What Albertans Can Learn From Barack Obama

To paraphrase that old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Barack Obama talks, people listen.

Last week Obama spoke at the University of Illinois.  He broke with the tradition of ex-presidents stepping away from the podium to give the new guy a chance to get on with his agenda because these are “pivotal” times.

He was concerned Americans wouldn’t turn out for the November mid-term elections because they’d become cynical, were taking their rights and freedoms for granted and were distracted by “electronic versions of bread and circuses”.

He said their lack of attention to politics had created a void that is being filled by power seekers sowing the politics of fear, resentment, and retrenchment in order to get into power and stay there.


Former President Obama at the University of Illinois

Obama’s message was both disturbing and hopeful.  It was tailored to the American experience but is remarkably relevant in the Alberta context.

Obama’s message

In a healthy democracy the government does not, in Obama’s view, cut taxes on its wealthiest citizens, unwind regulations, weaken worker protections and shrink the social safety net; because doing so increases inequity, diminishes economic opportunity and increases regional, racial, religious and cultural tension.

Obama says a strong democracy embraces a number of elements.  These will be familiar to supporters of Notley’s NDP, the Liberals and the Alberta Party, but not so familiar or welcome in Kenney’s conservative party.  They include:

  • a free market subject to regulations governing health, safety, and the environment (Kenney’s promise to cut red tape would make the free market paramount),
  • recognizing society’s collective responsibility for healthcare (Kenney would shift more of this responsibility to the private sector—those who can afford better care would get it, those who can’t won’t)
  • empowering workers through unions (Obama floated the European model of giving workers a seat on corporate boards, Kenney’s head would explode)
  • eliminating discrimination against minorities, women, the disabled and the LBGTQ community, (Kenny vowed to repeal legislation protecting kids who join GSAs, he and his caucus boycotted the abortion bubble zone debates and they picked fights with Pride parade organizers),
  • standing up to bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists and xenophobes, (the UCP puts them on the ballot and gives them free rein on social media. Check out David Climenhaga’s informative blog on how far the UCP will go to tolerate intolerance).
  • increasing disclosure and transparency (Obama is still waiting for Trump’s tax returns, Albertans will wait even longer for Kenney to disclose the complete list of donors who supported his run for the PC leadership)
  • not lying about government institutions and programs (Kenney attacks the federal equalization payment scheme, the immigration process and the Liberal’s handling of Trans Mountain but they’re not really creating “western alienation”.  Alberta’s long overdue revamp of the school curriculum is not really a conspiracy to turn our children into mini-socialists),
  • investing in science, infrastructure and education (Kenney’s promise to cut the deficit ASAP will cripple these investments).

All of these elements are indications of progress.


Obama says progress doesn’t move in a straight line, it moves in fits and starts.  Progress stands on the shoulders of people who refuse to be “bystanders to history, ordinary people [who] fought and marched and mobilized and built, and…voted to make history”.

Obama encourages citizens to look for candidates who champion fresh ideas rather than those who recycle stale ideas fluffed up with fear or resentment.  He urges citizens to support candidates who are running for something, not candidates who are running against something (like the UCP candidates who promise to bring back the “Alberta Advantage” but can’t tell you what it is and vow to repeal the carbon tax without offering an alternative plan to manage climate change).

So, if you’re worried about where a UCP government would take Alberta if they win in 2019, take Obama’s advice.  Get engaged, attend fund raisers, door knock, donate, and talk to your family and friends about the progressive alternative.

Barack Obama says you will generate a “spark of hope”.  Hope leads to change and change results in progress.

It’s time to listen.

This entry was posted in Alberta Health Care, Economy, Education, Lectures, Politics and Government and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to What Albertans Can Learn From Barack Obama

  1. Terry Korman says:

    VERY well said … thank you. Reminds me of why this is the one blog that I never fail to read each week.

  2. Good, honest and fair government is not rocket science. Neither is it unbalanced economic policy favoring corporatism, cruel and vicious immigration policy, prison for profit, the stupidity of the Electoral College, white Nationalism, or the political ignorance of Joe Blow. Good, honest and fair government ONLY requires the opposite of Republican – or UCP or CPC policies and attitude. Obama is of course wise and encouraging – quite brave – but all Canada has to to do to achieve good, honest and fair government is read – and do the absolute opposite of whatever Trump thinks . . .

    • Rocky you’ve said a lot in just a few sentences. Let me pick up on the point of political ignorance. We lived in the USA for seven years. We were stunned by the poor grasp many Americans had of their own system of governance. Things seem to have gotten worse under Trump. He’s done a great job of convincing people that they don’t need to bother about such things. A commentator just told me Americans’ ignorance about how their government is elected is the fault of fake news, (Actually it’s taught in schools but people have forgotten what they learned). I blocked the comment because it’s pointless to engage with someone who is convinced I hate Americans and want the US to be like Cuba.

