Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus?

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta

Danielle Smith

A short few months ago, it almost felt inevitable that the Wildrose Party would sweep into a majority government at the next election. Their support in the polls was skyrocketing and the 43-year governing Progressive Conservatives looked corrupt, broken and battered. But over the past few weeks, it appears the Official Opposition is stumbling into disarray.

Leader Danielle Smith’s plans to reenergize her party after its four recent by-election loses were sabotaged by social conservative party activists who rallied to reject a motion in support of equality at the party’s recent annual meeting. The defeated motion would have pledged the Wildrose to defend the rights of all people, “regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.” The vote has cast a shadow over the party.

After spending two years trying to distance herself from the “Lake of Fire” comments that cost the Wildrose its chance of winning the last election, it appears that Ms. Smith is back to square one.

Chris Bataluk Wildrose Edmonton Decore

Chris Bataluk

The defeat of the motion led Terrence Lo, the party’s vice-president in Calgary-Glenmore, to publicly resign.

“This vote confirmed to me that the misguided angry beliefs of a minority of the rank and file holds actual sway in party policy,” Mr. Lo wrote on his blog.

Lawyer Chris Bataluk, who ran for the Wildrose in Edmonton-Decore in the 2012 election, posted a stinging critique of his now former party on Facebook today.

“At this point I feel that the Wildrose Party was a noble but failed experiment,” Mr. Bataluk wrote. “It is of little joy to participate in a party that allows itself to be branded as the party of backward homophobes.”

Mr. Bataluk also noted that he did not renewed his party membership when it expired in August 2014.

Ian Donovan Wildrose

Ian Donovan

Mr. Bataluk’s Facebook post was notably “liked” by Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan. Mr. Donovan’s colleague, Joe Anglin, recently left the Wildrose Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA, citing an internal civil war.

The opposition party’s sudden turn is an important reminder of how quickly a party, or a leader’s, political fortunes can turn from good to worse.

Ms. Smith still has time to turn her party’s fortunes around, but the Wildrose Party is increasingly beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The party has a dedicated base of supporters and has shown its ability to raise significant amounts of money, but it now struggles to find relevance in a post-Alison Redford political environment. Can the Wildrose Party be more than a protest party?

Joe Anglin MLA Wildrose Rocky Mountain House Rimbey Sundre

Joe Anglin

While PC Premier Jim Prentice is still surrounded by many of the MLAs and party activists who stood loyally with Ms. Redford until her spectacular end, he has skillfully distanced himself from his predecessor’s legacy. The PC Party is once again masterfully attempting to reinvent itself in the image of its new leader.

After 43 years in power, it seems that anytime an opposition party gets close to defeating the PCs, they soon get knocked out. Not long after Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party to near victory in 1993, infighting and floor crossing destroyed any opportunity of a second chance at unseating the PCs.

Perhaps a sign of the PC Party’s versatility are two key players from Mr. Decore’s 1993 surge who now sit comfortably in the government ranks. Former Liberal MLA Mike Percy is now Mr. Prentice’s Chief of Staff and Gene Zwozdesky, first elected as a Liberal MLA, is now a PC MLA and the Speaker of the Assembly.

While the Wildrose Party has proven itself to be a tough and aggressive opposition, it is very much a party of disgruntled former PC supporters. While the party’s roots can be traced back to Alberta Alliance formed by former Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson in 2002, the Wildrose Party did not begin to gain real support until it started attracting former PC members like Ms. Smith, Shayne Saskiw, Shannon Stubbs, Rob Anderson, Guy Boutilier, and Heather Forsyth.

Those disenchanted Tories took a big political risk when they stepped out of line with Alberta’s Natural Governing Party to help start the Wildrose. The dangerous question for Ms. Smith is whether they are beginning to regret making that choice?

14 thoughts on “Are the wheels falling off the Wildrose bus?

  1. True North

    Well the open ended question posed can only rationally be responded to with …. “We shall see about that, about that we shall see. “. As an occasionally reader I have to express how aghast I am at the use of Chris B and his facebook page as a reference source. A better source would be someone who attended the AGM this year and who has distinguished themselves as a member of the WRP for an extended period of time. To be fair, in this case you have chosen a former candidate who has been a voice of dissent on numerous key policy and issues that are a matter of public record. Please refer to Cory Morgans Blog for a good summary of events for this year and a balanced opinion. Cory’s long time commitment to reporting balanced information would be much more reliable source on the subject you are discussing.
    Thank You

    Reply
  2. Don

    Bataluk has been publicly attacking Wildrose on pretty much every front since shortly after the last election. His status as an “Even this former candidate doesn’t like them anymore!” prop is rather weak.

    and your link to his Facebook post doesn’t work.

