guest post: high noon in highwood.

By: Jody MacPherson

A sleeper riding on the outskirts of Calgary, Highwood has more controversy per acre, than bales of hay. For instance, the first thing you might notice about Okotoks, the riding’s largest town, is how the steady convoy of polluting vehicles travelling to and from Calgary at rush hour contradicts the town’s proud sign, “Sustainable Okotoks.”

Sign on Hwy 2A as you come into Okotoks.

The irony continues with the feting of Okotoks as the greenest community in Canada by such pundits as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and CBC’s Peter Mansbridge at the same time the “rurban” community sits in the chosen provincial riding of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith – a right wing student of the climate-change-denying Fraser Institute and cheerful avower that global warming science is “not settled.”

Smith’s running here, of course, because the riding has become a hotbed of disgruntled former PC Party supporters. Ever since the Stelmach administration passed the Land Stewardship Act last year and alienated rural conservatives with its infringement of property ownership, wealthy rural landowners such as J.C. Anderson and others have been seething. It seems nothing puts Stetson-hatted ranchers – real McCoys or not – more at unease than threats to their property rights.

Smack in the middle of this controversy is Alberta’s smooth-talking finance minister, Ted Morton, formerly the Sustainable Resource Development Minister responsible for pushing through the Land Stewardship Act. Rumour has it that Morton personally met with disgruntled PC party members in Highwood to discuss their objections to the Act, but in the end, he was immoveable, leaving them unimpressed and in many cases, infuriated.

Given this prairie windstorm, it’s no surprise the Highwood Wildrose Riding Association was one of the first the party set up and that it has shown some of the strongest membership numbers in the province. Throw in the fact that Premier Ed Stelmach’s “dissing” of local and much loved MLA George Groeneveld prompted the local PC riding association to pen a public letter of discontent, and the Tory stronghold looks a might shaky these days.

The Town of Okotoks recycling facility.

Upping the ante are a couple of wild card issues. The first is the redrawing of Highwood’s boundaries where new electoral lines have transformed the riding from a large rural land base to a small, dense area of people that more closely resembles an urban riding. The face of the riding has changed significantly to give the two towns of Okotoks and High River more sway.

Generally speaking, I’ve found you can count on Okotokians for their support for the principles of sustainability. In town surveys, residents consistently vote for (and in large numbers) living within the carrying capacity of the Sheep River watershed (aka “the population cap”). Despite Chamber of Commerce-type efforts to discredit the “slow growth” approach as “elitist” and “anti-business,” and despite shamefully blatant local newspaper support for the pro-growth candidate in the recent municipal election, the pro-cap mayor won.

It will be interesting, then, to see how Okotokians, especially those thousands who ostensibly flocked to town specifically because of its environmental reputation, mark their ballot in the next provincial election if forced to choose between a not-so-green Smith and a pro-growth PC candidate such as Morton. I’ve failed to mention any so-called “progressive” candidates as, thus far, neither the Liberal, NDP, Alberta Party, or former Greens (now Vision 2012) have come up with a single viable name. Yet, with Smith’s presence virtually guaranteeing media limelight, it would be a choice opportunity for a progressive to toss their hat into the ring. In fact, a group of local citizens have been working behind the scenes to try and forge an agreement for electoral cooperation to run a single progressive candidate.

View of Okotoks from hill on west side of town

The ultimate wild card in a riding desperate for water, of course, is the spectre of an Alberta water market. With the Stelmach government sending signals that water licenses may soon be up for purchase, the Wildrose could stake out a stance opposed to the water market. Catch is, this would require a change from the free market approach expected from a right-wing Wildroser, and that’s not a given.

They must be aware though, with housing developments at a virtual standstill due to water license shortages and the town running out of options, Okotoks is “ground zero” for the coming water wars. Whichever candidate takes the high road by campaigning to protect its citizens from a water market, an expensive pipeline, higher taxes, and encroaching suburban (Calgary) growth is likely guaranteed the Highwood seat. After all, grizzled landowners who’ve ranched in the area for generations AND the newly minted, solar-powered, recycling Okotoks’ crowd share one common concern—a secure, local water supply for themselves and their children.

