Alberta NDP must act quickly to ensure change endures

It is probably difficult for people who have not lived in Alberta to understand the significance of our recent election.

by Janet Keeping, leader of the Green Party of Alberta

Troy Media guest column

It is probably difficult for people who have not lived in Alberta to understand the significance of our recent election of an NDP government: After 44 years of one-party-state politics, we have proved to ourselves that political change is possible by making that change.

Post-election polls show that Albertans are largely satisfied with the change. A substantial portion — many of us not card-carrying New Democrats — are ecstatic about it. As a writer in Macleans put it, Albertans “are celebrating a passing from sickness into health, a seizure of freedom for Alberta.”

Albertans resolved, as an article in the Calgary Sun said, to “throw the bums out,” and finally we did.

The result is nothing short of intoxicating. But now that the PCs are deposed, what next?

Two big picture items scream out for Albertans’ attention. On the substantive policy side, we need to develop an across-the-board sustainability agenda. Alberta’s oil sands, for example, constitute Canada’s fastest growing source of GHG emissions and an ecosystem- and community-destroying phenomenon of gargantuan proportions.

But dealing with the oil sands is only the beginning. Other examples abound. For example, Alberta has the largest and fastest growing gap between rich and poor in Canada. This undermines our social sustainability and our cities have expanded to accommodate rapid population growth in a profoundly unsustainable way. As Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, has often observed, we have built cities we can’t afford to operate and maintain.

On the democratic process side, we need to strengthen our democracy while we can by enacting election finance reform and by adopting a fairer, more representative voting system. There is no doubt, as National Post columnist Andrew Coyne and others such as Fair Vote Canada constantly remind us, our voting system is shockingly unrepresentative.

The results of the recent Alberta election illustrate the problem: the New Democrats got 40 per cent of the popular vote but won 62 per cent of the seats. The political preferences of many Albertans are not reflected in the make-up of the new Legislature. And this is a typical result of our electoral system: the PCs fierce dominance of Alberta’s politics for so long was facilitated and exaggerated by our unfair electoral system. We need to adopt proportional representation, a system where the fraction of the vote received is fairly — proportionately — reflected in the allocation of seats among the contesting parties.

But to address our enormous sustainability challenges and electoral reform, we have to ensure our democracy is never again dominated by big money. In Alberta, that means money from the fossil fuel industry (oil, gas and coal). Contributions to parties and candidates must be limited to individuals; corporations and other organizations, unions included, must be banned from making political contributions. Appropriate limits, much lower than the current ones, must also be enacted.

This part of the Alberta reform agenda is actually pretty straight-forward and there are good examples in Canada as to how these changes can be made in law and policy. Further, election finance reform was an NDP election promise. Albertans have to insist that this reform be enacted soon so that we don’t miss this opportunity while a party that is not in bed with industry holds power.

After 44 years of PC power, it is good that another party has a decisive majority for now. Albertans need time to establish some kind of balance after decades of PC dominance and the rot that set in after years of uninterrupted power. But we need to get to a better, more representative, political system as soon as possible and that can only come through adoption of proportional representation.

It’s a truly wonderful time to be a politically engaged Albertan. There’s a hopefulness, one Albertans haven’t experienced for decades. But huge issues have been long ignored by a series of lazy, entitled and business-subservient PC governments.

The work to be done is immense, but it’s also exciting. Let’s get on with it.

Janet Keeping is leader of the Green Party of Alberta.

© 2015 Distributed by Troy Media