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  3. The Invisible Hand

    You’re entitled to you own opinion, but not your own facts, Dave. The motion wasn’t defeated by “social conservative party activists” – the AGM attendees voted it down because they believed existing “all Albertans” policy was already more inclusive than the replacement, 13-separate-category version. Even the Journal article you linked to admits this.

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  4. Sam Gunschq

    The bus was mostly powered by a lucky convergence of mostly rural wedge politics and availability of skilled leader.

    re: “the Wildrose Party did not begin to gain real support until it started attracting former PC members like Ms. Smith”

    And before it attracted anyone else of consequence beyond Smith, I think it’s fair to consider whether WRP would exist at its current scale had it not benefited from an initial boost of funding from petro-elites in Calgary as part of their hysterical whining backlash against Stelmach’s royalty review?

    I’m not sure of the timeline. But my sense is that serendipity explains why WRP exists at its current scale:
    If a skilled politician like Smith isn’t available at the same time the Stelmach PC’s dare to ask for bigger cut for Albertan’s petro-resources from it’s petro-Calgary-partners, WRP doesn’t obtain venture capital for its real launch. IMO,

    Previous extreme right leader-wannabe’s of the Tea-Party elements in rural AB, weren’t in Smith’s league. So the serendipitous history: she’s available as a spokesperson, when Stelmach tries to repeat a bit of Lougheed’s 1970’s turf war with petro-Calgary-elite. But he’s no Lougheed.

    History here:
    https://albertaviews.ab.ca/2011/10/04/petrostate/

    excerpt: Other energy companies showed their displeasure with the government by steering their contributions primarily to the Wildrose Alliance, the only party to defend the royalty status quo. The 2007 changes to the royalty framework mobilized more than two dozen petroleum-related companies to contribute to the Wildrose campaign. More than half the party’s corporate contributions came from these companies, and they delivered 40 per cent of the party’s campaign contribution total. Reaction against PC petroleum policy produced an unheard-of situation—energy sector contributions to the governing Conservatives in the 2008 campaign ($169,575) were less than those to the fledgling Wildrose Alliance ($207,750).
    ======

    Three more important or maybe critical factors explaining PC loss of rural ridings to Wildrose:
    1) powerlines 2) Alberta Land Stewardship Act 3) Joe Anglin/Keith Wilson

    PC’s deliver $4B ratepayer funded powerlines to ATCO/TransAlta/CapPower & SNC Lavalin, including shoving the coal electricity export powerlines down the throats of rural Albertans by legislatively castrating public review so that is must exclude needs assessment. Push that legislation thru the leg. by time allocation.
    Backstory: Patio Gang that owned King Ralph got its final ultimate cherry-on-top payoff of the sell-off and deregulation of our electricity system.

    Ted Morton’s ALSA land-use planning legislation was portrayed to rural Albertans as a kiss ass Enviro – Agenda 21 legislation that would freeze all property rights to the State’s discretion. In fact, it did the opposite: it increased the compensatory options landowners. Ted M. did the landowners a huge favor, but wedge politics, self-serving political propaganda by WRP f***ed him over. Harper couldn`t have matched WRP`s black-is-white shit.

    Check out Nigel Bankes critique at the link below: Morton upgraded landowners rights! Funny eh. Morton gets hammered by WRP even though he delivered more goods than any PC minister, ever.

    http://ablawg.ca/2014/11/20/bill-1-respecting-property-rights-act-a-damp-squib-and-a-good-thing-too/

    EXCERPT: I have criticized that amendment (see Regulatory Chill) but the point for present purposes is that we have, over the last few years, already provided additional grounds for compensating landowners whose interests may be affected by government action, and in particular government action to protect environmental values.
    ===================

    So here’s some relevant history: Anglin goes out and tub thumps to maybe a couple dozen audiences of hundreds about power lines. See youtube videos. Wilson likewise fear-mongers to more hundreds in a series of public rural meetings: uses slides implying that the Alberta government is acting like medieval Kings denying property rights to the present day AB serfs with ALSA land use planning. I attended his Rimbey show. The kings head on a spike, Magna Carta hyperbole against ALSA. Good grief.
    So, PC`s were losing their shit over Wilson’s outreach. Some PC minister who I can`t recall even crashed one of Wilson`s meetings in outrage. Was reported here I think. Of course, Bad move PR-wise but probably justified in terms of Wilson`s distorted exaggerations about loss of property rights from ALSA.

