Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Democracy Derailed

Daveberta has a good review up of Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft's latest book, Democracy Derailed, which was launched this morning at the Alberta Legislature. Since Dave is going into the eight year of his poli-sci degree, he's got a lot more experience writing book reviews than I do and he does a bang up job of it. Instead of a formal review, I'll just add a few thoughts.

Democracy Derailed is really a cross between the Liberal Party Platform and what I'd call "the Taft manifesto". It's divided into chapters on the different abuses to democracy in Alberta. Each chapter has several anecdotes, followed by action items a Liberal government would bring in to stop them. While there are some famous Ralph Klein stories, it's really an attack on the institutionalized one party "democracy" of Alberta.

First of all, let me say that it was almost depressing to read this book. As someone who has focused more on federal than provincial politics over the years, I wasn't aware of all of the abuses detailed in Democracy Derailed and it's just sad that the Tories get away with it and no one bats an eye. People in Alberta rant about Ottawa on end, but all Kevin Taft is asking for are the same accountability measures we see in the federal government and other provinces brought to Alberta. Taft makes numerous references to the mechanisms which allowed Adscam to be uncovered and is simply asking that the same openness be brought to Alberta - whistle blower protection, a real public accounts committee (the World Bank has said many third world countries have better PACs than Alberta), non-partisan internal auditors, and an auditor general with real teeth. The double standard is apparent in almost every domain. For example, freedom of information rules in Alberta are, to possibly make up a word, oxymoronic. Documents which are sealed for two years federally are sealed 15 years in Alberta. Requests which cost 5$ and are delivered in days federally take $6,000 and nine months to be delivered provincially.

Of course, this just goes to illustrate the problem. If you're reading to this point, you deserve a lot of credit, because most people's eyes glaze over when the intricacies of FOIP laws are discussed. Because of that, this book isn't going to quite sell like The Da Vinci Code and a movie deal likely isn't in the works (how about an all Star Trek cast with Patrick Stewart as Kevin Taft and William Shatner as Ralph Klein?). But it's because of the one state controls that the sexy scandals never come to light and never get legs.

Like I said, it's frustrating to read about a lot of this and Taft's frustration reads through the pages. Although I enjoyed the many quality Ralph Klein stories, the laugh out loud moment of the book was probably Taft's description of the lengthy debate to make "rough fescu" the official grass of Alberta which went on for far longer than most budget debates. Democracy Inaction.

It would be great if every Albertan read this book but that's certainly unlikely to happen. Instead, it should hopefully serve as a valuable weapon to "fire up the troops" and perhaps recruit a few star candidates to the Liberal fold before the next election. If you're looking for a quick read on Alberta politics, pick up a copy. If reading isn't your thing, then there's a handy website to check out as well.

33 Comments:

  • Maybe if the Liberal Party of Alberta didn't run as socialists they might win an election, however they aren't appealing to Alberta values, they are appealing to Toronto values. Hopefully Stelmach will fix some of these abuses because I won't vote Liberal, even provincially unless they change their platform. I'd rather vote Alberta Alliance Party.

    By Blogger Emil Vargas, at 2:50 PM  

  • You know, what you are outlining here is quite a surprise to me, Dan. I've never had any inkling that there was not strong accountability in the Albertan government, for example. Another example - what you list regarding access to information.

    Very interesting, and disturbing. I too pay too much attention to federal politics and probably not enough provincially.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 3:04 PM  

  • Emil, you should move back to Alberta 'cuz you are totally out of touch.

    The Cons have been effective at getting Albertans to hate Liberals. Liberals have been accused of being socialists as long ago as the 1950's when Grant MacEwan was leader of the Liberal party of Alberta. It's a pretty tiresome and inaccurate line.

    Taft is bang on when he points out the abuses of the provincial Tories. Fortunately for the cons most Albertans are apathetic and don't care.

