a fairer shake than in the hundreds of little communities dotted around this province. We might not be able to tell the difference between modern Twitter and a old-fashioned twit, but we know first-hand the tenuous nature of landowners’ rights in this province. We may eat wild meat occasionally, but we also understand the vital importance of fresh water, the value of healthy food, the nature of true conservation and the value of our natural heritage. And even more (I suspect) than urban Albertans, we can see by the crumbling infrastructure in our small towns that life in rural Alberta is not thriving and our way of life is at risk.

Rural Albertans are looking for a change in government. To date, the only party who seems to be courting us is the Wildrose Alliance. I’ve been to their meetings and almost without exception I am the youngest person in the room (at 49). I have heard the cozy words about “taking back the province” and “bringing accountability back to government.” Yet there is something stale in the Wildrose Alliance. They just don’t strike me as an option for a better future for this province… and their cozy relationship with the petrochemical industry frightens me.

So what do we have? The PCs? Nope… unless they bring back Peter Lougheed and his band of young origninal thinkers. The WRA? Not unless I see some distance from the monied old interests, and a lot more youth at local gatherings. The Liberals? You’re kidding right? I want a chance to be on the winning side of an election and the ALP hasn’t had that in nearly a hundred years. The NDP? (see Liberal… only way more so).

People talk about a party that can capture the imagination of Albertans. That’s the problem. Albertans’ imagination and dreams were captured 40 years ago… and they are still being held captive. I’m looking for a party that sets those dreams and aspirations free again… a party that encourages dreaming and imagination… that will reward and support new ideas that diversify our economy without devaluing our environment… or dismissing elements of our society. What I am looking for is a party that takes good ideas from wherever they come… the left… the right… the centre… the north… the south… wherever. I’m looking for a party that offers Albertans the chance to dream again.

I want to counter the perception that the Alberta Party is for young, progressive urbanites only. What attracted me was the coming together of people from diverse backgrounds. We may not always speak the same language. We may not always see the world in the same light. We may sometimes differ about the best options for Alberta. That’s all ahead for us. However, it is the spirit of working together, being respectful of good ideas wherever they come from… and above all the chance to build an Alberta we can be proud of again.

I’d like to tell young Justin, “we can all meet in the Alberta Party.” If he brings the latte and laptops… I’ll bring the jerky and saskatoon wine.