    Both these divas denied they were proxies for WRP. Who knows? Anglin could be just a megalo… probably. And Wilson makes his living off property rights cases for landowners against petro-industry .

    But WRP dined out on all this in large measure because Stelmach and Redford PC`s didn`t have the skills to respond.

    Now Prentice takes the job offered by the petro-head-hunting Calgary cabal, and so far delivers as per his resume, i.e. has the amiable chops necessary to portray any of his critics as strident, eg. WRP or enviros.

    And the petro-Calgary-elite knows their boy won`t forget who that he owes the familia. So all`s well in the old country and WRP will have to just cool its heels until the money needs them again.

    Anyways… That`s my conjecture about key factors in WRP winning the rural ridings. But losing the AB urban war.

    Seems to me that the anti-tax, anti-deficit, gov’t is the problem agenda, in and of itself isn’t enough in urban ridings, without the property rights wedge issue that drives enough rural voters, and is at the heart of the USA politics of Smith/Fraser Institute/Calgary School. They’re still pissed that Lougheed didn’t get property rights into Trudeau’s Charter.

    Even though Morton moved the chains it seems it’s never enough for zealots.

    Sam Gunsch

    Reply
  5. Marie

    I was a big fan of the Wildrose after Danielle became leader and even volunteered with the Party back in late 2009 and early 2010. Some of the concerns I had back then were:

    1) Provincial and federal politics are two different kettle of fish. You can’t do everything the CPC does federally in Alberta (provincially), and expect the same results.

    2) Danielle had no political experience, ergo, no political instinct. This can’t be learned by rote. She has had no choice but to rely on the brain trust around her.

    3) Believing their own press. Back in 2009 and 2010, under Danielle’s leadership, the Wildrose’s key message was that they were going to form the next government. I tried to point out that they sounded even more arrogant than the PC’s – especially with a new and untested leader, without any political experience. It’s been five years……

    4) Danielle’s insistence they weren’t going to do things like every other party – such as not having an ED, no patronage appointments, etc. Within two months of espousing those views, an ED search had begun and she was trying to find jobs for all of her leadership campaign team members. (Not to mention the fact that she has told the Calgary-Bow CA that she will be appointed a candidate for the next election and no nomination process will be taking place. Um…how is that any different than the PC’s or CPC? just sayin’.)

    5) The Smoke and Mirrors approach. The party has been created to be Danielle. (I would hazard a guess that the average person couldn’t name another Wildrose MLA other than Danielle, or perhaps their own.) From what I can see, all the party has cared about is providing the optics of Danielle being a winner and that people would just fall all over themselves to vote for HER. Fundraising has mostly been a priority for the Central Party to ensure Danielle wins a Premiership while the CA’s have suffered financially without adequate training and support. The weak Constituency Associations have long been a concern to members. The reality is, the Wildrose is NOT going to be successful without strong CA’s, which will require training and support. If the Central Party is not committed to providing the leadership and support to the CA’s, then just say that instead of pretending the Wildrose is a grassroots party.

    Five years later, these are the things that concern me about the Wildrose:

    1) They have done everything the CPC does federally and it didn’t get them the results they had been hoping for in Alberta. I strongly believe this is because the majority of their key organizers are CPC people. Unless the Wildrose can engage high-profile, former PC members for the positions of Campaign Chair, Campaign Manager and Executive Director, the party is destined to keep repeating the same mistakes. (Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.)

    2) Coming out and saying Joe Anglin was taping conversations and she had no idea where that information would end up so they didn’t feel they could have open and honest discussion in caucus for over a year was a HUGE mistake. Not to mention the fact she had absolutely zero proof. It made her look weak as a leader.

    3) Kicking Joe out of caucus followed by sweeping staff changes only confirmed Joe’s opinion about the “civil war” taking place within the Wildrose. (There is a revolving door of party staff members, EC committee members and provincial directors – so much so that the party no longer lists the Party contacts on the Wildrose website.) It’s not rocket science that the party is in chaos.

    4) Blaming the media for the positive Wildrose message not getting out. As a former journalist, Danielle knows better than this!!! I know the point she was trying to make but she did herself a gross disservice even saying this out loud. I was actually embarrassed for her.

    5) The return to the grassroots sounds good, but the Wildrose will need to be very careful managing the new initiatives. Who is going to make sure all 100 bloggers are on message? The CA’s aren’t even strong – how is the party going to manage building strong CA’s AND supporting the 1000 ambassadors? Especially, basically, just 18 months prior to an election campaign?