    By Blogger GritPatriot, at 3:21 PM  

  • Taft is going to be in Calgary this afternoon (Feb 7) to launch the book at the Pages in Kensington. It'll be from 2:30-3:30 if anyone is interested.

    Also, for further reading on the subject check out Mark Lisac's "Alberta Politics Uncovered" which touches on many of the same accountability/one party rule issues.

    -Anne

    By Blogger Anne, at 3:33 PM  

  • Half the problem is that the media have been willing accomplices to the conservative party. When is the last time you read a story about liberals uncovering conservative corruption? Why did Taft have to write a book about it. If this were happening federally it would be on the front pages of every newspaper in the country.

    For that matter, where was the media outrage when Klein essentially closed up shop - having the legislature sit for only a few weeks a year? Where is the accountability in that?

    By Blogger Gayle, at 4:08 PM  

  • The problem lies in the basic flaw that Liberals believe they will get elected as Liberals in Alberta.

    Its obvious that if you sell a product which does not appeal to the market, then that product is going to fail time and time again. This is what the Liberals are doing, they fail to understand that Albertans in general do not vote liberal.

    Why not create a party called the Alberta Democrats, create policies which appeal to the Albertan electorate, and give up the dream of seeing a Liberal party in power in Alberta. The Liberal brand has been and likely always will be a damaged brand in Alberta.

    The federal conservative's had to give up the dream that the Alliance/Reform was going to win Central Canada unless they changed the name and modified their policies so that they would be marketable across Canada.

    If the Liberals ever figure this out, or at least get off their high horse and realize their brand is not selling (despite how good they think it is), then they may have a chance at winning. Its time to reconsider the game plan. Obviously the last 80 years of losing has yet to teach the party something about winning.

    By Blogger M. K. Braaten, at 4:20 PM  

  • Emil; The provincial Liberals certainly don't run as socialists. They've attacked the PCs for wreckless spending on several occasions and one of their big pushes is to put more money in the Heritage fund for savings.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 4:28 PM  

  • It's too bad we don't have an organization that keeps an eye on this sort of thing on behalf of the Canadian taxpayers.

    By Blogger Robert McClelland, at 4:42 PM  

  • CG,

    If reading isn't your thing, then there's a handy website to check out as well.

    The main problem with your suggestion is, that even with the website you suggest, reading is still necessary. I visited the site, and the bloody thing is bombarded with words and punctuation.

    Do you possibly have a link to a website where simply graphs or tables tell the story? Or perhaps one where the democracy derailed message is contained within amusing cartoons? I love cartoons.

    By Blogger Olaf, at 5:13 PM  

  • I think a lot of this has to do with the fact there is no opposition that can realistically form government. When there is a risk of parties losing an election they are generally more accoutable than not.

    I also hate to admit that I don't think liberalism sells very well in Alberta just as conservatism doesn't sell in the GTA, Montreal, or Vancouver. I still think the Liberals could win under the name, but probably being centre-right similiar to Laurence Decore would be their best chance. For example, I think someone like Gordon Campbell or Jean Charest would be conservative enough for Alberta, however Stephane Dion, Jean Chretien, Kevin Taft, and Paul Martin may be middle of the road by Canadian standards but are just too liberal for Alberta.

    Part of the problem is Canada is a diverse nation and parties rarely allow greater divergence of opinion to adjust to the different values. Part of the reason the Democrats won both houses is they played to the mainstream of their constituencies. In the Northeast and West coast cities they were quite liberal as most of their electorate was while in Middle America, they tended to be more right wing as most people there are.

