As the NDP has steadily climbed the polls in Alberta, it has become evident that there is a real possibility of them forming the next government. As this has happened, many people, including people I like and respect, have expressed doubts about whether they are capable of managing something so difficult and important as the Alberta economy.
To those people I say, democracy is an unwieldy and difficult thing, and we haven’t really exercised it much in Alberta. The Social Credit Party was elected in 1930, and held power for 41 years. The Conservatives, a party built by and for the oil lobby, were elected in 1971, and have held power for 44 years. As a lifelong supporter of the NDP, I believe that the very worst thing that could happen to this province would be to have an NDP government that lasted even half that long.
No democracy that is not willing to exercise the right to change its rulers can stay healthy. Democracy requires change. Governments must be challenged, parties shaken up, bureaucrats must learn to look over their shoulders. Not to do so is to allow their necks become calcified and stuck in one position. Alberta has given power to one party for almost two generations: even if that party had done a perfect job of governance (a notion that is spectacularly risible), it would be necessary to replace them.
The Alberta Conservatives have forgotten what life is like outside the comfortable chambers of power. If you care about Peter Lougheed’s party, you should be celebrating its coming fall from grace. Perhaps it will learn and grow. For the first time in decades, we are daring to think like a democratic electorate. If we elect the NDP, they will be as imperfect as all governments are, but they will know that they are in power by the grace of an active electorate. (And a word of warning to those who think it will be easy: they will be facing an entrenched bureaucracy and a very hostile conglomerate of corporate interests.) If they manage the economy poorly we have not only the right, but the responsibility to vote them out of office in the following election.
Perhaps it’s a habit that we’ll grow used to.
Kenneth Brown is a writer and actor living in Edmonton.