Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sad state of democracy in Alberta

Note: The Oct. 27. 2008 issue of the Edmonton Journal has a shorter version of this blog entry in its Opinion section.

In his column "We lack strong presence in Ottawa. With an NDP member elected, will Edmonton be punished?", Todd Babiak wrote, "The fact that this is a serious concern for any thinking person is worrisome for the future of democracy in this part of the country, which is in desperately bad shape and becoming worse with every election."

Kudos to Todd for pointing out that democracy in Alberta is all but dead. Not only are there Albertans who are not content with winning 27/28 electoral seats but apparently some think Edmonton-Strathcona should be punished for the gall to elect a non-Conservative. How pathetic, if it were not so scary.

Have any of the "elect only Conservative" populace ever wondered why Alberta had so few members in Stephen Harper's cabinet after the 28/28 sweep in 2006? Reasons include the
  • Quality of most elected Conservatives in Alberta
  • Fact that Albertans can be taken for granted if they repeatedly elect 100% of the party slate;
  • Need for a governing party to have a cabinet that reflects all of Canada
Alberta lacked a strong presence in Ottawa after electing nothing but Conservatives in 2006. Our one party voting pattern is pretty much a joke in the rest of Canada. Edmonton-Strathcona electing a high quality representative like Linda Duncan can hardly be blamed if Alberta is again treated with disdain by Harper with few cabinet members.

Maybe it's time for Alberta's school system to teach civics and what it means to live in a democracy? Many people here do not seem to understand the basics of how a strong opposition results in better government.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rahim served well, say what?

Another follow-up to Canada's Oct. 14 election and the winning of Edmonton-Strathcona by the NDP's Linda Duncan.

The Edmonton Journal editorial of Sat. Oct. 18 was headlined Jaffer served city well and paid tribute to Rahim Jaffer's time as an MP. After acknowledging that "No one should be taking anything away from Linda Duncan and her team of committed volunteers, who made a bit of history Tuesday," the editorial outlined Rahim's life story, focussing on what a friendly guy he is, a "likable sort and decent human being."

No doubt about it, Rahim is a good looking young man with a ready smile. He clearly enjoyed his time in Ottawa and was often written about as an eligible bachelor-around-town, appearing on lists of Parliament's laziest, sexiest, and hippest MPs. As the Journal editorial notes, "he was Old Strathcona, as a familiar fixture plying the streets, auberges, shops and theatres of the city's most vibrant neighbourhood. It was a natural fit, done with a broad grin."

I suspect that the Journal had a hard time coming up with any real accomplishments during Rahim's 10 years in Ottawa. All they could come up with was, "As to local achievements of late, Rahim's hand in securing federal support for Edmonton's Universiade bid played a major role." Pretty weak, no?

Frankly, the editorial ignored examining the whys of how this likeable young man could lose. As a resident in his constituency, one reason is his party's policies. Another is that he got elected at age 25 with few accomplishments, largely only possible in a province where you can run a corpse as a Conservative and get elected. Caught up in his invincibility, Rahim did not show up at an all candidates forum. Another reason is the fact that he had no substantive accomplishments as an MP other than being a great poster boy.

Contrary to what the Journal would have you believe, walking around, smiling, and looking good does not equate with serving well. Nor does being a nice guy.

Oh, and did I mention that his NDP opponent Linda Duncan has a lifetime of amazing accomplishments and public service?

See more comments on Linda Duncan's win....

In defense of opposing viewpoints

Note: The Oct. 20. 2008 issue of the Edmonton Journal has a shorter version of this blog entry in its Opinion section.

Canada had a national election on Oct. 14, 2008 and this blog is a follow-up to that event. It was triggered by an entry in the Edmonton Journal's Sound Off! section on Thursday, Oct. 16 by someone identifying herself as Jen.

As background, in the past few elections Alberta, an oil rich province with right wing politics, has elected almost all Conservatives to Parliament and in 2008 they were expected to sweep all 28 seats. There was only one Conservative loss in Alberta and it was in my riding of Edmonton-Strathcona, which encompasses the University of Alberta. The Conservative MP, 36 year old Rahim Jaffer, who had held the seat since 1997, lost to the NDP candidate, Linda Duncan.

I was saddened but not surprised to read Jen's comments in Sound Off! Her post began, "Ms. Duncan, you won't be speaking for Alberta in Ottawa. You likely won't be speaking for anyone since you are an NDP MP with the power to do squat."

Clearly Jen does not understand the role of alternative viewpoints in a democracy. Taken to their absurd conclusion, in Jen's world there would be no opposition MPs and our Parliament would be like the old Soviet Union or any other one party state. Perhaps in a world dominated by the Jens of Alberta, no political dissent would be tolerated.

Political opposition is fundamental to democracy. It allows citizens to resolve differences peacefully, keep the ruling party sharp, and forge solutions that encompass the views of all citizens, not just those that voted for the winning party. Without opposition parties, all we would have is a dictatorship that does the will of the majority. The rights of minorities and alternative viewpoints would remain at the mercy of the ruling party. Under such a system, how could we ever be persuaded to change governments?

The career of Howard Pawley in Manitoba is instructive. He first ran for public office in the 1957 federal election finishing fourth with 443 votes. In the 1958 provincial election, he received 801 votes, finishing third. In the 1965 federal election, he received 4,456 votes, finishing third. In the 1969 provincial election he won a seat as an NDP MLA. In 1981 Pawley became Premier of Manitoba, a post he held until 1988. In 2001 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

In Jen's world, this man would be condemned as doing squat with his life, at least until he came a member of a ruling party.

Over the 31 years I have lived in Edmonton I have come across many Jens. At first I was shocked by the relative lack of diverse political views here and especially by the anger displayed by so many Alberta supporters of the then Reform party. I came to call them the "haters" because they were always so angry and literally detested those who dared to disagree with them politically. The joy of living in a democracy was lost to them. They were mired in a sea of resentment and spite against the dreaded Easterners and whatever other bogeymen local politicians cynically tossed up to ensure their re-election.

Jen compliments Rahim Jaffer on being a good representative in Ottawa. I'm not so sure about how good he was. Regardless, many good representatives lose elections, especially if they get caught up in their own celebrity.

The bilingual Rahim, a member of a visible minority, certainly was a poster boy for the old Reform Party in the days when it was known for its anti-immigration, anti-French elements. Lately he has become more known for being on lists of the hippest or sexiest or laziest MPs.

As a representative of Edmonton-Strathcona Rahim had minimal impact so far as I can tell as a resident of the constituency. Leading up to the election, we got weekly Conservative advertisements disguised as surveys asking us which leader we thought was better qualified to do this or that.

More than 20,000 people voted for Linda Duncan. She will be speaking for me in Ottawa, indeed for all citizens in our riding. From what I know about her she will be an exemplary, talented, hard working MP.

How is it that Albertans like Jen are not content with winning 27 of 28 seats? Jen sarcastically ends her Sound Off! comments with, "Ain't democracy great!"

Yes, Jen, it is.