Alberta is headed to the polls in the spring, but how many of us will actually vote? As someone who is going to be a candidate in the election, this question is especially relevant to me, but based on previous experience, we should be concerned that the answer to the question will not be favourable for our democracy.
When I tell people that I will be running in the election, their first response is usually that they think I'm crazy. I don't blame them, because to most people politics does seem crazy, and politicians seem crazy -- or worse. Most people are turned off by politics, as we can see by low voter turnout. In the last provincial election in 2008, just less than 41 per cent of eligible voters participated, and in the constituency in which I'll be contesting, only 36 per cent of voters cast a ballot.
Apathy is certainly a factor, but disillusionment is another. People tell me they don't vote because they think it doesn't matter, that it doesn't make a difference, or because politics and political parties don't inspire them -- in fact, just the opposite: politics and politicians disgust them. A recent Ipsos Reid survey which polled Canadians' most and least trusted professions showed that politicians ranked among the lowest five, in the same group as car salesmen. Clearly we have a problem.
Beyond being disgusted by politicians, why do people feel that voting doesn't matter or make a difference? I would argue that this is because politicians do not act like they value their citizens, or their citizens' concerns. The premier's office and the cabinet come up with policy in the back rooms, and then these policies are pushed through the legislature. The legislature has ceased to be a place of true democratic debate, and is instead viewed by the government as an impediment to doing what it believes is in the public interest. We saw a great example of this in the fall session of the assembly, where six government bills were pushed through the legislature in a very few days, using evening sittings just to have enough time to pass them. The new law pertaining to impaired driving is an instructive case in point: deemed to be the right thing to do by the premier, it was driven through the assembly in short order, in the face of bewilderment from the public and objections from mlas, including members of Alison Redford's own caucus. Even if what the law intends to do, and the way it does it, is the right approach (and this has yet to be seen), it was fundamentally wrong, not to mention arrogant, for the government to proceed as it did. At the very least, there should have been time for the public to understand what the law actually was and what effect it would have on our lives.
What there should have been was an open, public debate about the right way to construct a new impaired driving law, where citizens could have had input and good ideas from all parties could have been considered. Isn't that how democracy is supposed to work?
But that is not how it works in Alberta, and that's the problem. And that's why I'm running for office. Doing politics in a way that ignores Albertans makes them feel as if their voice doesn't matter, and turns them away from political involvement -- even something as relatively easy as voting.
The only way out is to build a new politics, one based on letting everyone have their say and listening to what is said. Politics where the people are actively consulted and mlas are citizens' voices in the government, not the government's voice to citizens. mlas should speak for, not at, their constituents.
This approach to politics is what the Alberta Party stands for, and that's why I'm running under their banner in the coming election. I'll be running a campaign which will seek to engage the 64 per cent in my riding who didn't vote four years ago by showing them that there is a different and better way to do politics. Openness, not arrogance; listening, not paternalism; and policies based on Albertans' hopes, challenges and big ideas.
Unless we change the way we do politics, disengagement and disillusionment will only increase -- voter turnout will stay low. I'm working for the change we need. I hope you'll join me.