    6) And finally, in all honesty, had I been a member, at the AGM this past weekend, I would’ve voted in favour of the original motion on equality rights – however, as a former journalist, I am completely dumbfounded that Danielle doesn’t seem to understand the optics of this vote going forward. Especially after bragging about the more inclusive stance the night before. Telling the general public that she wasn’t there for the vote doesn’t cut it. Clearly, she hasn’t been connected to the mood of her own party members. (too busy believing her own press clippings?)

    the direction the vote was heading), that she understands why the members made the decision they did, and that it’s no big deal and nothing has changed is absolutely ridiculous. That’s not the perception of the general public. And, perception is reality. (As evidenced by the tv, newspaper, online and twitter coverage of the whole story.)

    Both the Wildrose and PC’s have a lot to deal with to prove their worthiness to the electorate by 2016.

    And finally,

    So, in spite of all of the WRP MLA’s voting against GSA’s in school back in April 2014, Danielle is now going to support GSA’s??? She (arbitrarily) changes policy in the same way most people change their underwear. (This isn’t the only one that’s changed more than once during the past two years.)

    Her constant “reaction” to consequences of decisions (rather than seriously evaluating situations and potential outcomes and thinking through all the options beforehand) and blatant public contortions to “get” votes is embarrassing.

    The PC’s have a long way to go to earn the trust and respect of Albertans again – but the WRP has an even longer way to go if they have any hope to become Government in 2016.

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  6. Bob

    Funny thing. When The Batiluk let his membership lapse and his buddies Winslow, Martin and Newcombe were neutralized I renewed for 5 years.

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  7. Bob Jaworski

    The problem is Danielle Smith’s disasterous leadership. Candidates like Richard Jones have pulled out. She’s losing MLA’s (Anglin is the first of many to go) and as you pointed out Dave her party refuses no-brainer resolutions, showing she is losing control.

    If the party has a hope in hell of winning a handful of seats in 2016, she needs to go, now.

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  8. Wade Izzard

    Teams loose when they are too weak to win or too strong for someone to beat them.

    Smith is to the right, what Taft was to the left. Both had almost same seat high water mark 16 to 17 (with one by-election win under his belt before 2008 election & Smith with one by-election win before 2012 election).

    The loss for Taft in 2008 was hard to take after great press during the election and hope they might pull it off only to suffer a loss of seats against the new P.C. leader.

    The next election could play out the same for Smith. Some seat loss after those around her that she could do better.

    Some of the brain trust of the ALP and hacks from the PC party broke off to form the Alberta Party thinking that it was a brand problem for the ALP they would never be able to overcome in Alberta. That the NDP would come and join together under one tent to take down the P.C. government once and for all.

    The danger for Smith is that this could happen to her. The Wildrose brand may be too harsh for Alberta to vote for. That it might be time to form a new right party that could appeal to more voters and take down the P.C. government.

    This Wildrose 2.0 would be worse for the right than the Alberta Party is for the left. It takes years sometimes generations to build a political brand that can get elected. The Alberta P.C. brand was easier to build, because that had a Federal Party counterpart (that they walked away from in the early 1990’s). That made it easier for them to take over in 1971.

    If the Wildrose want a chance at success, keep your leader and work on building the brand. Stick together in good times and bad and it might work.

    Or you can have the same mess on the right that is around on the left.

    Wade

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  9. Rick Z

    The only way the Wildrose has any chance of success is if they dump Danielle Smith right now and get someone else in place before the next election.

    Look at how she handled herself with the byelection losses, then her on again off again leadership review, then the disaster at the convention… if she doesn’t go, the next disaster will be 2016.

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  10. May Day

    Maybe Derek Fildebrandt is their “ace up the sleeve” in the next election. He walked away from the CTF after months of echoing every little complaint DS introduced. The difference is; he’s able to get the point across without whining. Danielle Smith is a weak, wishy-washy non-leader. The WRP might now understand that.

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  11. Marie

    The WRP caucus has just released a binding resolution regarding equality rights. So, is policy set by the WRP members or caucus?

    The flip-flopping is absolutely ridiculous……..when push comes to shove, Danielle cares more about becoming Premier than letting the grassroots membership set policy direction.

    How is this any different the the progressive conservatives and the Conservative Party of Canada? Oh right….it’s not!!!!

    Danielle thinks just because she tells people the WRP is different than the PC’s they will believe it. People are NOT stupid.

    Reply

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