Alberta Election — the Leaders’ Debate

As far as the Alberta election is concerned, the Leaders’ Debate only throws the complexity of our electoral system into sharper relief.

Given the format and technology of the debate, I would say that Rachel Notley was the most effective communicator on stage: she was the ‘winner’ of the debate. Her speaking, body language, and messaging were far and away more effective with the audience than could be said of any of the other participants. In terms of who is best attuned to the story Albertans find themselves living at this time, my money is on the progressive centre.

(Given that incumbent Laurie Blakeman is carrying the mantle of the Alberta Party in Edmonton Centre, Albertans were poorly served by the exclusion of Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark. If Ms. Blakeman had chosen to place the Alberta Party name on the ballot against her name, it would not have prevented Dr. Swann from participating and it would have enabled Mr. Clark to participate. Such are the vagaries of organizing TV debates. In any case, Albertans are getting to know Mr. Clark by other means, and he is apparently making a very positive impression.)

But, in the aftermath of the debate, many Albertans may now want to consider a possibility they might not have considered yesterday – that they would vote for an N.D.P. candidate in their own constituency.

This will entail finding a balance and taking a risk, so risk management is important.

In many constituencies the reality is that the N.D.P. candidate has been ‘parachuted’ in. That is, the candidate is not rooted in the constituency, or not really interested in serving as an M.L.A., or very young and inexperienced. Such candidates are sometimes more loyal to the Party – for which they are prepared to make a sacrificial run – than they are to the people of the constituency in which they run. The candidate has been persuaded to run as a placeholder on the ballot for the N.D.P. (We saw some of this in the last federal election, in which many of the N.D.P. victors in Quebec were (1) very surprised by their election; and, (2) not at all prepared for the work of being an elected representative.)

This is not an argument against parachute or youthful candidates:  it is simply a plea to consider the vote carefully.  Parachuted candidates may still be viable options, perhaps even excellent ones. I was elected to the Alberta Legislature when I was 25, and Bob Clark (also later a Cabinet Minister) was 23 when he was first elected, so I can hardly argue against the presence of youth in the Legislative Assembly. Much more important, given the general political disenchantment of youth, and the reality that youth will live with our political decisions longer than seniors will, the presence of youth is not simply desirably: it is essential. And youth are capable of learning quickly, as we have learned in times of war and other desperate situations.

Similarly, the N.D.P. experience in Quebec has demonstrated that some people who never thought of themselves as strong representatives and effective advocates can rise to the challenge, surprising themselves and others.

In an earlier post (here), I urged Albertans to get to know the local candidates, and use character as the primary test in determining their vote.

In light of the debate, this seems even more important. This election is wide open, and it will remain so until the votes are counted. Having seen four of the Leaders in the debate, Albertans will want to look closely at each of the candidates in their own constituency, and vote for integrity, strength of character, energy, imagination, and commitment to Alberta before Party.

On election day, voters are casting a ballot for an odd mix of influences. In varying degrees, the vote gives life to the local candidate, to the leader, to the party organization, and to the historic culture of the party. Each voter must decide how his or her vote will enliven the particular mixture of all these elements. This need — to balance various elements — makes it important that voters look past personality to judge character and actual performance (including accountability for past actions) before they mark their ballot.

This doesn’t make voting easy. But there is no way out.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on (election) day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” David Foster Wallace.


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