One of the hallmarks of political conversation in Canada is its rancor. If you’ve ever tried to talk about alternatives to the way our province or country are being run, most often you’ll either get caught in a gripe session with people who agree with you or a fight with people who don’t.
The middle ground — where ideas are presented and options are compared — doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
When even the middle ground has a line drawn across it, people stop talking. They also stop voting. And that, as much as anything else, cements the status quo.
Way back in 1976, Ken Chapman, Dave King and Rich Vivonne were young turks, handling media relations for a dark horse candidate for leadership of the federal Progressive Conservatives. Some guy named Joe Clark.
Vivonne later returned to Alberta and caught the wave of new media by founding the respected newsletter Insight Into Government. More recently, he wrote a book called Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar.
King and Chapman maintained their connection to politics, which eventually led to a belief that party politics is no longer democratic. Insiders and elites cloister together, choose our leaders and present voters with the result, take it or leave it. Increasingly, voters are deciding to leave it, which suits the insiders just fine. Their solution, promoted by Chapman, is a new forum called Reboot Alberta.
They have a website you can find with a simple search. On the site, Chapman says he likes the analogies drawn by the word “Reboot.” It requires people taking “control,” selecting an “alternative” and “deleting” the party in power. Cute.
The site has been running for only a few months, but it already has as long a list of blog contributors as a political junkie would ever care to read.
What they’ve done is to put the middle ground back into the discussion of policy alternatives in this province.
In their comment section, you can say monstrously radical things — like wealthy Albertans have a moral obligation to assist the poor, just like everywhere else — and no one will usher your fuzzy little socialist head out the door.
In fact, labels delineating left- or right-wing perceptions have no place in their middle ground. Likewise, comments slagging our leaders or ideological opponents won’t get posted. You can be positive or you can be a bystander in the exchange of ideas.
The only label Chapman will countenance is “progressive.” He says Reboot Alberta is a movement for progressive Albertans who want change.
Last weekend, Reboot Alberta had a conference in Red Deer. About 90 people came. Not enough to stake real claims of being a political movement, but enough to become a rallying point for others. There was even talk of attempting to form a new political party. At one time, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives were 90 people in a room, unhappy with how the ruling Social Credit Party had run out ideas in its decades-long reign.
If you don’t think a forum for discussing alternatives can have any “real world” effect, you are forgiven. These are indeed rancorous, cynical times.
But a lot fewer than 90 people decided at one time to give a forum called Rethink Red Deer some thought and some time, and now the group is a go-to source for considered input on issues ranging from planning for transportation, culture, green energy, water conservation and more. Their ideas already shape what Red Deer will look like in the next decades.
If you think this looks like a good opportunity to do some good in this province, you’d be a welcome contributor to either group.
In a place where the middle ground once seemed like a lonely place, suddenly there are kindred spirits. No other force can render the status quo obsolete as quickly.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.