Scepticism. Good! Cynicism? Questionable. Response to David Climenhaga’s post “‘Crowdsourcing our confidence’? (September 4, 2012)
This response was prepared by Brian F. Singh – who was interviewed by David J. Climenhaga.
Yesterday (September 4, 2012), David J. Climenhaga posted his views on our 1CalgaryCentre initiative at rabble.ca. We appreciate his perspective on our 1CalgaryCentre initiative. As we have stated before, we truly welcome scepticism on what our collective is undertaking.
As Mr. Climenhaga has every right to share his views, and I am taking the opportunity to present my thoughts and clarifications on what he wrote in his rabble piece that was also reposted by Markham Hislop in the publication Beacon News.
Well, so far, so good, but progressive voters — and especially those progressive voters who support the New Democratic Party — have good reasons to be suspicious of this effort, which is almost certain to end up with the endorsement of a non-New Democrat candidate as the “progressive choice” for Calgary Centre.
As per our discussion, I indicated that I want all progressive parties, including “Red Tories” to consider the initiative. Based on the historical performance of the NDP in the Calgary Centre riding, Climenhaga is absolutely correct in his risk assessment. But this is not based on what we are doing. This has more to do with Calgary Centre’s voters support for the NDP brand. So I will agree that the NDP, as a single entity, faces an uphill battle to connect with the riding’s voters to realistically challenge the Conservative Party of Canada status quo.
1CalgaryCentre.ca is saturated with the vague, feel-good rhetoric of several recent political efforts of varying success associated with the mooshy middle of Alberta politics — Re-Boot Alberta, the failed Alberta Party that grew out of the Re-Boot and Renew Alberta conferences, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s successful 2010 campaign.
It is odd that Climenhaga has connected the “mooshy middle of Alberta politics” with Naheed Nenshi’s successful 2010 mayoral campaign. The Nenshi campaign is viewed by many as a victory for progressives and those uncomfortable with partisan politics. And it inspired the highest voter turnout in a Calgary municipal election in years. What he states as “mooshy” is describing what most voters seek – a strong centrist perspective. And the term “mooshy middle” is meant to deride to those who want a thoughtful, balanced approach to their politics.
For his part, Singh isn’t saying who, other than himself, is involved in 1CalgaryCentre, other than to promise that, eventually, more will be revealed. (If you think this sounds a lot like the pre-election Alberta Party policy dance of the thousand veils, you’d be right.)
Singh sees himself, I have been told, as something of a political provocateur and social media guru, so it’s possible he’s doing this to be provocative and generate some media coverage.
“I know it sounds cryptic,” he told me, somewhat apologetically, “but as they come forward we’ll be putting them up on the website.” Whoever they are, he added, there are is core of about eight people currently involved in this effort at this point, but there has been input from many more, including supporters of all political parties.
Personally, I am impressed that people consider me some sort of “political provocateur and social media guru.” I am not. And I am not doing this to “be provocative and generate some media coverage.” However, it appears that I did get some coverage in rabble.ca and the Beacon News. I have a good track record with our clients and invited to speak on said topics (and yes, there are presentations of mine online). But, what I really am is a concerned citizen. One with some knowledge, some relationships and organizing skills who is seeking to get voters informed and engaged in a by-election and create the conditions for a favourable result that progressive voters in Calgary Centre can feel good about.
We have registered as Third Party under section 353 of the Canada Elections Act. And we have a campaign plan. We will be rolling out some very concrete activities. So sorry, David. I am not going to share with you all our plans.
On the matter of who is involved, many politicians and campaigns do not post who is actively involved in or behind a campaign. We know we are going to be held to an almost unattainable standard by all progressive parties, Red Tories and even supporters and representatives of the Conservative Party of Canada. And are attempting to be as transparent as is possible. When I talked of the “people involved,” I clearly stated that many of these folks have families with young children or have previous commitments and will be stepping up as progressive candidates are announced and we shift to the next stage of our plans. This is one of the oddities of our team; we actually respect people’s livelihoods in their commitment to seeking change. I am in no way apologetic for that. It would be also great if Climenhaga can capture that sentiment as well given his stated past with the trade union movement.
Also observe the use of the terms “dance of the thousand veils,” “sees himself” and “apologetically.” These are dismissive terms. And there are others in his article. These are polarizing terms, and from a political observer attempting to represent a progressive perspective, we should expect more.
It’s safe to state categorically, for starters, that this effort has nothing to do with the Democratic Renewal Project, Athabasca University history professor Alvin Finkel’s longstanding campaign to get progressive Albertans to vote strategically against this province’s conservative juggernaut.
