Barnes: Alberta’s Election Is Over. Now What?

Written By Drew Barnes, Posted on June 24, 2023

A Message To Elected UCP MLAs

Alberta’s election is over.

A government has been formed, and a Cabinet chosen. MLAs have been sworn into office. A Speaker has been elected. A return to the Legislature has been set for October 30th.

If you’re one of the newly elected MLAs, a group that includes nine within the UCP caucus and one independent, you’re likely asking yourself, “Now what?”

It’s a loaded question, and your answer likely depends on what you believe an MLA’s role is within our Westminster Parliamentary system.

For hardened partisans and old-guard Tory loyalists, folks like former Premier Jason Kenney, party discipline is much more than a suggestion. It’s an absolute commandment.

For these folks, democracy is something that happens only once every four years on a set day. During campaigns, candidates are expected to align 100 percent behind the party’s platform, and between elections, MLAs must toe the lines established by the Premier even when those lines contradict election platforms.

The MLA’s first duty, they believe, is to sell the public on the government’s directives. Any who don’t are subject to sanction by the Premier’s office. Members of the go-along-to-get-along gang are encouraged to read the talking points and stay out of the news.

However grassroots-minded conservatives like myself, who find our ideological roots in the Western Canadian Reform movement of the 1980s and ‘90s, have a much different view.

We believe that an MLA’s first duty is to represent the thoughts and concerns of our constituents inside and outside the Legislature. This means giving voice to local views and voting accordingly, regardless of the short-term convenience of party leaders.

Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of our Westminster Parliamentary system is that it does very little to foster a proper separation of powers. By exercising severe discipline, the executive branch attempts to claim de facto control over our legislative process. In this environment, if local MLAs don’t exercise their independence quickly, definitively, and regularly, it’s just a matter of time until grassroots concerns go ignored.

This isn’t solely a theoretical concern. Just two years ago, under Jason Kenney, the executive branch drove Alberta’s government into a ditch that cost the Premier his job and resulted in the election of the NDP as Alberta’s largest Official Opposition in provincial history. That the UCP was able to orchestrate such a soft electoral landing was a minor miracle.

For grassroots conservatives like me, the point is simply this: Without serious systemic reform, it will happen again.

And again.

And again.

The plague of what former Premier Ralph Klein termed “Dome Disease” is endemic within our current system. By their very nature, leader-centric governments invariably start ignoring the grassroots and embracing a culture marked by inefficient spending, corporate welfare schemes, and corruption.

My advice for new MLAs is simply this: Spend the summer connecting with your constituents. Listen to them before reading the party’s talking points. Spend a little time, every day, putting yourself in your constituents’ shoes. Doing so will give you the confidence to demonstrate independence inside and outside the Legislature.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that doing so won’t always be celebrated by party brass, and that’s ok. Appeasing them might make your life easier, but that’s not your job. Your duty is to put your constituents’ thoughts and concerns first.

This is how our system was designed to work.

For the good of our province and our democratic institutions, let’s get back to it.

Drew Barnes

One response to “Barnes: Alberta’s Election Is Over. Now What?”

  1. Ron Hierath says:

    True Drew, I told Klein numerous times that I didn’t understand TWO bosses. Who is an MLAs boss, is it their constituents or is it the Premier(and/or political party)? An MLA can’t always be loyal to both. I liked Klein he gave mlas latitude….Kenney didn’t. I hope Smith follows Klein’s model. Ron Hierath