Nobody wants to be an Alberta Party pooper, but the province’s self-described “new centrist political party” continues to disappoint.
The latest example is the Alberta Party’s policy on democratic renewal, which demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how our system of government works and identifies the party as an advocate of the same dangerous U.S.-style legislative bromides as the Wildrose Alliance.
In the case of the Wildrose crowd, this is no surprise. They are, after all, a shrinking rump of perpetually disaffected people who advocate the Americanization of everything from health care to gun ownership to the rules of the Legislature. Indeed, about the only American ideas the Wildrosers don’t like are the good ones – like that country’s profound commitment to free speech and its constitutionally entrenched separation of church and state.
But coming from the Alberta Party, which has tried pretty hard to brand itself as a moderate Canadian voice firmly in the political centre, this is a major disappointment.
When the Alberta Party announced it was releasing a policy on democratic renewal, many Albertans hoped it would emphasize a call for proportional representation, a change that would truly make Alberta more democratic and which could be implemented without upsetting the Parliamentary applecart. For many of us, proportional representation would have made the Alberta Party hard not to support.
Instead, the two most striking recommendations of the party’s democratic renewal brief released a week ago today are term limits for the premier and fixed election dates, which the Alberta Party says would “bring balance and stability back to the Legislature, civil service and all organizations that work with the government.”
Neither will achieve the goals claimed, and both are almost certainly unconstitutional if implemented in any meaningful way. Moreover, it’s hard to imagine how something we have never had will bring stability back to our Legislature!
Sorry about the need for some theory, but our Parliamentary system depends on the Ministry (that is, the cabinet, which must be made up of members of the Legislature) ruling only with the confidence (that is, the approval) of the Legislature. It is essential to the operation of this system that the government must fall when it loses the confidence of the House.
This was the democratic principle on which Prime Minister Stephen Harper trampled in December 2009, when he persuaded the Governor General to prorogue Parliament without a vote when his Ministry had clearly lost the confidence of the House.
It was very troubling that this did not particularly worry Canadian citizens, and it is suggested here that their lack of concern is reflected in the credibility this foolish proposal apparently has among Alberta Party activists. Whether the party’s supporters recognize it or not, this idea is designed to subvert the ability of Canadian governments to act on the programs voters want and instead to pave the way for a sclerotic and entrenched separation of powers system like that of the United States, where even popular reforms are essentially impossible.
Meaningful fixed election dates would clearly limit and possibly eliminate the power of the House to dismiss the ministry, a democratic setback.
Anyway, the Constitution Act 1982, for which we must thank Pierre Elliott Trudeau, includes a hybrid approach to the idea of fixed election dates that should be good enough for anyone who thinks this is a good idea – to wit, a five-year outside limit on the term of Parliament or any Legislature.
Beyond that, since the Constitution Act 1867 decrees that Canada will have “a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom,” and since the U.K.’s constitution is unwritten, the kind of proposal made by the Alberta Party would require Canada’s written constitution to be amended to reflect the departure from fundamental British practice. This means it is almost certainly doomed to be nothing more than a gesture, constitutionally meaningless and able to be ignored by any government on a whim.
So why push a bad idea that would make our government less democratic, and which has minimal chance of being implemented anyway? Only the Alberta Party can answer that question.
As for the notion of term limits for the premier or any politician, this idea is profoundly undemocratic and originates decades ago with the desire of right-wingers to force out of office effective centrist politicians whose popular polices they despised.
Really, who is the Alberta Party to tell you, the sovereign voter, whom you are able to vote for?
If you think a politician has been in power too long, there’s a mechanism for dealing with that. You can vote against him. If you think a politician is doing a great job, why should you not be able to continue to support her?
Imposing a term limit on a premier or any other office holder is an assault on democracy that has currency in Alberta only because of the continued hue and cry and bogus arguments of a right-wing minority determined to use anything they can think of to force good people out of power when the voters won’t.
All Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor had to say on the party’s website to explain this position was: “We also heard that people are tired of the politics surrounding elections, therefore we believe there should be fixed election dates and term limits on the Premier.” Say what? Most political parties that talk like this drop this notion faster than you can say “Stephen Harper” once their own guy is in power.
Finally, the Alberta Party’s two other key policies for democratic reform are:
One, the replacement of the Alberta government’s Public Affairs Bureau, the world’s largest incompetent public relations agency, with a “citizens affairs centre” with which, I guess, we can all smoke banana peels and sing koombyah. It’s not so much that this is a bad idea as it’s hopelessly naïve. It’s unlikely to be implemented by any government, including one led by the Alberta Party. That said, trying it would probably do little harm.
And, two, developing budgets “through an open community-based process which asks for input from Albertans before budgets are finalized.”
Well, good luck with this if it’s anything more than a bogus “consultation” of the sort preferred by our current Conservative government before it goes ahead and does whatever it pleases. If the community had meaningful input, the process would be seized by the opposition, which would soon make mincemeat of the government.
There are a couple of better ideas in this document, so I suppose we oughtn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater. To wit:
- A longer legislated cooling off period before former MLAs and officials can become professional lobbyists.
- Meaningful election funding legislation.
The Alberta Party also calls for increased flexibility in how the Legislature operates, including the use of new technology, so I guess they’d like to let MLAs use their BlackBerries, which would be no big deal.
But they also want to experiment with “electronic voting” – a truly terrible idea that opens the door to outright election theft by hackers, as may already have happened in several formerly democratic jurisdictions.
The Alberta Party’s policy on democratic renewal is a flop that, implemented, would do more harm than good, making Alberta a less democratic place than it is now.
It is a big disappointment that does nothing for the credibility of the Alberta Party, which, at less than 2 per cent in the polls, obviously has work to do in this area!
This post also appears on rabble.ca.