    By Blogger Miles Lunn, at 5:37 PM  

  • Olaf; I'll see if there's an audio book available...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 6:28 PM  

  • The provincial Liberals ran on a platform of building a 2 billion dollar railway from Edmonton and Calgary, pumping a bunch of money into arts and they will not protect religious people from performing same sex marriages. These aren't Alberta values calgarygrit, they're downtown Toronto values which I don't support as do the majority of Albertans. I don't think we need a railway from Calgary to Edmonton, its a waste of money. And I don't like the fact that gay lobby group rights seem to hold more sway than religious freedom in this country. I think if Taft ran as an economic conservative who favoured tax cuts and getting rid of big government waste and made it leaner and meaner like Clinton did in the 90's he would win. However I have yet to see him put forth mainstream Alberta policies. Calgarygrit people like you just don't make up the majority of Albertans just like guys like me are rare in Toronto.

    By Blogger Emil Vargas, at 6:55 PM  

  • Actually emil, in the 2004 election the Alberta Liberals ran on:

    -Committing $7.5 million a year for an auditor dedicated to the health department.
    -The elimitation of health care premiums.
    -%25 of any budget surplus would be invested in capital projects; $3 billion grant to municipalities
    -Investing $1.3 billion in to the education system to hire more teachers and renovate schools and add phys ed, a second language, and arts to core curriculum.
    -35% of any budget surplus would go into a post-secondary education endowment fun.
    -5% of any budget surplus would go into an arts endowment.
    -Introduce a public auto insurance system.
    -Create a citizens panel to look at electoral reform.
    -Put a Seniors Ombudsperson in place and restore optical and dental benifits for seniors while improving the traning in seniors residences.

    PS> thanks for the link, Dan.
    -

    By Blogger daveberta, at 7:08 PM  

  • Jean Chretien and Paul Martin had running against Alberta down to an art (e.g., Bill 11 references, quips like "values not like us," etc.). Holland seems to be keen to carry that cross. That's why the provincial party suffers. But not fatally - Decore came very, very close to beating Klein, when the brand was infinitely more proximate to the NEP.

    Decore was also proximate to a recent federal Tory government. That "heterogenous" trend exists in Ontario - rarely are the provincial and federal governments of the same stripe (and when they were most recently things arranged themselves to get back to their natural order - McGuinty did Martin no favours).

    Furthermore, Alberta has a long history of keeping parties in power for a long time. United Farmers, Socreds, Tories (look at Quebec - everyone gets two kicks at the can - a cynical student of history would say that Charest will win and that the election proximity has made Boisclair suddenly weak rather than the converse).

    By Blogger matt, at 7:56 PM  

  • matt; Definitely. The Alberta Liberal Party would do a lot better if they were just the "Alberta Party", but that's a topic for another day...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 8:46 PM  

  • I fully agree with Matt in terms of people generally are more likely to vote for a party of different political stripes than the one in charge federally. In fact I've predicted that if a federal election comes before October and Stephane Dion wins, John Tory will likely win in Ontario while if Harper is re-elected, McGuinty will be re-elected. It is possible that you could have both liberal or conservative governments at both levels, but history seems to suggest otherwise.

    By Blogger Miles Lunn, at 8:56 PM  

  • God Olaf, you kill me, I swear.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 9:07 PM  

  • Thank you Daveberta for making my point. We simply don't need to pump that much money into schools and cities. It sounds like a massive list of huge government spending considering the size of our surpluses. I agree we need money for infrastructure for all the new people moving to Alberta but I think we need to give people tax cuts. Its convenient for guys like you who want to stay in school for like 20 years and want my tax dollars to pay for you to study Alberta politics but the rest of us have to get jobs in the private sector and make a living to pay for all this stuff. I think we need low taxes for small business and personal income tax cuts.

    By Blogger Emil Vargas, at 10:06 PM  

  • "We simply don't need to pump that much money into schools and cities. It sounds like a massive list of huge government spending considering the size of our surpluses."

    Are you kidding me?! We don't need that much money in our schools!? Have you been to a school lately? Are you aware of the high student to teacher ratio, and the fact that schools in Edmonton are being closed - schools that are located in the inner city and which serve the poorer members of our population (you know, the ones who will find it more difficult to manage transportation costs to other schools). We used to have school counsellors to assist troubled kids - now we just expel them.

