Party politics doesn’t accommodate independence: MLA Strankman

Alberta experienced ground-breaking political paradigm shift during depression

By Rick Strankman, MLA Drumheller-Stettler

Changing politics – Part 1

At the height of the great depression, Alberta experienced what many considered to be a ground-breaking political paradigm shift. The election of the newly formed Social Credit party displaced the United Farmers of Alberta after their 14-year run as the government of Alberta. It was such a seismic shift that papers across North America took notice, with the Boston Herald running the headline, “Alberta Goes Crazy.”

The election of the Socreds caught even the party itself by surprise! So much so, that they did not even have a leader during the campaign. The first order of business for the shocked Socred caucus of 56 members was to select a Premier designate to lead them into the Legislature.

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The 1935 provincial election saw the Socreds garner an impressive 54 per cent of the vote, with an incredible voter turnout of an unprecedented 80 per cent. The Social Credit party took 56 of the 63 seats, the Liberals took five seats, and the Conservatives held the remaining two seats. The incumbent United Farmers were completely removed from the Legislature after holding a majority government for 14 years prior to the 1935 election. The political paradigm hadn’t just moved, it was completely upset by the turn of events.

The fledgling Socred party had only been founded the year before the August 22, 1935 election. A scandal involving former Premier John E. Brownlee irreparably damaged the UFA party’s appeal and proved to be politically disastrous. The trigger for the paradigm shift for Albertans was ultimately rooted in the lack of confidence taxpayers had in the UFA. The UFA Board of Directors voted en mass to leave politics permanently and focus on agricultural retail.

Alberta politics in recent years has been eventful, to say the least, and there have been severe consequences for those who have tried to short circuit democracy. So why would people be compelled to try something new? Why would they make a shift into the unknown? What reason would be so deeply compelling that it would cause the face of an elected body to be completely disfigured? The answer is perceived unmitigated failure.

It’s reasonable to assume that in 1935, Albertans had a perception that the people they had elected had failed them in some way. Failure is not just doing the wrong thing; it can also be doing the right thing wrong. If we assess the failing state that the Alberta government currently finds itself in, it’s difficult for them to make a case for success when you consider the overwhelming potential of this province.

Albertans are ready for another shift in the paradigm that will send a wake-up call to the Legislature. When representatives lose sight of their primary purpose for being in that House, it has repercussions for Albertans, taxpayers and voters. There are strong signals around Alberta that people are tired of the same-old, same-old. Indeed, more of the same will not fix a problem that is being repeated by parties that find themselves following the same road to failure of the last three majority governments in Alberta.

It appears that the allegiance to a party has eclipsed the spirit of the oath of office and it’s not just confined to Alberta. Direct democratic representation that puts the people ahead of political parties has existed in the NorthWest Territories for some time now. The Voters elect 19 independent Members, in which the elected Members then elect a Premier and seven Cabinet Ministers out of the 19 members elected. The remaining 11 MLAs then become Independent Opposition Members, with the right to vote as their Constituents direct.

The direct democratic governance model used in the North West Territories has allowed their Legislative members the innate ability to put their constituents’ needs singularly ahead of everyone and everything else ultimately. Isn’t that what we all expect from our representatives? What a welcome departure from party politics which do not and will not accommodate such independence.

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