Dear Jim,

You don’t mind if I call you Jim do you?

Jim, you have a difficult time ahead of you and thousands of people are probably giving you free advice. Well, allow me to kibitz with the rest of them. I have watched your race with keen interest. Like many Albertans, it seems I am interested in knowing who our new premier is, but I am not overly motivated to be on a sinking ship.

Having said that, I think you have been given an opportunity today, and I would be doing my new son a disservice if I didn’t try to keep the Alberta government healthy at least until at least the next election. Healthy means that the leadership is healthy and that includes those elected to lead. So please, pretty please take some time to realign the party. Find your guiding principles and start to move this province towards an inspiring future.

If I step back for a second and just ignored everything the PC party says and only pay attention to what you do, it would appear to me that the PC party has an identity problem. More importantly you have a values problem. It is probably safe to say that most Albertans today do not know what principles you stand for. The only consistent value that we have seen over the last few years is that the party values being in power. In many ways, it appears that the PC’s have consistently sacrificed the other principles of your party in order to continue to hold power. This single value is not something we Albertans wish to vote for. I look forward to the day when I am once again voting for something rather than against something.

But hold your horses. Don’t go throwing party speaking points at me to quickly. The party has lost touch with its roots, and that’s okay. The problem is not that the PC’s values have changed. The problem is that the party hasn’t taken the time to listen and to learn what its new foundation should be. This task will not be easy since the party is composed of… well… progressives and conservatives and maybe a few progressive conservatives. Engaging in a visioning with such a values diverse group will lead to conflict. A lot of conflict. The type of conflict that causes individuals to cross the floor to other parties. Especially if they joined the PC’s because they wanted to win an election rather then because they supported the party’s vision.

While it would be easier for the leader to dictate their own values and policies onto their elected members, remember: a dictator doesn’t look good in any democracy.

One of the challenges of our democratic system is the level of democracy exercised within the decision making of political parties. Ironically, within our current democracy it appears that few parties are democratic within their own structure.

So let me help you get started.

First things first, it doesn’t seem like you party has any form of a conflict management strategy. It’s hard to explore contentious issues is we don’t have a framework that makes it safe to disagree.

A few things for the party collectively to figure out:

 

Respect

  • How do you ensure that all members, both elected and unelected are heard? (‘Heard’ this does not mean that everyone gets 10 minutes to speak. Being heard and having spoken are different things. Thank you Robert’s Rules.)
  • How do you check in to ensure that everybody is comfortable to move forward even if somebody is too reserved to say something?

Decision Making

  • How are meetings run? Who is facilitating the conversation?
  • Who has the power over what the finalization and dissemination of decisions?
  • How are decisions voted on or dictated?

Confidentiality

  • What does confidentiality mean to this party while it is having its key conversations?
  • What can and can’t members say to the media, Twitter, or in other formats?

Conflict

Learning note:
Asymmetry – in 1971 Jones & Nisbett proposed that asymmetry was the root of almost all conflict. Three common types of asymmetry are:
Conflict Asymmetry – We don’t all agree that there is or the level of conflict;
Values Asymmetry – Our values for the project, organization, or group are different and
Power Asymmetry – Misalignment in our understanding of who has authority and over what aspects they have authority over.
  • How do you look for and recognize conflict? Conflict is not a bad thing but left untreated it can be destructive.
  • How do you respect the generative space the party is in and recognize that the party is here to talk about ideas and not to attack people?
  • What is your strategy to identify asymmetry early in order to address and repair any damaged relationships?
  • In the PC party, what is an appropriate reaction to an opposing idea? What about something individuals ethically object to?
  • If significant conflict occurs what should the party or individuals do about it?

 

Enforcing your Rules

  • What will the party do if somebody breaks the rules?
  • How many opportunities do you give a member?
  • When and how does the party and membership decide to come back to revisit and revise your rules?

 

Well, now that was the easy part. Let us move on to part two:

The party’s vision.

You are less the 18 months away from the election, and the only real vision for Alberta is to keep power away from the Wildrose while keeping the oil pumping. Let’s look a little deeper.

I’m curious to know what you would get if we ran your members through the following visioning exercises.

A question for each member:

Imagine for the next few minutes that it is the year 2035. It is far enough away that things are different but not so far that Alberta is unrecognizable. As part of your role in government, you have had a positive impact on Alberta’s future. It is a better province then it is today.

1.    Tell me about Alberta 2035.

a.    What is it like?

b.    What are the key industries?

c.    What are the people like? What do they do for fun?

d.    Tell me about the education system. Both primary and secondary education.

e.    What about health care? Senior care? Housing?

2.    Looking back at the years 2014-2035. What projects and initiatives took place to help make Alberta what it is today in 2035?

3.    What was your role as an individual and your party’s role in those projects?

4.    What difficult decisions and choices did you and the party face to help Alberta become the success it is today in 2035?

5.    When asked by your grandchildren or great-grandchildren about your greatest achievements in government, what is it that you want to be most proud of?

 

You biggest insights into your party will come from the themes and opportunities shared by your members. Explore them. Build on them. Find the parties strengths that help build those futures.

Hopefully, these two pieces of advice will help get the party back on track, realigned, and starting to reform as a team.

Well Jim, I wish you luck. I hope that you can find the time to work on Alberta’s government, not just in the Alberta Government

 

Good Luck,

David Feldman

David Feldman


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