  3. Brendon says:

    Excellent post. Question still remains, how do we get this message to the angry Albertans that believe Jason Kenny is the answer to all their woes? That believe the UCP, under his leadership, is good for Alberta?

    • Brendon, that is indeed the challenge. Obama suggests we try to find common ground with compassionate conservatives. This is an interesting suggestion because it focuses on emotion (compassion) instead of analysis (data/evidence). Given that all the data/evidence in the world hasn’t persuaded Kenney supporters that Alberta’s economy is NOT tanking etc, it might be worth a shot.
      Having said that the better approach might be to accept that we won’t be able to shift Kenney’s supporters and spend our time and energy ensuring every progressive voter shows up and votes in 2019.

  4. I listened to the entire speech. It was wonderful to hear an educated, well spoken, intelligent President. What stuck in my head was him saying it’s not enough to sit back and complain and tweet, it’s important to DO something and VOTE. That advice applies everyone, everywhere.

    • Linda, you’re absolutely right. The internet and social media are wonderful things when it comes to sharing information at light speed but that’s not the same as real public engagement. Obama said people have the power to change the future, but only if they exercise their clout, ie. vote. People who say they don’t vote because their votes don’t count or all politicians are the same boggle my mind. You can’t sit on the sidelines and complain when you couldn’t be bothered to show up on election day.

      • GoinFawr says:

        Especially when it is a verifiable fact that anywhere ~80% of the eligible electorate do regularly bother to show up to register their mandates real, positive change is effected.

        Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

      • GoinFawr your comment reminded me of the research that says a minority of 25% can reshape society. I was a little skeptical about whether this research could be applied more broadly (the research focuses on changing the name of a group versus changing deeply held prejudicial views), but then I remembered that Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists changed the USA at a time when blacks represented roughly 10% of the population and not everyone of them was engaged in fighting for civil rights. Here’s the link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-25-revolution-how-big-does-a-minority-have-to-be-to-reshape-society/

        The tricky part is when you’re part of the minority you can get discouraged and give up prematurely because you don’t realize how close you are to the tipping point.

  5. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. Quite a contrast between the current U.S prsident and the prior one. I do not know if the current U.S president will last for another term.

    • Dwayne, it is a striking contrast, isn’t it. Lord knows how long Trump will stay in office but if he leaves early that would make Mike Pence the president and he’s just as bad. CBC’s The Current interviewed Peter Eisner who co-wrote a book on the “shadow president”. Eisner says Pence believes it’s God’s will that he become president and he’s quietly preparing for the day he takes over. He’s a Christian conservative Republican. He wants Roe v Wade overturned, thinks creationism is as valid as Darwinism, and that smoking cigarettes doesn’t cause cancer. Then to boot he’s a Koch brother’s libertarian. So there you go, out of the frying pan and into the fire!

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan: We know who the Koch Brothers influences, don’t we? The Fraser Institute, for starters. Many conservative politicians in Canada support the Fraser Institute’s bad policies. Ralph Klein was a prime example of that. The flat tax failure, deregulation and privatization, of things like utilities, incresing their costs. The Fraser Institute also favours private health care and a low minimum wage. Obama did not support that, but could not make Obamacare a reality. It is scary to think what Conservative politicians would do in Canada, if they were given the chance. This would include Andrew Scheer, Maxime Bernier, and Jason Kenney. We already can see what Doug Ford is doing in Ontario. It is not a pretty sight. People have to be careful in what they wish for.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Unfortunately Dwayne many Canadians support this kind of policy as long as it does not affect themselves and their wallets.

      • jerrymacgp says:

        I don’t disagree that Pence would try to swing the US hard to the so-con right … but at least he’s not completely bat-crap crazy like the current occupant of the Oval Office. I think that if he were President, he would at least be more likely to listen to rational advice from knowledgeable and qualified advisors, not like the dumpster fire on Pennsylvania Avenue we’re watching now.

        I don’t for a minute think Mike Pence would make a good President … but he would likely be less awful than The Donald.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Jerrymacgp I do not know how much you know about Mike Pence but I point you to the following Atlantic magazine article on him – to me he is as dangerous as Donald Trump and with a religious fanaticism that could be deadly.


        Enjoy it

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    I find interesting that the same people that created this situation are suggesting little to fix it other than urgently warning us that democracy is in danger.
    Democracy has been in danger for decades and Barack Obama willingly participated in nurturing a process that brought us and the rest of the democratic world close to collapse.
    I fully understand that his status quo attitude was safer than the current one but in what way was it nurturing of a healthy democracy? He served very well the interests of a political class that is corrupt, undemocratic and self serving. The only difference in my eyes is that Barack Obama knew how to play the system, Donald Trump is a sociopath ready to push it to collapse in order to take full advantage of it for his self interest.
    Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and many others cannot really throw the first stone, that is why they have been so silent.

