Abraham Lincoln once began a famous address to the politicians and citizens of Illinois with these words: "If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it." Such words would be similarly appropriate if spoken at the outset of a conference on Alberta's future, to be held in Edmonton in early February.
Many Albertans are asking key questions about the political state and direction of their province. Will the Progressive Conservative government, long in office, be able to reinvigorate itself under Premier Ed Stelmach? Will the Wildrose Alliance Party and its new leader, Danielle Smith, be able to mature into a governing party?
Is the pattern of Alberta politics about to reassert itself - a pattern characterized by long periods of one-party governance during which the governing party remakes itself several times, periods of political upheaval as Albertans become seized with a new idea and/or the need for change, and periodic replacement of the governing party (if it fails to renew itself), not by its traditional opposition but by something and someone new?
To provide a cross-partisan forum to address these questions, Nicholas Gafuik, managing director of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, and a team of young Albertans are organizing the Conference on Alberta's Future. Invitations will go to members and supporters of the Stelmach government, the Wildrose Alliance, other opposition parties, unaligned policy experts and grassroots Albertans. Representation will be balanced between north and south and rural and urban - the two fault lines that currently threaten to divide Alberta politics.
The intent of the conference is to provide an opportunity for the political players to answer three key questions:
What is your vision of Alberta's future? If you could write the next chapter of the Alberta story, what would it look like?
How well is Alberta performing in these key areas?
1. The handling of public money - includes control of public spending, taxation and the prudent saving and wise investment of non-renewable resource revenues.
2. Balanced economic growth - includes responsible development of the energy sector (both renewable and non-renewable), along with the knowledge economy.
3. Environmental conservation - includes protection and conservation of Alberta's soil, watersheds, air sheds, forests, wildlife and landscapes.
4. Health and education - includes evaluation of performance and achievement in the two highest categories of provincial social spending.
5. Democratic participation - includes not only voter participation in elections but also the effective engagement of Albertans in public policy decisions.
6. Leadership on the national stage - includes consideration of progress toward Alberta's becoming a recognized leader on the national stage, protecting/advancing Alberta's interests while contributing to the advancement of Canada's interests.
What policies and actions should be pursued if performance in any of the areas is considered inadequate?
In many respects, this will be the most important question at the conference. While it is relatively easy to be critical of governmental performance, it is quite another thing to propose substantive policies and actions that would significantly improve performance. The real test of whether the Conference on Alberta's Future can produce an operable and appealing agenda for moving forward will very much depend on the quality and practicality of the proposals that are generated.
Albertans will then be encouraged to judge for themselves which of the various political players - in government, opposition or unaligned - are best qualified to further advance those policies and actions that will provide the people of Alberta with the future they desire and deserve.
Preston Manning is president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.