Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rebooting Alberta

As Alberta looks increasingly like a Province blowing in the wind – mounting deficits, no meaningful strategy to reduce spending or increase taxation, a government paralyzed by a leadership review of its Premier and the trials and tribulations of an emerging right wing Wild Rose Alliance party – a group of Albertans have decided to take some action. In late November a by invitation only conference in Red Deer, Reboot Alberta, will take place.

The team behind this – Ken Chapman, Don Schurman, Dave King and Michael Brechtel – are seasoned thinkers and players in Alberta’s political minefields. Their aim is not to create a new political party but to develop a series of policy and action frameworks that could reshape Alberta for the twenty first century. Focusing not just on reinventing democracy in Alberta, but also on green oil, rethinking schools and education, social policies and environmental policies, the sessions are intended to develop alignment of progressive thinkers.

Writing about Reboot Alberta on his widely read blog, Ken Chapman says “We need to look at our entire political culture, not just the government. We need to consider what needs to be controlled, what alternatives do we need to create and what can we dispose of and delete in order to deliver us from the current frozen state of ineffective politics and governance.”

Part of the rationale of the event, which is by invitation only, is that it is time for thinking citizens to outline what they see as policies in the public interest. Underlying this is the idea that the gap between the interests of the government and those of the public are widening, especially with respect to some key issues such as schooling, environmental policies and the economy. When the Premier ruled out tax increases and presented a view of the economy as “waiting for a turnaround”, many were disappointed. A key moment for rethinking the role of Government and the nature of the public service was lost. Despite a public appetitite for austerity, the Government thinks it can buy an election by continuing to spend. It may be surprised that this is not what the public see as in their interests.

On the environment, while some policy shifts have taken place under Stelmach, there is no real articulation of a green oil strategy that makes sense. The governments strategy can be seen as piecemeal, reactive and hesitant rather than a bold move to do demand higher royalties, higher standards of environmental responsibility and higher investments in refining capacity. As Satya Das has made clear in his recent book Green Oil (see review elsewhere on Troy Media web site), the interests of the owners of the oil sands – the people of Alberta – have become secondary to those of the oil companies.

On education, reform is in the air. But bold and courageous may not be. A bloated government department is working hard to protect “turf” and radical ideas for change, while being listened to, are always brought to caucus for dismissal. Yet the system needs to change and become much more responsive to the needs of a twenty first century economy.

Healthcare is, most people agree, a “wicked” problem which has difficult solutions. While Stephen Duckett brings his own brand of austerity to the health care system, the public is largely shut out of the process of health care reform and development. Government needs a long term health strategy which reboots the system and focuses on wellness and preventive work rather than continually boosting hospital and emergency care. Without a reboot, the system will fall into decay due to lack of funding.

These are some examples of the policy conversations which progressive people will engage in at the end of November in Red Deer.

A reboot, as those of us who work with computers know, restores some sanity to the chaos of a confused machine. While it takes some features of the machine back to benchmarked standards, it updates others and suggests modifications that users should consider. So too with reboot Alberta. It is time to take some of our government activities back to benchmark while others need to be modified. Some things need to be added to our suite of activities, others deleted. It will be an interesting conversation.

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