    Your comments about university education are also interesting. Perhaps you think only the rich should be permitted to get a university degree. If I had to go to university now instead of 20 years ago, I simply would not attend. I had to get a loan to go 20 years ago - I certainly would not want to take that burden on now given how much tuition has increased.

    What you have done is prove the liberals are right - we need more money in our education system in order to educate people like you.

    For gods sake, anyone can get a job in Alberta right now. Tax cuts to businesses is about the last thing we need here.

    By Blogger Gayle, at 10:51 PM  

  • Despite Alberta's wealth, we are far from what we should be.

    There really hasn't been a government here in 5 or 6 years.

    There has been a lack of leadership and direction, starting at the Premier's office.

    By Blogger Down & Out in L A, at 2:08 AM  

  • I don't disagre with funding for schools but the question is how much is enough? We shouldn't just spend money needlessly just becaues we have massive surpluses. I agree with lowering tuition rates in Alberta for students and putting more money into R & D but this accussation of only wanting rich people to go to school is typical ridiculous Liberal rhetoric. You must be one of those Liberals who think tax payers should pay for college tuition even if it costs billions of dollars. I think we need mor affordable loans but if people want to go to University to get a better job its their responsibility not mine. I think what we need to continue is Alberta's huge economic boom in order to one day get rid of this centralized notion of Canada being run by Ontatio and Quebec. In another ten years if we keep up the pace, we won't have an Ottawa Liberal party that thinks it can walk all over us, especially here in Alberta.

    By Blogger Emil Vargas, at 11:00 AM  

  • Emil
    You are so right, we do not need school roofs that prevent rain water from soaking our kids. Leaking roofs create a pleasent tropical atmosphere and promote learning as students are relaxed. Having the the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Canada in Calgary is a great long term solution for fixing the labour crunch and having one of the highest high school drop out rates is a good short term solution for the same issue. Yes Business in Alberta is suffering from crushing taxes, high forrced minimum wage and such egregious labour standards that it is imposible to compete with factories in Bangladesh. With religious figures being forced to marry loving same sex couples daily it is not long before god destroys Calgary and Edmonton just like he did Sodam and Gamorrah.

    Got forbid we needlessly spend money on repairing school roofs heck, only 45% of Calgary schools have unsafe roofs.

    Emil, one last question. What is the weather like on your planet.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 1:15 PM  

  • Dave and Dan.

    In 2004 we had a provincial election and a federal election in close proximity to each other and the feds had about 40000 more votes in Alberta then the provincials. This is not all explained by the voter turnout. From a public opinion point of view the feds consistently poll higher in Alberta then the provincial Liberals.
    I think it might be more accurate to suggest that the problem for the provincials is not the name Liberal, but rather their desire to not be associated with that name.
    By most standards the feds do better in Alberta then the provincials. Who is pulling who down?

    By Blogger Aristo, at 1:19 PM  

  • On first glance, Taft is on the wrong track.

    The Liberal Party of Alberta has the stars aligning for them if only they had someone who would seize the day.

    First the Alberta Liberal leader should tell Ontario yahoos like Mark Holland to shut up and get lost.

    And tell Ottawa that the accelerated capital cost allowance for the oilsands led to many Canadian oilsands champions, and its removal would lead to only foreign multinationals having the wherewithall to pursue oilsands projects, and to the foreign takeover of the Canadian players in the sands.

    Also, tell Ottawa that the oilsands are Alberta's blessing/problem and Albertans will take ownership of the oilsands environemtnal issues. Basically, but out.
    Albertans will develop a plan for the oilsands that it will sell to the rest of Canada and to the world.

    And then go for Stelmach's jugular.

    The export of raw bitumen.
    The 1% royalty.
    The lack of infrastructure.
    The lack of an environmental plan for water and for greenhouse gases.
    etc. etc.
    Argue that Stelmach's a nice guy and all, but unless there is a new "sheriff" in Edmonton, Calgary and Big Oil will seek to defer and delay, rather than engage seriously on addressing the problems of the boom.