That said, if Morton decides to run in Highwood, a high noon showdown is certain to be in the offing. The Tories will likely do anything to avoid water as an election issue, thus an attack on the “water front” would either secure an almost certain victory in the riding by those opposing it, or at the very least, boost Wildrose’s reputation elsewhere.

Despite the pull to the right from within her own party, Smith and her new advisors are said to be considering a more “moderate” approach in the upcoming election. It follows then, that this could justify a policy platform opposed to an Alberta water market. If that were the case, the only candidate left standing after Election Day would likely be Smith. And the progressives would be left in the dust, again. (Cue cowboy music.)

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Jody MacPherson has lived in the Highwood Riding for 15 years. She raised her two children in Okotoks and has been active in water and other environmental issues in the community. She’s been working in communications for more than 20 years and served for two years as the VP, Communications for the Alberta Liberal Party before stepping down in November. She’s currently working as a freelance communications and political consultant. You can read her blog at www.jodymacpherson.com and follow her tweets at @jody_macpherson.

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23 thoughts on “guest post: high noon in highwood.

  1. Call it like it is

    Its quite apparent that some media, esp. Pxter Mansbrxdge has a crush on Danielle and handle her with kid gloves. Sorry Pxter, I do like you a lot and have watched you since I was a child, sitting beside my dad, but lately, it seems that Pxter likes to ask Danielle easy questions and lets her off too easy, as do others. As citizen and a voter, we expect our journalists to be apolitical and ask the tough questions for the sake of democracy, fairness and transparency. Canadian identity is not Libertarian, nor is it extreme right wing. Canadians are an inclusive, fair, democratic society that has the best of what Canada has to offer.

    We should value balance in our system, value the right of businesses to prosper, while valuing the right of people to prosper as well. But libertarian philosophies, their underlying morality is to wipe away freedom and sovereignty of the individual, plunder society as much as possible and treat people like cattle, servants of a slave like state to private companies.

    Capitalism is the cornerstone of Albertan success, but unregulated capitalism without proper governance, oversight and responsiblity to the people is called facism.

    This is not Alberta, nor is it Canada.

    Reply
  2. dave

    What a bizaare comment from “call it like it is.” Not really sure what relevance it has whatsoever. Strange.

    Anyways, if Danielle runs against Morton, she loses. She knows it and so does Morton. I expect to see Danielle flee further south to a safer seat. She would win in Lethbridge-East ina cakewalk, but is it too far south for her?

    What an interesting year 2012 will be for the Wildrose Alliance, what happens to them when their party leader loses her seat, Boutilier loses his, and Rob Anderson loses as well, and yet they win 5-8 seats in other areas, what a strange party they will become. I very much look forward to seeing how it plays out.

    Reply
  3. Jon W.

    Um Dave, what on earth are you on about?

    Personally the idea of Morton running in Highwood sounds like he is not confident of his political career.

    Second, any one who knows anything about Southern Alberta politics knows the rural ridings are conservative voting. The fact that Okotoks may be the biggest place in the riding hardly means it has a real dominance on how votes go. I of course would not except the premise it votes left.

    Municipal politics has not generally be conductive to provincial or federal politics, mostly because a bad provincial turnout usually is still well high of a significant municipal one.

    Second, Smith runs in that riding as leader I suspect her name value, communications skills, and likability will overwhelm the Morton money. The fact they are even considering running him there to me seems to be a sign of severe desperation.

    Lethbridge East on the other hand is not Wildrose territory. It is, much like most of Lethbridge, more liberal and more willing to vote that way. The Ken Nicol vote appears to have passed nicely to Bridget Pastoor.

    The Wildrose leader will sink or swim on the provincial stage not in Highwood. Fast spending and desperate politicians aside it will be just too much for the Tories to over turn her if she can assemble much of the old Tory team.

    Reply
  4. Rick Newcombe

    Dave is right about this being a bizarre year for politics. The rhetoric is oozing out of every corner of the province. Some of it makes me laugh out loud while some makes me tremble in frustration.

    Certain “lighting rods” like this Highwood battle and the fate of Raj Sherman in Edmonton-Meadowlark, are so far dominating the media landscape and the most important issues are still being identified. The “Water Wars” will be a scary part of all our futures.

    Depending on the courage of the Premier to stick to his word, there’s only “about” 460 to 500 more sleeps until we have an election outcome!