Climenhaga is correct here. I have stated numerous times that strategic voting rarely works. People want to vote for something, not against. The failure of the Democratic Renewal Project (DRP) has more to do with process and respect. The DRP correctly flagged progressive candidates in ridings that stood a chance of beating the Conservative candidate. But most would consider this a directive, and voters don’t like being told what to do. The main difference with 1CalgaryCentre is that voters are provided a post-partisan/apartisan/progressive partisan forum (whatever you want to call it!), and they decide among themselves which progressive candidate they feel has the best chance of winning the by-election. It is the revelation of voters themselves, not a directive from a select group.
And it’s also reasonably safe to conclude that not much will come from it, since, Singh’s wide circle of friends notwithstanding, no one in any of the major political parties likely to run a candidate seems very interested in 1CalgaryCentre.ca.
Nothing much will come of it? I think that his is an excellent question for Ric McIver and Danielle Smith. When citizens are given a chance to connect, stay informed and get engaged, strange things happen in politics. We welcome all progressive parties to consider their role in our initiative. They can use the forum to assess the strength of their campaigns and how they can improve their chances of delivering on a candidate that will capture the imagination and support of progressively-inclined voters. 1CalgaryCentre has been specifically designed and will be curated to augment the current democratic process.
From the New Democrat and Green perspectives in particular, I think it’s safe to conclude that whomever those parties nominate, their candidates will not be the choice of the participants in the 1CalgaryCentre process, whatever it may be and whoever they may be.
It is predicted here that 1CalgaryCentre will ultimately endorse someone with ties to Alberta Party/federal Liberal/Nenshi campaign circles — say, Calgary lawyer Chima Nkemdirim, Mayor Nenshi’s chief of staff and still a potential Liberal contender despite his best efforts to avoid that fate, or former Alberta Liberal/Independent/Alberta Party MLA Dave Taylor.
Climenhaga is being fatalistic based on the historic performance of these progressive parties. This is unfortunate. It is our hope that a great candidate, regardless of party affiliation, that through our process can be recognized for their quality and potential to win the by-election. The reality is, for all parties, they have to earn the trust and belief of voters. And this has clearly not happened in the past. So we have created a forum – a “middle market” so to say – where a dialogue can emerge, and let voters focus on candidates and less so with partisan politics.
He also mentions Chima Nkemdirim and Dave Taylor. For the latter, I am intrigued that far-right and far-left types remain fascinated with former MLA Taylor and their perception of his connection to our initiative. We attempt to maintain a dialogue with all parties – mainly to ensure that we collect up-to-date information and present their candidates and parties accurately – and I have actually had a conversation with Mr. Taylor after his Open File critique of 1CalgaryCentre. I can confirm that I am pretty sure he has no interest in putting his name forward as a candidate. As for Chima, if he has not shown his face at this time, it is a safe bet he is focused on matters other than Calgary Centre by-election.
In summary, Climenhaga states:
Beyond that, at least as things appear from here, it seems quite unlikely 1CalgaryCentre will have much impact at all on the outcome of the Calgary Centre by-election.
As I stated before, Climenhaga is entitled to his opinion. And this is even before the by-election is called and based on the single event of our website.
How cynical is this?
I have long admired Climenhaga’s Alberta Diary blog. However, in his critique he is pulling out dated clichés and thinking and attempting to position, based on a few observations and a discussion, that our 1CalgaryCentre initiative holds little merit.
For progressive voters, you know what else holds little merit? Doing the same exact thing as before.
Politics requires creativity to thrive and stay relevant to the public. And to be blunt, the decline of party memberships and voter turnout is a clear indication that parties (including the Conservative Party of Canada) are not giving voters what they want. 1CalgaryCentre is something different and attempting to engage voters directly without the direct influence of parties. I would think that would warrant some healthy debate.
It is my belief that candidates matter more than ever before. It was Naheed Nenshi’s purple wave that captured the imagination of Calgarians. Jack Layton’s charisma that delivered an “Orange Crush” in Quebec. And Nathan Cullen and Elizabeth May’s relentless hard work that delivered wins in their respective ridings. All earned their votes. And we are attempting to improve the efficiency of the process to demonstrate to voters who is doing their all to earn their trust, support and vote.
As I said before, I appreciate and applaud David’s scepticism. I find his cynicism questionable.
I welcome him to contribute a post to 1CalgaryCentre that identifies ways to improve our process/initiative or offer up an alternative that has had demonstrated success.