What is the System Doing for You?

Bill 44 passed third reading in the Alberta Legislature this week, and received assent on Thursday. I would suggest checking out the commendable work of Trish Audette and Paula Simons in covering this story, as well as the blogs of Ken Chapman and Kevin Kuchinski for excellent insight into the subject. The main controversy is that it enshrines in human rights law the ability of parents to pull their children out of the classroom when dealing with material related to religion or sexual orientation.

My guess is that there will be little long-term effect, in the political sense, stemming from this. The people who find the opt-out clauses objectionable aren’t going to pull their kids out of class anyways. The government will suffer some bad press the first time a teacher is hauled before the human rights tribunal, and some more if/when the law is challenged in court.

There has been a backlash in Alberta over this, including from many urban, moderate supporters of the governing Progressive Conservative Party. The perception, possibly true, is that the opt-out provisions are a paean to the social conservatives in the party. I’ve also heard that the two cabinet ministers moving this forward – Dave Hancock of Edmonton-Whitemud and Lindsay Blackett of Calgary-North West – are forced to defend this despite personally being opposed. Urban, more moderate Tories are not pleased with either of these results.

All this being said, none of the ones I know view this as a deal-breaker with the party they support. Following the dialogue on Twitter, in particular the night it went through second reading, the most prevalent thought appeared to be “I don’t like this, but I’ll continue to work through the party for change”. This is perfectly acceptable. But, at some point, one has to wonder what they’re getting out of their support and participation, and what they’re forced to swallow in terms of unappealing policies despite continuing to offer their support.

A couple of things I should clarify:

• We all work through the system in some form or another. The only other option is to overthrow the system, and subsequently introduce one you feel will be more amenable to your goals.
• No one is going to agree with every decision a political actor – be it a party or an individual – makes.

I’m not saying someone should give up because of one bad policy decision, but there are some relevant questions to ask:

• What good policies and outcomes has this party/person produced?
• What bad policies and outcomes has this party/person produced?
• What am I ultimately trying to accomplish, and what are the best ways to go about doing it?

Some Tories are trying to work through the party system. As Ken points out, both the Edmonton-Whitemud and Edmonton-Glenora constituency associations are bringing forward resolutions aimed to eliminate the controversial opt-out clauses in Bill 44. This may work, or it may not.

So, to reiterate, I see three questions anyone engaged in the political process should ask themselves, and be able to explain:

• What do you want to see accomplished?
• What is the best way of working through the system in order to see these outcomes accomplishments?
• What are you willing to accept as tradeoffs as part of the previous two questions?

Though I’m not a member or supporter of the PC party, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this piece is not to serve as a critique of their government. In the past few years, they have produced both good and bad outcomes.

• On the positive side, they put the hammer to the Capital Region and forced them to come up with a structure for regional government and cooperation, a problem that has festered for 50 years. Also, the Land-Use Framework offers great potential to start developing the province in a responsible manner, and to allow for the conservation of important natural spaces.

• On the other hand, the government’s lack of planning and saving when oil and gas revenues were high, its caving on the new royalties regime almost before it began, and the shoot first, ask questions later strategy in pursuing health care reform (which they never demonstrated was needed in the first place), are all, to my mind, decisions that have or will produce bad outcomes.

From my perspective, as someone who considers himself liberal to progressive on most issues, the bad outweighs the good in terms of this government. Others may see it differently, which is perfectly reasonable. But like anyone else, Tories working within the party for change should be able to answer what they’ve been able to get for their support, and why they’re willing to accept outcomes like Bill 44 as tradeoffs. I hope that seeing the dialogue move here will encourage everyone to reflect on what they’re trying see realized, and how the best way to accomplish it is.

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One Response

  1. Alex:

    Great post. I am thinking this through very seriously, even though I am firmly behind the Whitemud Resolution and will be at the Board meeting to help push it through, I am considering if that’s just pissing into the wind. Adjusting the sails insead of cursing the wind might be a better strategy.

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