    For the benefit of Alberta, I’m dreaming of a Wildrose Alliance Party victory!

    Reply
  5. dave

    Just because you may not like Ted Morton does not mean he has no credibility.

    People need to realize that their own personal opinions do not translate to everyone in the Province. Attend any event that Morton speaks at, either Government or political, and you would have to be blind and deaf to think he has no credibility.

    Morton will be a serious leadership contender for Premier in 2013-2014. Book it.

    Reply
  6. dave

    Jon W. you obviously don’t know very much about politics in Southern Alberta. Lethbridge East had more people vote Alliance than Cardston-Taber-Warner when Paul Hinman first won there. Lethbridge East is more conservative than many rural ridings. Nicol won on his name only, not on his Liberal name. Pastoor won because of Nicol’s endorsement and the fact that the PC’s ran a poor candidate. If the WRA ran a solid candidate it would win in Lethbridge East in a heartbeat. Smith wouldn’t even have to show up.

    You put Morton against Smith and you will find Smith wanting….severely.

    Reply
  7. D-Day

    Dave, your nothing but a PC lacky that will always spin things to look as if the PC’s are the answer to everything. I have watched your posts and know what you’re about. Morton will have less credibilty than a federal liberal when word gets out about Bill 36 and how he is the architect of the bill that rapes Albertans of their land ownership. I’m afraid you are so far off base with regards to Rob Anderson it’s not funny, I was at his fund raiser in November and judging by the turnout and response I saw he will win that seat easy. Your PC’s are finished in Alberta.

    Reply
  8. Bob Runciman

    Floor crossers rarely win again. I have family in Airdrie and anytime I visit them and their friends they can’t seem to stop spewing about Rob Anderson. If Anderson had any principles whatsoever, he’d have resigned and called a byelection and let the voters, his bosses, decide.

    Reply
  9. JodyM

    The Wildrose is preparing to run against Morton, although I do question why he would run in an unfamiliar riding against the charismatic leader of a popular party. The assumption is that if he wins, his leadership aspirations will be one step closer to reality. If he loses, he is thought to be prepared to go back to teaching. He has launched a new website and has made quite a few appearances in Okotoks and area to try and convince Tories to come back to the PCs from the Wildrose. Anger in Highwood about the treatment of Groeneveld and the passing of the Land Stewardship Act is very raw. I don’t think Morton has been very successful in smoothing things over with conservative voters here. He is in for the political fight of his life if he goes up against Smith.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: High noon in Highwood «

  11. Alvin Finkel

    One of Jody’s points is clearly that conservative parties in Alberta tend to be rather reluctant to conserve anything since it means rejecting the notion that the free market can always do a better job than government.

    The conservative voters in Highwood are obviously not pleased to learn that the party that they have always supported is more concerned about big corporations than conserving the lifestyles that locals consider to be true conservatism.

    So the question is whether a candidate of one the supposedly “progressive” parties can emerge as the true conservative whom Highwood voters might identify with. Or will they simply go along with Smith, leader of an even more pro-corporate party than the Tories? Or decide to stay with the governing party because the alternative is to lose provincial funding for almost everything in the area?

    It seems a good thing that the teensy weensy memberships of the local progressive parties have actually been meeting together to come up with a local progressive candidate whom they can all support and running on an anti-corporate but basically conservative platform. It would, I suspect, be far better if that candidate were a Vision 2012 (Green) candidate or Alberta Party candidate since this is the sort of area where the Liberals and NDP are simply mud. If they all run, of course, they’ll get almost no votes and Danielle Smith will likely win in a landslide.

    Reply
  12. Stella

    Who/what is “Vision 2012/Green” and why are the DRP always talking about it? Just a very uninformative website that I can see. Certainly not a political party.

    Reply
  13. Jim

    The founding meeting of the Highwood Alberta Party Constituency Association is coming up!

    When:Thursday January 20th, 2011 @ 7:00 p.m.

    Where: Rylies Cattle Barn, 200 Southridge Drive, Okotoks

    Details: Inaugural meeting of the Alberta Party’s Highwood constituency association. Everyone is welcome to attend, however only members will be able to vote or stand for nominations to the CA Board.

