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Going Door-to-Door With Alberta’s Green Party Leader Was a Depressing Experience

The idea that someone who works a full-time job, has kids, and needs to catch up on Game of Thrones would take hours to analyze dense party platforms is totally ludicrous. But unfortunately, that's what this entire electoral system is predicated on.
April 22, 2015, 7:16pm

Janet Keeping. Photo via Facebook

The teen with the polished white Ford truck in the driveway—although that describes nearly every home in this monoculture affectionately dubbed a "suburb"—takes the brochure without a word.

"My name is Janet, Janet Keeping, and I'm the Green Party candidate in this riding for the provincial election," says the 65-year-old party leader while passing the material to the bro-ish teen. "Are you a voter?"

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"No," the constituent replies. Keeping promptly asks: "Is that because you're not old enough? I'm just curious."

The kid says he just chooses not to vote (close to two thirds of the riding's eligible voters also abstained in the last by-election). Keeping asks if there's anything she can do to convince him otherwise, to which he retorts, "No, it's fine, thank you," and swiftly shuts the door to go play Battlefield or whatever.

A few doors down, a blond youngster in Superman pyjamas standing behind a fence demands to know, "Why are you coming here?" as we walk up his driveway, sprinting from the backyard to his mother's side to resume his rapid interrogation: "Who are these strange people?" he continues rhetorically.

This kid is the most engaged person we meet in Calgary all day.

Janet Keeping campaigning in Calgary. Photo via Alberta Green Party.

I've been skeptical of democracy for a long time and not just in the regular "politics is run by billionaires" sense.

There's the larger, unresolved issue of how voters (myself included) are meant to amalgamate all the pressing societal issues—emissions regulations, health care governance, long-term care facilities, and taxation frameworks, to name just a few—into a singular vote. Such talk makes one sound like a fascist. An elitist, at the very least. I'd prefer to think I'm neither of those things.

So for some inspiration, I went door-knocking on a Sunday afternoon with Keeping, who's running to be the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Calgary-Foothills, the very conservative suburban riding for which Jim Prentice—leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and premier of the province up until he called a $23.5-million election 300 days before it was required—is also vying.

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The two of us wander up and down Edgemont, a well-off suburb in the city's northwest. Keeping's an absurdly qualified candidate: she boasts a background as the former president of a prominent ethics think-tank and a research associate at a resource law organization, and holds degrees in law, philosophy, and architecture.

But that means little in this riding. Not because people dislike the thoughtful policies forwarded by the Green Party. I could get over that. Hell, I'd welcome a rabid neo-conservative getting into a spat with Keeping about the party's propositions to raise corporate taxes by one-half (from ten percent to 15) or placing a moratorium on future investments into the tar sands until stringent environmental regulations are implemented.

Instead, constituents who crack open their doors accept party brochures without asking any questions. Two agree to lawn signs, with one stating: "That's fine, I don't care." Others simply say "anything but conservatives" without explaining what that means on a policy front. One dude tells us that Keeping has won his vote because she was the first politician to offer literature.

There's a staggering number of pressing issues in this province: cuts to healthcare and education, public-sector wage freezes, a lack of action on renewable energy, sketchy nomination processes, and bribery in elections. Little of this seems to register. Blank stares abound, save for the Superman kid. It kind of makes sense. Legislation is indisputably boring. The idea that someone who works a full-time job, has kids, and needs to catch up on Game of Thrones would take hours to analyze dense party platforms is totally ludicrous.

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But unfortunately, that's what this entire electoral system is predicated on.

The last time Keeping ran for MLA, she scored 198 votes, or just over one percent of the vote. She certainly doesn't expect to win this time. But she takes democracy "very seriously," at one point ignoring a "no fliers or papers" sign in order to place a pamphlet because "we're doing democracy work, you can't opt out." It's an admirable approach. Her ideas should certainly contend in the "marketplace of ideas," and probably have a shot at winning. But since the election was called far before it was expected, the Greens didn't have time to get their resources and personnel together.

As I ride the bus down the hill, passing the spot where I may have assisted in the sabotaging of PC signage last election, I spot a yet another Ford truck—this one is black—pulled over on the opposite site of the road. It's filled with Prentice signs. Volunteers are nailing them into the grass.

All I can think is, at least somebody cares.

Follow James Wilt on Twitter.