    • GoinFawr says:

      “…the same people that created this situation are suggesting little to fix it other than urgently warning us that democracy is in danger.”

      Yes, you’d think if they were so worried they would have made the necessary changes when they were in the unique position of having been given the mandate, instead of waiting until the pension kicked in.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes GoinFawr You are absolutely right
        That is what most politicians have done over and over including progressives, socialists and social democrats in Europe and now that we have a serious situation in our hands everyone suddenly is coming out to point the finger to Donald Trump.
        Interestingly enough the only person that has admitted recently that he certainly contributed seriously to the situation was to my great surprise George Bush. Goof for him at least demonstrates some remorse which I do not see from anyone else. They continue on interviews on television saying that we need more research on what is happening with our democracy and what we should do…….BLAH BLAH
        Well everyone with some interest in real politics knows very clearly what happened and if we do not do something real soon we will have revolutions and really bad ones.

  7. Ted says:

    Each of these valid and positive points could be formulated into sound questions to be presented in any public occasions to UCP MLAs and candidates….. and of course to their ignoble leader, the Jason. It would be telling to see them trying to defend a negative.

    • Carlos and GoinFawr: you raise a very valid point. The FDR Democrats laid the foundation for a strong democracy by regulating private capital, strengthening the labour movement, making public investments and providing a social safety net. The Bill Clinton Democrats moved right on “pocket book” issues by weakening worker protections and deregulating finance. Financial deregulation led to the financial meltdown in 2008. Obama came into office in Jan 2009 and was persuaded by his investment banker advisors that the only way to save the global economy was to bail out the big banks.
      So while Obama and others are suggesting ways to fix democracy, their suggestions are coming way too late in the day because things have gotten so out of whack in the US that they’re now stuck with Trump, and if not him, Pence. Not a pretty picture.

    • Ted: this is a great suggestion. I suspect the responses would be nothing more than UCP rhetoric. Having said that, Obama did say we really need to listen and engage with people who hold different opinions than our own even when it’s frustrating and we don’t like what they have to say. It’s not easy when we’ve become so polarized.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Asking any question to people that do not have any interest in dialogue is unfortunately an enormous waste of time.
      We have had examples in this blog where the answers were basically
      Jason Kenney will bring back the Alberta Advantage and we will cut taxes and get rid of the deficit.
      None of these people really thinks about any of it because the objective is not making Alberta a better place but simply power. Jason Kenney never accomplished anything while in Harper’s government and the pipelines he is going to build here were not even mentioned when he was there. They never had budget in the black in 9 years with exception of the very last year when they played with the numbers.
      So although I would have liked to have a discussion with Jason Kenney hr does not have any answers.

      • You nailed it Carlos. I’ve done a lot of door knocking over the last 5 years and quickly learned to move along rather than debate with someone who was hostile to the party. These people aren’t interested in the facts, they just want to yell at you because it makes them feel good. The whole thing is pointless.

  8. I think a lot of the problem today is that people are disengaged, and with good reason. Television clips only give us the “tip of the iceberg” as far as news stories go and social media is like Fox News as far as information goes – most of it is made up. People are tired, stressed out and do not see a difference between political parties, or individual politicians. We have become cynical. We have allowed the precious gift of democracy to sit vacant by not exercising our right to vote. Yes, it takes a great deal of reading news stories from a wide variety of sources (not Facebook memes) and a desire to be informed – and that is the catch, most people, unfortunately, cannot be bothered. I am glad you are not one of them. Thanks for this – excellent points!

    • Thanks Carol. Your comment about television clips and FB memes really resonated with me. I’m reading Timothy Snyder’s book The Road to Unfreedom in which he talks about politicians like Trump who manufacture crisis and manipulate the resultant emotion, who use technology to transmit political fiction to deny truth and reduce life to spectacle and feeling. It’s frightening to think where this could lead which is why it’s so important that we do everything we can to (as you eloquently put it) preserve “the precious gift of democracy.”

      • And I should have added – algorithms that help politicians fashion their message, which is fine if they are truly interested in serving the public, too often it’s not the case.

  9. Political Ranger says:

    Again, he brings a kind of speech that is both informative and uplifting. Even if his information is not earth-shattering or his uplift is not soaring, this is the kind of speech one expects from a leader. What he says and how he says it is better than what we’re used too. That’s important!
    He also talked about the reason why we should go out to vote. It’s about making things better. Democracy doesn’t work so good when we’re all waiting for just the right person, when we wait for the ‘best’; it’s about participating in a decision process that makes things better for the population.

