Alberta’s conservative Wildrose Party is holding its annual general meeting this weekend in Calgary and, according to one media source, the event will be closed to the media with the exception of leader Brian Jean‘s speech ahead of the leadership review vote on the evening of Nov 13, 2015.
It feels like an eternity in Alberta politics since the Wildrose Party’s last annual meeting in Nov. 2014, which saw then-leader Danielle Smith clash with the party’s social conservative base over support for sexual minority rights. Wildrose members at the open door meeting voted down a definitive statement on equal rights for all Albertans, destroying the party’s attempt to appear more mainstream on social issues.
Now, the Wildrose Party led by Mr. Jean will spend its first annual meeting after its spectacular return from the dead debating policy and politics behind closed doors.
Wildrose members will debate motions ranging from equalization payments, public sector pensions, ending mandatory membership in students’ unions, increasing access to firearms, abolishing the Canadian Senate, and allowing private enterprise to receive government grants to compete against public essential services.
Members will also debate a series of motions aimed at banning MLAs from crossing the floor to another party, an issue that nearly destroyed the party when 13 of its MLAs crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives in the final months of 2014.
This type of anti-floor crossing policy could prove difficult to enforce, as it is against the spirit of the Westminster parliamentary system and idea of responsible government. Wildrose members should also note that none of the floor-crossers were re-elected in this year’s general election, providing some evidence that elements of our system of democracy worked without unneeded tinkering.
The closed door meeting could help hide controversial comments or embarrassing eruptions that regularily happen when political party members line up to speak at the microphone.
Rumours have circulated for months about a group of party members who still harbour bad feelings from the party’s March 28, 2015 leadership race and could create trouble for Mr. Jean at this annual meeting. The leadership vote, which Mr. Jean won with 54 percent to Drew Barnes’ 40 percent, was held days before the provincial election was called.
An internal investigation was launched amid allegations of illegal robocalls and the party imposed a $15,000 fine against Mr. Barnes’ campaign. The message in the robocalls allegedly attacked Mr. Jean for his $10,000 donation to Jim Prentice‘s PC leadership campaign only months before he entered the Wildrose Party leadership race.
Mr. Jean is now carefully manufacturing his pitch to convince members of the former governing PC Party to join his party’s ranks. Later in November, the Wildrose Party is hosting a “conversation” fundraiser in Calgary where Mr. Jean will make his pitch to conservatives to unite behind his party against the NDP. Any embarrassing or divisive fights at this meeting could derails those attempts.
Wildrose MLAs have eclipsed the tiny PC opposition in media attention while relentlessly hammering almost every decision made by Rachel Notley‘s NDP since they won the May 2015 election. But recently Wildrose MLAs have found themselves tied up in an embarrassing missteps including fighting a new 9:00 a.m. start time for the Legislature and a very public dispute with a Globe & Mail reporter.
Partisan debates about policy can be divisive and messy, but it is hypocritical for Wildrose Party MLAs to lambast the NDP for failing to be transparent and the PCs for being secretive and entitled while holding their own policy meetings behind closed doors.
If Mr. Jean’s Wildrose Party truly wants to prove it is ready to govern and represent mainstream Alberta, they should demonstrate it by giving Albertans a view into how their grassroots members really believe our province should be governed.