Ralph’s vision realized: Albertans on autopilot

The provincial election is over. The legislature resumes this week. Those interested enough to look in or catch it on the Internet will see a tiny band of opposition members (11) swamped by a horde (72) of government MLAs.

In Alberta it seems we like things the way they are. That’s certainly one way to interpret the election results. However since only 41 per cent of eligible voters bothered to mark a ballot it could also be concluded that most Albertans are on autopilot. And isn’t that exactly what Ralph Klein wanted?

A few months before the 2001 provincial election Klein told delegates to a Tory convention in Edmonton: “My vision is for a province that is virtually on autopilot that is capable of running itself.” It would seem his vision has been realized: the government is on autopilot and most Albertans are content to leave it that way.

There’s no use playing the blame game. It is what it is. Alberta now has the distinction of having the lowest voter turnout for a Canadian provincial election in the last 50 years. Peter McCormick a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge when asked on a Calgary Herald blog just before the election if democracy in Alberta is obsolete and elections irrelevant said “Hard not to say ‘maybe’” he wrote.

It’s even harder not to say “maybe” now that we know how many people didn’t vote. No doubt political scientists want to examine why this is so. Me? I’m wondering what those of us who do want to be involved who want some say in the decisions made about the environment health care education oil royalties economic policies — any number of important issues — are to do now?

How does someone who wants to be an engaged citizen live in a post-democratic state like Alberta? Where do you focus your energy? What is the best way to take action when you know that both the opposition parties with elected MLAs are practically dead on their feet? They simply don’t have enough people or resources to effectively tackle one of the most powerful governments in the country.

Should we take to the streets and demonstrate? Who will even notice or care? Should we organize yet another lobby group and make earnest presentations to government committees? Why would they do anything but pretend to listen? Should we organize yet another conference on the evils of privatization? Who would show up other than the same few hundred people who always show up?

There has been some talk about creating a new political party. Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann has already organized a few powwows with this in mind. Starting a political party from scratch however is a long-term endeavour. Just ask Preston Manning. We already have two other political parties — the Greens and the Wild Rose Alliance — and neither of them made significant inroads in the March election.

Mounting a significant challenge to the Conservatives through the usual political channels will take years. In the meantime oilsands development and the serious environmental and social repercussions will continue; our health care system could easily be privatized overnight; economic policy will be left for the government and big business to sort out amongst themselves — even more so than before. This government doesn’t really have to listen to anyone not even members of the Conservative party. It is secure for at least four years maybe five.

We can also expect that most of the news media will be even less vigorous when it comes to reporting on provincial politics. Why would they bother when most Albertans have made it quite clear they could care less about the subject? Even as I write this I wonder who the heck will read it. In a post-democratic state there doesn’t seem much point to even writing about politics.

If we are to be truly honest we have to admit that all the effort mounted by opposition parties think tanks lobby groups social activists environmentalists and many others who wanted to change the status quo to turn Alberta into something other than a smug one-party state was futile. The situation is worse not better.

It’s also clear that continuing to do the same things isn’t going to produce results either. What will? That’s the question. And let’s not forget there is a lot at stake here. It’s not just about life in Alberta about making sure we have enough hospitals and doctors schools public transportation and social services. It’s not just about protecting our piece of the environment.

Alberta is a powerful player on the national stage. What we do here has an impact on the whole country. And since we are so tied into international energy markets what we do here matters in a global sense as well.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. I’m sure hoping someone out there does because we’re all part of a new and somewhat scary scenario.