    The Alberta PC's are utterly incapable of delivering on that plan.

    The Alberta Liberals should run against the "bad guys" in Ottawa and the "bad guys " in Calgary.

    By Blogger godot10, at 5:02 PM  

  • Aristo - I thought the Provincial Liberals did better. They got 29% of the popular vote in 2004, while the Liberas got 22% in 2004 and 15% in 2006. In addition they won the majority of seats in Edmonton and a few in Calgary, while the federal Liberals won zero in Calgary and only barely won two in Edmonton, which they both lost in 2006. It is true most in between election polls show the federal Liberals higher than the Provincial Liberals, but those are meaningless. Does anybody believe the Alberta PCs will get 68% on election day as one poll suggested or get over 60% in Edmonton. Not a chance.

    By Blogger Miles Lunn, at 5:45 PM  

  • I think artisto is making up facts as he goes along. By the way, the weather is great Artisto. Thank you global warming! Provincial and federal parties get different support otherwise no one would vote Conservative in BC. However in Alberta we hate the Liberal party with a passion because of their arrogance and over the top accusations as shown by some of the posts in this blog. The problem for the provincial Liberals is they have yet to put out a platform that most Albertans could support. They need to actually figure out what Albertans want and run on it otherwise they'll never win.

    By Blogger Emil Vargas, at 7:35 PM  

  • Werner is that you, you sneaky little guy? That non-sensical pseudo-Tory bluster has a familiar ring to it!

    By Blogger Archie, at 8:51 PM  

  • I don't know if anyone is reading this thread anymore, but... Godot10 you've got my vote. I couldn't agree more. A hell of a lot of Albertan's aren't as right wing crazy as the rest of Canada believes, but that doesn't mean they're not sick of Ottawa butting in.

    Emil... there aren't even words!

    Does no one realize that in the history of Alberta after a party is voted out, they have never been voted back in?? So once the corrupt PC's are voted out, history shows they're done.

    By Blogger Scooge, at 9:52 PM  

  • Emil Vargas:

    "By the way, the weather is great Artisto. Thank you global warming!"

    I'd like to hear you say that under water... sea levels are set to rise drastically because of global warming... and of course storms of every variety are getting stronger and stronger... but global warming has the word warming in it... that means it's a good thing... this might go back to that discussion you were having about school funding... more funding = less stupid ppl like yourself.

    By Blogger MERBOY, at 1:22 AM  

  • That whole Patrick Stewart idea is an insult to Patrick, I can tell you that.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 11:55 PM  

  • Miles,

    The Liberals did get 29% in the last provincial election but have since then dropped to barely 12% in one of the more recent polls (despite the prospect of having Ted Morton as premier!!!!!!).

    The Alberta Liberals don't need a new name but a new leader.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 11:58 PM  

  • From my (admittedly far removed) perspective, the Alberta Liberals' woes aren't due to their brand. British Columbia has a number of people with serious grievances with previous Liberal governments in Ottawa, and yet the BC Liberals are a two-term majority government. This is, of course, because the provincial Liberals are running with a platform that's far more conservative than that seen in the federal party. Likewise, Ontarian voters knew that Mike Harris' Tories were running to the right of the Joe Clark PCs. Plenty of voters follow the platforms and can tell when there is a difference between the provincial party and its federal counterpart, and I'm pretty sure that Albertans are just as capable of making that distinction.

    But I agree with Jason's point that we all should be paying more attention to provincial politics than we sometimes do. There is a LOT of power to be had in these jurisdictions, and the issues they handle sometimes affect our lives more directly than the things talked about on Parliament Hill.

    By Blogger James Bow, at 9:38 PM  

  • Hi,
    Democracy Derailed is really very nice book.... Nice concept..
    Thanks for sharing this blog..

    By Anonymous online zenegra, at 5:14 AM  

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