Lately Ms Soapbox has been thinking about how to talk to her conservative friends without falling even further down the rabbit hole of polarization. Then a friend sent me this letter which acknowledges the sadness a Lougheed conservative must feel at the loss of their party and suggests we reach out to our neighbours and share information so we can elect the representative best able to serve us.
It’s worth a try. And if you have other suggestions, please share them because the Legislative Assembly is sitting for 11 days, after that we’re going into election mode.
Dear Conservative-voting Neighbour,
Thank you for leaving your groceries in the trunk long enough this morning to hold my ladder while I finished that string of lights. Decorations are up everywhere. Soon we will be writing “2023” on our cheques. Then election signs will poke through leftover snow like bright, new, multi-coloured tulips. Just watch!
I remember what you said about health care this morning, and the family around the corner whose child was taken to hospital last week. You told me how it made you feel to see emergency vehicles turn into that street and stop in front of a young family’s home. “Any of us could be in Emergency in an hour,” you said, watching me stretch just a little too far to reach one more hook!
You mentioned Premier Peter Lougheed. “Would health care be better if we had him back?” you wondered. We never had anything like COVID-19 in those days, but would Premier Lougheed have treated a broken leg or cancer the way Premier Smith treats COVID-19? Food for thought. Then we talked about whether the political party which best lives into the Lougheed legacy might be the New Democrats. You said that calling the NDP conservative made you feel sad, like something had been stolen from you.
Sadness aside, it makes me smile that we quibble about electoral politics. (“Quibble” is not always a bad word). A writ gets dropped, I put up a progressive party sign and you, the next day, have a conservative-minded one in your yard, positioned as closely as possible to mine, both competing for attention! One year you had your sign out first.
We laugh, maneuvering signs for the best lines of sight. And I’ll never forget the day I saw you through our front window, straightening your sign and ours after a strong wind had knocked them both down. I love the neighbourly respect, especially at election time. I value learning your perspective, feeling no threat from difference. It is a gift that usually gets hidden, but hopefully never lost.
So it’s in that context of respect that I remember this morning’s talk of leadership, conservatism, and health care. Dear neighbour, it’s my new conclusion that, in Canada, in our provinces and territories, there is only one jurisdiction that no longer has a conservative party: Alberta.
“What?!” you say. “Of course we have a conservative party, an ‘imperfectly united’ one. How can Alberta’s concentrated conservative institutions, conservative conversations, and conservative people not have a conservative party? Most cows are conservative!”
How indeed! We agree that Alberta needs a conservative party because, without strong parties, we wander and fall apart. And that’s what’s happening, we are wandering, falling apart, failing to protect the land and protect, serve, and care for the people. We try to educate the children and protect them from viral spread, while nurses and doctors work to keep the sickest ones breathing. Yet our government must, for some reason, find or create new fights. In what world is that conservative?
Remember how Premier Kenney declared victory over COVID-19. Then he tried to lead us into the Greatest Summer Ever. That’s why our health care infrastructure nearly foundered. That wasn’t conservatism, it was arrogant recklessness. Now Premier Smith declares the virus to be endemic, and she centres her new normal on blaming, finger pointing, and replacing boards and experts with people who take nonsense for wisdom. That’s not conservatism either, and the Premier’s agenda moves full-tilt, even though she has yet to win more than fifty or sixty-thousand votes in any kind of election.
Conservative offices, conservative Legislature seats, and the UCP’s “big tent” are all occupied by a sovereigntist and populist movement. No Progressive Conservatives remain in caucus. The party that has left you is in the hands of people whose goals seem reducible to the conversion of our province, including education and health care infrastructure, into capital for sale to investors. Alberta has many conservative people, but it no longer has a conservative party, united or otherwise.
Well. You must be glad I didn’t try to say all this while thrusting and swinging my arms atop our tipsy ladder! But yes, if you think I worry that something has just shifted alarmingly in Alberta partisan politics, you’re right. I hope you will ask yourself the same thing. What do you think? By May will you and I know enough about the candidates to choose a sign for our lawns? What are their positions, not just on health care, but also on policing, natural resources, pension plans, sovereignty, and children’s education?
Hey, listen to this! What if we gathered data and shared notes with each other every few months from now until election day? It’s up to parties to win enough seats to form government. But it’s up to neighbours to choose the best person to sit in the Legislative Assembly seat that bears our constituency’s name.
On behalf of Whitemud Citizens for Public Health. WCPH is a small group of citizens, your neighbours, who first organized in Edmonton Whitemud. It has expanded to include Albertans in other parts of the province. WCPH is concerned about the quality, support and universal accessibility of health care in Alberta. It is non-partisan and believes in active engagement with people elected to office.