Albertans have seized their political freedom: Now, what do we do with it?


It is probably difficult for people who have not lived in Alberta to understand the significance of our recent election:  after 44 years of one-party-state politics, the crippling of our political freedom is over.  We have proved to ourselves that political change is possible by making that change.

Post-election polls show that Albertans are largely satisfied with the change and a substantial portion – many of us not card-carrying NDs – are ecstatic about it.  As a writer in MacLean’s put it, Albertans “are celebrating a passing from sickness into health, a seizure of freedom for Alberta.”

Albertans resolved, as an article in the Calgary Sun said, to “throw the bums out,” and finally we did.

The result is nothing short of intoxicating.  But now that the overarching task of deposing the PCs is done, what next?

Sustainability and proportional representation

Two big picture items scream out for Albertans’ attention.  On the substantive policy side, we need to engage with an across-the-board sustainability agenda, for our way of life is stunningly unsustainable.  The best known example is the Alberta oil sands which constitute Canada’s fastest growing source of GHG emissions and an ecosystem- and community- destroying phenomenon of gargantuan proportions.

But dealing with the oil sands is only the beginning.  Other examples abound.  For example, Alberta has the largest and fastest growing gap between rich and poor in Canada which undermines our social sustainability and our cities have expanded to accommodate rapid population growth in a profoundly unsustainable way.  As Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, has often observed, we have built cities we can’t afford to operate and maintain.

On the democratic process side, we need to strengthen our democracy while we can by enacting election finance reform and by adopting a fairer, more representative voting system.  There is no doubt, as Andrew Coyne and others such as Fair Vote Canada constantly remind us, our voting system is shockingly unrepresentative.  The results of the recent Alberta election illustrate the problem:  the NDs got 40% of the popular vote but elected 62% of the seats.  The political preferences of many Albertans are not reflected in the make-up of the new Legislature.  And this is a typical result of our electoral system:  the PCs’ fierce dominance of Alberta’s politics for so long was facilitated and exaggerated by our unfair electoral system.  We need to adopt proportional representation, a system where the fraction of the vote received is fairly – proportionately – reflected in the allocation of seats among the contesting parties.

Election finance reform is needed

But to address our enormous sustainability challenges and electoral reform, we have to ensure our democracy is never again dominated by big money – and in Alberta that means fossil fuel industry (oil, gas and coal) money.  Contributions to parties and candidates must be limited to individuals; corporations and other organizations, unions included, must be banned from making political contributions; and appropriate limits, much lower than the current ones, have also to be enacted.

This part of the Alberta reform agenda is actually pretty straight-forward and there are good examples in Canada as to how these changes can be made in law and policy.  Further, election finance reform was an ND election promise.  But Albertans have to insist that this reform be enacted soon so that we don’t miss this precious opportunity while a party that is not in bed with industry holds power.

I am very glad the PCs no longer hold power and after their 44 years, it is probably good that another party has a decisive majority for now.  Albertans need time to establish some kind of balance after decades of PC dominance and the rot that set in after too many years of uninterrupted power.  But we need to get to a better, more representative, political system as soon as possible and that can only come through adoption of proportional representation.

It’s a truly wonderful time to be a politically engaged Albertan.  There’s a palpable hopefulness, one Albertans haven’t experienced for decades.  But huge issues have been long ignored by a series of lazy, entitled and business-subservient PC governments.  The work to be done is immense, but it’s also exciting.  Let’s get on with it!

Janet Keeping is leader of the Green Party of Alberta.