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Still Living the Dream in 2012

Posted on January 06, 2012 by Richard Einarson

By Michael Walters
Candidate- Edmonton Rutherford and Former Alberta Party Provincial Organizer

“Thank God!”

These were the first words out of my mouth when I received the email from my friend Gerard MacLellan.

The email contained a link to the website www.renewalberta.ca which described an effort to start a new political party. It was the kind of party I had been longing for - balanced, moderate, based on imagination and common interest.

This was in December in 2009 and I had been working as a community organizer in Edmonton for the past 14 years. I had worked with thousands of citizens toward ending homelessness, creating more affordable housing, revitalizing neighbourhoods and depressed commercial districts through citizen action and local business development and by curbing urban sprawl by protecting farmland on the cities edges. I had spent years with seniors through churches and community groups organizing for more homecare and long-term care. I had also spent years volunteering with my community leagues, coaching local sports and mentoring youth through Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

The provincial government impacted so much of my work in the community and we needed another way and another voice in the Legislature. I never felt the provincial government was working with me, nor did I feel the legislature, including the opposition parties, was really helpful to the important work myself and so many others were doing in communities.

We needed change, but change for me was never about simply changing government, it was always about changing the way government worked with communities. Moving from the PC’s to the Liberals or the ND’s was not change for me.  Politics needed to be done differently. Politics needs to be about communities first.

In fact, I would say that of all the parties in the Alberta Legislature the PC’s are the most connected to Alberta communities. They have relationships and organization in every region of Alberta. Outside of Edmonton the New Democrats and Liberals are pretty much paper parties and more often than not use parachute candidates from Edmonton to run in rural areas, a practice which I find politically offensive.  If you can’t find a local candidate or one that lives at least in the same municipality you haven’t done the organizing you need to do, therefore you shouldn’t run. Your campaign is not about the community it is really only about the party.

After receiving that email from Gerard it didn’t take us long to get involved and within a few months the party had raised enough money to hire me as their Provincial Organizer, a job I was thrilled to have and Gerard joined the board.

We needed a new way of doing things. We needed a new voice focused on communities, conversations and collaboration, rather than the tired doctrinal partisanship that has relegated so many citizens to non-voter status.

And for the record I am not against partisanship. I think debate and opposing ideology is healthy, but it cannot be without an eventual yearning to seek a common ground where polarities can be reduced and shaped into policy and vision reflective of Alberta’s diversity and range.

So in the ensuing months after our shift from Renew Alberta to our new brand of the Alberta Party our progress was remarkable.

  • We went from 40 members to over 2000 between March 2010 and April of 2011.
  • We went from 0 constituency associations to over 40 between December 2010 and April 2011.
  • We received unheralded press attention across Alberta for the Big Listen and the work of our Acting Leader Sue Huff
  • We held a leadership race, fielding four candidates, hosted an exciting convention and elected one of Alberta’s most thoughtful and experienced municipal politicians in Glenn Taylor as our leader.
  • By October 2011 we had completed most of our policy priorities and turned our focus toward recruitment of local candidates for the upcoming election.

Yet after a lot of work done by a lot of people including myself the real test would be during the election. This is what we were building for.

There has been a lot of chatter about the Alberta Party. It has come from those of us who have worked passionately to build it. It has also come from other parties who have advocated passionately against our existence.

I have been amazed quite frankly at the amount of attention we have received, both good and bad. Many people had an opinion about us, constructively critiqued us and even cheered for us, while many criticized constantly with varying degrees of vitriol and sarcasm. But all the while we continued to increase our profile among the politically aware and seemingly became a threat to other progressive parties who were the most vocal in their opposition to us.

And we still have not been through an election. We haven’t even had our shot yet. We still have not been able to properly introduce ourselves to the Alberta public.

2012 is our chance to begin this work. We will get the chance in many constituencies to take the story and the message of our party to the voters. I personally have been doing this work since last August in Edmonton Rutherford.

So far we have nominated some of the most outstanding community leaders I could hope for. The Alberta Party candidates are people we need as MLA’s and are people that every other party has coveted. They are talented, grounded in community and have rejected the baggage of the tired partisanship the Alberta Legislature has given us in recent years. They are interested in changing politics and working for communities.

Two years after getting that email from Gerard, a lot has changed in Alberta, but it is really still pretty much the same. The PC’s have a shiny new leader, and in my view the best one they could have chosen. But she is still the leader of a top down party with unchecked power and which they will always be without the fear of losing the next election. Nothing the Liberals and ND’s have done in the past year has positioned them to win the next election. The Wildrose is extremely thin behind their leader and will not win the next election.

Certainly the Alberta Party will not compete for government in 2012 either, but for us this is about the long view to 2016 and beginning to rebuild democracy in Alberta by having at least two parties that can compete for government. We need to win some seats this spring and then with increased legitimacy we can continue to do the hard work of building organizations across Alberta in every region, city and town, where we can find the right local candidates that truly speak with and for their communities.

So I invite you to stay with us, to join with us and to help start something new in 2012. We can elect a few Alberta Party MLA’s in the upcoming election. I intend to be one those MLA’s for the great communities of Edmonton Rutherford, where our dream is still very much alive.

Michael


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