The Crystal Palace, that glorious jewel box of the London Exhibition (1851), started life as a massive gloomy shed, more like a bunker than a light filled conservatory.* It was through the serendipitous intervention of Joseph Paxton, head gardener for the Duke of Devonshire, that the structure was transformed into an ethereal orangery which, at the time, was the largest building on the planet.
Many of us hoped that after this election we’d see a sparkling fresh government under the Dome, however unless there are radical changes we can expect another 4 years of opaque and uninspiring government. We need our own Joseph Paxton to transform this disappointing outcome into the crystalline transparent government of our dreams.
How do we effect this transformation? The very same way that Joseph Paxton did…by speaking in a loud clear voice. The Duke of Devonshire was hard of hearing and hired Paxton when he was hardly more than a boy because Paxton spoke clearly in a strong voice and the Duke could understand what young Paxton was saying.
So rather than sinking into a 4 year stupor it’s time to speak to our government in a loud clear voice.
Connect with your MLA
A good place to start is with your own MLA. It matters not whether he is PC, WR, Liberal or NDP. He represents all of his constituents, including those who did not vote for him, so get engaged. (I’m using the pronoun “he” because even in this post-liberation era most MLAs are male).
The Alberta Legislature website will identify your MLA and provide his email address. Introduce yourself. Start a dialogue, focus on the election promises that really matter to you. Someone from his office will get back to you even if it isn’t the great man himself.
If your MLA stonewalls you (this may come as a surprise but some PC MLAs ignore their constituents because they believe they’d elect a bale of hay as long as it was painted PC blue) then find an Opposition MLA who’ll be more responsive (I guarantee it). I communicate regularly with Liberal, NDP and WR MLAs who to a man (they really are all men) are happy to discuss the issues of the day. If you support their policy positions, tell them, they’ll welcome the feedback. If you don’t, challenge them. Tell them how you, a voter with friends you can influence, rate their performance.
Communicate your views broadly
The news media were deeply engaged in this election. The editorial board of the Calgary Herald took the unprecedented (and shrewd) step of supporting both the PCs and the WR. Some Herald columnists went so far as to claim credit for winning the election for the Tories (yes, Robert Remington went a bit of over the top).**
The Herald’s Letters to the Editor page bristled with opinions about the parties, pro and con. This was a landmark election and the paper’s interest in the public’s views has not waned. So write letters to the editor telling them what you think. Even an unpublished letter has an impact because all letters send signals the editorial board that an issue is of general public interest. And a story that interests the public will interest the editors because it sells newspapers.
Why is this important? Because it dovetails with the work of the Opposition which in turn amplifies your voice. Other social media like Facebook and Twitter achieve the same results but with a less diverse audience.
Understand the issues
Communication is fine, but to be effective it must be well founded. Given the hype of this election no Albertan can plead ignorance of the issues. They were spelled out in detail—healthcare, education, the sustainable development of our natural resources and responsible fiscal policies. It’s all there in the public record. Use it to monitor your MLA’s performance.
It’s time we used crowd sourcing to track the performance of our MLAs and their parties. Pick your own MLA or the cabinet minister responsible for an issue you care deeply about. Monitor his performance and publish your findings here or on an MLA Watch page.
And that leads me right back to where I started—connecting with our MLAs and making them accountable for their promises, providing feedback when they’ve got it wrong (or right) and speaking to them, often and in a loud clear voice.
If the PC MLAs ignore us this time, we’ll have to build our own crystal palace under the Dome. We came close to a minority government in this election, next time we’ll have to push it across the finish line. None of us deserve to be stuck with a musty old shed any longer.
*At Home, Bill Bryson, pp 7 – 13
**Calgary Herald Online, Apr 28, 2012,
***My thanks to Jill Brown and Carol Wodak for the inspiration