Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Swann may be overstating his case, but he does have a point. He says that democracy is dead in Alberta. However, if that were true, he would have to agree that it’s rather pointless for him to say so.
Democracy is not dead in Alberta. In reality, it’s more like the stereotype of a teenager obsessed with video games.
Alberta Democracy likes to sleep late, plays the same album over and over again on earphones loud enough to drown out all other stimulus, watches only TV shows and computer videos that cater to its narrow interests, talks only with its close friends and sees the world through the filter of a Sim game called Oil Empire.
Alberta Democracy knows it has a family because food shows up on the kitchen table regularly, but it won’t hear any opinions it doesn’t like from the people who put it there.
Alberta Democracy may act like a teenager, but it’s almost 40 years old. Time to get out of the house, wouldn’t you say?
Swann is the new leader of what is nominally the official Opposition in Alberta. We expect him to talk and act like the Liberals have a snowball’s chance of forming a government in this province — for the first few years at least.
But the barriers against that are daunting.
Since Alberta joined Confederation in 1905, we’ve only had four governments.
The Liberals ruled an unbroken stretch from 1905 to 1921. After that, the United Farmers held power until 1935. Then, the Social Credit Party put their stamp on the word “dynasty,” running the legislature from 1935 to 1971. Since 1971, there has been no government in Alberta except the Progressive Conservatives, with virtually nothing in the way of opposition ever since.
You’d have to look pretty hard to find another jurisdiction anywhere that has held regular, open elections for so many decades, playing such a tenuous hold on popular support into its unassailable string of landslide victories.
In other countries, “dynasty” gives way to “dictatorship” somewhere after the 10-year mark. We’ve had individual premiers rule longer than that.
But like the psychologists tell us, you can’t entirely blame the teenager. Alberta Democracy is only doing what we allow.
Alberta voters would never go near a proposal to create proportional representation, for instance. Therefore, it’s scarcely worth counting the minority votes of people who support an alternative outside the Tory view. Therefore, opposition voters have managed to change governments in Alberta only three times since Confederation, so if you’re not Tory, there’s little point in voting. Therefore, the government rules, with far less than half the support of all voters, but can act with 100 per cent impunity. There’s no need to be accountable, ever.
What happens to teenagers in that situation? They come to be almost 40 years old, sitting on the couch playing the latest version of the Sim game Oil Empire.
At least by now, they’re really, really good at that.
All of this makes things tough on people who want change, like David Swann of the Liberals or Mark Dyrholm, a candidate for leadership of the Wildrose Alliance.
You can argue we haven’t really been doing Alberta Democracy any favours, either. But still, that’s our teenager over there on the couch.
Not dead, just running an empire.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.