Vote your conscience, not for premier or party

“Our job as voters is to cast a ballot for the single person who will attend the legislature and represent constituents in our riding.” Stephen Carlton, a member of one of our CBC focus groups of Albertans talking about the elections, on choices in the provincial election.

This is not your mother’s UCP. This is not your father’s NDP.

Conscientious voters have a tough choice in Alberta's upcoming provincial election, writes Stephen Carlton. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

EDITOR'S NOTE: As part of our ongoing election coverage, we here at the CBC, in cooperation with Janet Brown Opinion Research, have held focus groups with Albertans from across the province; sharing their views on the campaign. Stephen Carlton is a member of the Calgary group.

This is one opinion. Under the heading Opinion, we are carrying a range of different points of view on the issues facing Albertans during the current election. You can find them on our Alberta Votes 2019 page.

The Alberta election is underway.

We citizens, we voters, are being called to read, think, reflect and decide.

After early smears dominated the political agenda, we are now starting to see policy rollout. The NDP, UCP and Alberta Party are offering up something every day. There are lots of new ideas and new materials to keep up with.

Yet, Ms. Notley remains on the defensive and Mr. Kenney still hasn't cleaned his shoes from whatever he stepped in at the time of his leadership race. It's arguable whether it's just an unpleasant smell following him, or if Kenneygate has begun.

Dedicated UCP supporters just might hold their noses as they vote. At the same time, the NDP has hardly been inspirational with their personal attacks.

This is not the best moment of party politics.

What are conscientious voters to do?

We don't vote for a premier

Before we actually get to the vote, it's good to remember — we don't vote for a premier. We cast a ballot for an MLA in our riding.

Political party is one of the considerations, not the sole consideration. Political parties go to great lengths to offer a package deal: government, premier and MLA in one tidy vote!

This vote is often done not with an eye to the candidate, but to the party as a whole, or the leader. But such a vote is uninformed without adequate knowledge of the local candidate, their policies or their vision.

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Political parties have benefits, I have no debate with that. However, all of us can remember slates of party candidates who in their allegiance to party, appeared to be recruited as sheep and then behaved sheepishly in the legislature. They gave up independent thought and became slaves to the whip.

This is in part due to a disturbing and growing trend to wrest influence from individual MLAs and centralize power with the party leader. While voting for a premier is a seemingly convenient simplification, for voters it is not reality.

Our job as voters is to cast a ballot for the single person who will attend the legislature and represent constituents in our riding. In reality, this is the only power the voter has at election time.

It is very simple. We must choose the best candidate for MLA.

Strategic voting?

The media and some political parties like to suggest strategic voting as an option. To vote strategically means to vote for someone who you do not want to vote for, in the hope of stopping something even worse from happening.

While this sounds savvy, the problem is the tactic is completely reliant on accurate polls, and riding polls are nowhere near as accurate as they need to be for this to be a viable strategy.

Until polls are found to be reliable at the riding level, your strategic vote simply becomes an uninformed vote.

Voting for someone you don't want to vote for doesn't even sound democratic.

The individual MLA

After elections, we have seen political platforms forgotten.

Party leaders change. Policies come and go as they are processed on the conveyor belt of government. The thing that remains most constant in a single term is the individual MLA.

Because the legislature is dynamic, our system gives authority and flexibility to MLAs to represent constituents in any way they choose and make their own decisions.

Certainly, if they are elected with a party, some parties expect the MLA to toe the party line. (The NDP and UCP are strict on this, the Alberta Party has latitude.) Yet under the rules of our parliamentary system, they are free to leave caucus or be kicked out at any time.

As circumstances change, maybe the MLA can best represent constituents by crossing the floor. Maybe sit as an independent. Possibly even create a new party once the MLAs are in the legislature. Minority government? Your MLA may be able to negotiate a majority.

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Few MLAs who are locked into a party ever choose to fully use the freedom available to them. But what if they did?

Imagine if our legislature was full of intelligent, go-getting, independent thinkers. Imagine the exemplary Albertans who would be tempted to enter the race. And more than this, imagine if an MLA could feel supported to be flexible, adaptable and vote their conscience for the benefit of their constituents.

Vote their conscience. Every single time.

But we voters must start the process.

As an alternative to party politics, I recommend we show some independence from parties.

Seek out and meet all your MLA candidates. Some of them may even come to your door. Go to All Candidate meetings. Which candidates have integrity? Research and find the outstanding candidate to represent you in the legislature.

Then vote your conscience. Vote your best candidate for MLA.

Check your alignment

In this election, if it is still important for you to vote with a political party, for heaven's sake please take the time to check your alignment with each party.

In Alberta, new parties sprout and blossom. Some old parties perish and some transform. We have seen a shift in what it means to be NDP and UCP.

Somehow, when the Progressive Conservatives merged with Wildrose, the UCP ended up further right than either of them. Then, the Alberta NDP has seemingly been disowned by other provincial and the federal NDP. This is not your mother's UCP. This is not your father's NDP.

With these systemic changes in political parties, I questioned where I sat on the new political landscape.

Fortunately, Vote Compass is back on the CBC website for this election. Vote Compass is a tool to explore your alignment with each of the political parties. And no, the CBC didn't ask me to extol its virtues. Rather, it was highly recommended to me by others. Friends and family told me they were sometimes astonished by the results. At the time of writing more than 130,000 Albertans have tried it.

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Our whole family is comparing alignment.

While there is not a party that matches my ideas on every issue, I was happy to find that there are a number of party platforms that align with my interests.

Vote Compass may be the single most instructive tool to find your alignment with the political parties.

Before the vote

Before the vote, I plan to meet the candidates in my riding. I'll view their websites and review their platforms. I'll ask them questions. I'll ask them where they stand when it comes to them acting their conscience. I'll double check Vote Compass.

I'll take all this into consideration as I decide who I would like to be my MLA, representing me in the legislature with integrity, for four years, while party leaders change, party platforms fall, policy comes and goes, and the world turns…

Then, I'll vote my conscience.


Having lost his job in 2018, Stephen Carlton is currently an under-employed consultant to the energy and natural resource sectors. He’s also a member of one of our CBC focus groups looking at the provincial election.


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