    • Political Ranger you’ve highlighted an extremely important point when you referred to Obama’s statement that democracy isn’t about waiting for the perfect candidate to come along, it’s about making things better. Obama said he used to tell his White House staff that “better is good” and gave examples like the civil rights act which didn’t end racism and social security which didn’t eliminate all poverty for seniors, but both made things better.
      To quote Obama: “Better is always worth fighting for.”

  10. David says:

    Obama has up until now been fairly quiet and I think we forgot a bit about the caliber of the man, his eloquence and his vision. I do agree we have been somewhat distracted by the electronic version of bread and circuses, its hard not to be even for those who are not fooled by it.

    One of the current buzz words in Canadian Conservative politics is “identity” politics, which I notice has been thrown around by them a lot lately and I find it especially disingenuous and grating. We all have identities, maybe some of the political labels like soccer mom or hockey dad don’t fully capture them, but trying to pretend all people don’t have identities, or that they are not important is just ridiculous hog wash.

    The problem with a number of Conservatives is they don’t like some identities or consider them lesser than others – old stock Canadians in their view are great, recent immigrants from say the middle east, suspect at best. If you have a “traditional” family that is to be celebrated, two mom’s not so much.

    Kenney and crew are more vague than their supporters about what they would do on various social and cultural issues, but you can be sure at best they will do little or nothing for people who do not fit in their favoured groups and at worst they will repeal much of the hard fought/hard won progress of recent years.

    Our identities should not be something to be dismissed or ignored and if we want to preserve or expand the progress made, we have to be willing to continue to fight for it in the upcoming provincial election and elsewhere.

    • You’re right David, the conservatives’ focus on “identity” politics seems to be a new phenomenon. I think it’s part of what the historian Timothy Snyder calls the “politics of eternity” where politicians like Trump haven’t a clue (nor the inclination) to help society as a whole so they pitch themselves as the only one who can defend the people against “the enemy”. Snyder says they reduce everything to “spectacle and feeling”. Governing a country or a province turns into a reality TV show where the people are primed to root for Trump/Ford/Kenney who is standing up for them against the bad guys. The role of identity politics is to insert someone into the definition of “enemy”. Immigrants, LBGTQ, minorities, women, and “activist” courts serve the purpose nicely.
      As you point out traditional, locally born and bred, god-fearing, right thinking conservatives have acceptable “identities”, the rest of us, not so much.

  11. david says:

    Excellent, inspirational and timely comparisons for all Canadians; some of whom may now eschew politics and politicians, while others who care about the future – theirs and their children – will engage more vigorously than ever. Thanks Susan!

  12. David Grant says:

    I agree with Obama on these statements even though I personally I am disappointed on the things he did(watch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9 for some damning information on the former president). Having said that, I think that we should listen to his critiques and apply them to the struggle we have hear in the Wild Rose Province. I also think that we should stop thinking that Mr. Kenney’s ascent into the throne is as inevitable of the rising of the sun or the laws of gravity. If that were so, it would pointless to do anything meaningful on a political or personal lever or in the extreme level-get out of bed. If the AUPE(Alberta Union of Provincial Employees)took this view we would never do anything to work for fairness and equity for our members and indirectly for the society at large. We would never had dug ourselves out of abyss of going from 65,000 to 30,000 employees in the 1990s to 93,000 at this present time. While the task is difficult, it is not entirely impossible. For those who are disappointed, the best advice to take is what Obama said recently to taking up voting as opposed to booing no matter how satisfying that might be.

    • David, sorry about the delay in posting your comment. It got stuck in my wordpress filter and I just found it. I agree with your comment about Obama (his drone policy leaves much to be desired).
      I also agree we need to stop thinking Kenney is a slam dunk going into the next election. The influence of the far right on UCP policy is becoming more apparent. Kenney’s inability to keep a lid on these wingnuts is also becoming more obvious. Both indicate he is not a good leader. This doesn’t bode well for his chances in 2019.
      So yes, we all have to get out there and tell our friends why we support the NDP (or whoever) and most importantly, vote on Election Day. It’s easier to put the time in now than to take to the streets for the next four years in an effort to stop the UCP from dragging Alberta back into the Dark Ages.

  13. David Grant says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this. The view that I have is that we only hear from the people who dislike the NDP which is the media, business, and the UCP supporters. The one group that is quite hostile are think tanks like the Fraser and C.D. Howe Institutes, and the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. These groups also provide lots of misinformation disguised as real research and this has an effect on shaping the public’s perception. While people will cite groups like the Parkland Institute (my union, AUPE, does have an alliance with the Parkland Institute)but it doesn’t have nearly the same resources as the other right-wing think tanks and isn’t as quoted as often as these others are. I think we definitely have to pay far more attention to the School of Public Policy because of the ties between the oil industry and the School. They operate as part of the unofficial opposition to the NDP and would be a cheerleader for the UCP if they were to win.

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