    More info at http://www.albertaparty.ca/events

    Contact:Tracey Bowes at abparty.highwood @gmail.com

    Reply
  14. JodyM

    Stella, the Vision 2012 Society has been set up by some former Green Party of Alberta members. They are hoping to form a new party just prior to the next election. According to their website:

    “There are two possible processes that are available to us in order to register a new green political party with Elections Alberta.

    1. To collect the signatures of about 7,500 eligible electors on a petition. The number of signature must equal .3% of the total number of eligible electors in Alberta and must be collected within a specified period of time.

    2. To endorse about 50 independent green candidates at the next general election. The number of candidates must equal half the total number of constituencies at the time of the election. Once the required number of independent green candidates is registered, the party comes into effect and will be printed on the ballot forms.

    We can target both these options at the same time by recruiting members and establishing a list of potential candidates in readiness for the next Alberta general election in 2012.”

    More info at http://www.vision2012alberta.ca

    Can they do it? Many are doubtful about their chances. No news has been posted on their website since August, 2010.

    Reply
  15. Tracey Bowes

    Looking forward to hearing from more Highwood constituents at our founding meeting on Jan. 20. We are progressive and moderate and want to hear what Albertans want – that is how we develop our policies!

    For more info go to http://www.albertaparty.ca or drop me a line at abparty.highwood@gmail.com. We can be the positive change that the Highwood constituents deserve!

    Reply
  16. Troy

    Here’s what it looked like in 2008

    PC – George Groeneveld: 7715
    Liberal – Stan Shedd: 1647
    WAP – Daniel Doherty: 1405
    GRN – John Barrett: 691
    NDP – Carolyn Boulton: 391

    Reply
  17. Call it like it is

    This province’s politics is rife with backstabbing venom. Everybody involved in politics does not really want to earn an honest living, nor do they want to serve the public. All politicians here, especially Albertan politicians want is to get a cushy job, help their rich lobbyist supporters, get private contracts for themselves or for their friends.

    Everybody here is filthy, dirty and downright godless. There is not an honest bone in politics in Alberta. Is it any wonder why even lib. voters are going to WRA, not because they believe it or like it, only because it is the hate vote, the hatred of politicians in AB today.

    There is no honesty, wholesomeness, ethics or morality in AB politics. Even Jerry Sprxnger has a more credible characters on his 1 hour show ever day.

    BTW…the morons in the AB party have to grow up and quit acting like children. Get your Shxt together and at least learn how the legislature works. This isn’t after school milk and cookies.

    You AP people are destroying a good chance here. How can people take you centrists seriously, if you guys can’t agree on anything, nor can you organize.

    Real world problems won’t be solved by sitting around and having coffee. You guys need to get tough and get your butts in gear!

    Reply
  18. Get Real

    Interesting column. I’m glad to hear that even the most staid of small- c conservative Alberta ridings could be in for the fight of its life in this next election — especially if Morton runs.

    While it’s improbable that progressives can defeat the two round ’em up parties in Highwood, I would love to see WR and the Tories given a good thrashing in the forums by a strong progressive. And if water is the issue that puts them both on the hot seat – so be it.

    Reply
  19. Call it like it is

    @Justin Archer,

    Your sensitive eyes obviously see some hate my previous posting. I hope I didn’t appear hateful, b/c I am speaking the truth.

    It is my sincerest hope that a progressive party, NOT a left party, but a progressive, balanced Centrist party takes root in AB. The AB party is a pipe dream at best, they aren’t organized, they don’t have diesel-like powerful inertia, they have some good ideas, but timid, pablum eaters will only finish lunch, they will never grow the muscle to complete with anybody in a credible fashion.

    I will believe in the AP, as soon as I see AP sucking MLA’s from Tories, Libs and would be WRA supporters. Until then, AP is just a bunch of school kid dreamers. Keep dreaming, a few decades and they may produce an MLA. I do want the AP party to succeed. But these guys need some cash, serious muscle and need a mass injection of experience and fight to become credible.

    I will believe in the AP partie’s viability as soon as I see them assimilating MLA’s from the right and the left. Then, there is some political will, b/c the party has shown itself to be viable and credible on many levels. As of now, the AP has not done anything to attract any MLA’s.

    I apologize in advance, if anything I said was hateful to anybody, that was not my intention. I am frustrated at the lack of progress and lack of choice for Albertans, there is too much stagnation and dead wood here.

    Reply

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