Tag Archives: Randy Thorsteinson

Perhaps hoping to capitalize on Hillary Clintons candidacy, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the American Democratic Party's logo. 

Reform Party of Alberta now officially registered as a political party

In the midst the latest round of unite-the-right chatter, conservative voters in Alberta now have another party to cast their ballots for.

Randy Thorsteinson

Randy Thorsteinson

The Reform Party of Alberta is now officially registered as a political party with Elections Alberta. The party describes itself as “Alberta’s principled, compassionate, socially and fiscally conservative political party.

The drive to register the party was launched in mid-2014 by conservative activist Randy Thorsteinson, who pledged in March 2015 to run a full-slate of candidates in the upcoming election. Unfortunately for Mr. Thorsteinson and his followers, Jim Prentice called the provincial election one year earlier than expected and his party was unable to register with Elections Alberta before the vote.

The party again tried to gain registered status with Elections Alberta in advance of the March 22, 2016 by-election in Calgary-Greenway but they were unable to meet the deadline required to have a candidate listed on the ballot.

I am told the party definitely plans on running a full-slate of candidates in the next provincial election, expected to be held in early 2019.

A party with the same name previously existed from 1989 until 2004 as a place-holder vehicle for the Reform Party of Canada to contest Alberta’s Senator-in-Waiting elections in 1989 and 1998. Although federal party leader Preston Manning is said to have pondered expanding the provincial-wing to challenge the Progressive Conservatives, Reform partisans alternatively found willing supporters in the conservative-wings of the PC and Liberal parties in advance of the 1993 election.

That party should also not be confused with the Alberta Reform Movement, which was founded in 1981 by former PC MLA Tom Sindlinger.

Party leader Mr. Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party from 1992 to 1999 and the Alberta Alliance Party from 2003 until 2005. He stood as a candidate in the 1993, 1997 elections in Red Deer-South and in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake in 2004.

He participated in the televised leaders debate in 1997 and led the Socreds to earn 6.8 percent of the province-wide vote, the strongest showing by that party since 1979. The Alberta Alliance, which later became the Wildrose Party, earned 8.7 percent of the vote in 2004 while campaigning on the slogan “Blame Ralph,” in reference to then-premier Ralph Klein (his legacy is now lauded by conservatives, but many Albertans forget how unpopular Mr. Klein was starting to become during his final years in office).

In February 2016, Mr. Thorsteinson explained his reasons for forming a new party and not joining the Wildrose Party:

“The challenge I have with the Wildrose is that I am also a Social Conservative. I believe in the traditional Albertan family values, the Wildrose does not. Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose, just after his victory as Wildrose leader called Social Conservatives “wingnuts” and “nutbars” in newspapers. I obviously can’t support him.

Additionally, the Wildrose Caucus MLAs also joined with all other parties in the Alberta legislature on Dec. 7, 2015 to unanimously vote in favour of Bill 7 the “Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, 2015”. This is the law that allowed the NDP government to have the legal authority to pronounce the outrageous “Guidelines of Best Practices” that mandates that boys and men have the right to use women’s public washrooms and showers if they “self identify” as a girl or woman. My wife and I have six daughters, we are very concerned there will be a lot of teenage boys who “self identify” as a girl to go into the girls showers. It recently happened at the University of Toronto where male students were videoing female students taking showers in “gender neutral showers” on campus. Progressive/Liberals will call it fear mongering, parents call it outrageous. The guidelines also undermine parents and wants schools to stop using the words mother and father; him and her for something “gender neutral”. For the record for progressive/liberals I am a husband and father, Kathleen is my wife and mother of our children. We are not gender neutral.

All of the Wildrose MLAs unanimously voted for it. As a Social Conservative I can’t support them. It’s not the party I founded, it’s Progressive Conservative lite.”

So there you have it. If you are a conservative who does not believe the other five conservative parties in Alberta are conservative enough, then the Reform Party of Alberta could be a good fit for you.

Note: As noted in the photo caption above, the Reform Party of Alberta logo, shown above, is remarkably similar to the logo used by the American Democratic Party.

What a year 2015 has been in Alberta politics!

Alberta Legislature Building Edmonton Canada

Alberta’s Legislative Assembly (photo credit Timorose, CC BY-SA 3.0)

December 29, 2015

Column by: Dirk Pranter, Provincial Affairs columnist, Edmonton Journal-Sun

Tories re-elected for 14th time

A snap mid-Summer election returned Jim Prentice’s renamed “Conservative Party of Alberta” to its fourteenth term as government. In an unexpected twist of fate, Finance Minister Danielle Smith was defeated in her home riding by Wildrose Party leader Randy Thorsteinson.

But don’t feel sorry for Smith. She was appointed to the Senate in one of Stephen Harper’s last acts as Prime Minister before the Conservatives lost the October federal election. Harper’s applecart was upset when the beautiful, unseasonably warm October weather caused Canadian voters to turn out in droves.

Back on the provincial scene, NDP leader Rachel Notley led her party to a breakthrough in Edmonton to form the Official Opposition with 21 MLAs. Notley’s party won its first seat in Calgary since the 1980s and its first ever seat in Lethbridge.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the re-election of Wildrose-turned-Liberal MLA Joe Anglin, who won by 3,000 votes in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. As the only Liberal to survive the election, Anglin is now the leader of the party.

“Unlike the 2012 election, 2015 gave Albertans two clear choices in the PCs and NDP,” said Rick Dunderland, a professor of political science at University of Red Deer. “Even though the PCs still won, there is now a difference between the government and official opposition and that will be a good thing for democracy.”

Tough Economic Times behind us

With a return to $120/barrel oil, Premier Prentice praised good economic times ahead for Albertans in the 2016.

“Back to budgeting as usual,” a senior government official said. “Now we don’t have to worry about saving money for the future, because the price of oil is never going to go down again.”

The Prentice Government is facing international criticism for his government’s continued lack of climate change plan. “Alberta’s climate change framework is important and will be a continued focus of our government in 2016,” Energy Environment Minister Rob Anderson said. “Under new management, we are continuing to take the time to ensure the decisions we make are right.”

And big city mayors have a lot to celebrate. The recently negotiated City Charters granting the municipalities new powers are expected to be unveiled in early 2016. A newly released poll showed Mayors Don Iveson and Naheed Nenshi with 95% approval among voters.

Redford tell-all

Palm Springs resident Alison Redford is set to launch a new tell-all book about her time as Premier of Alberta. Driven out by scandal in 2014, Redford has dedicated her time to charity work and has announced all proceeds from the book will go to charity. Not surprisingly, Tory insiders are expecting the wurst about what might be included in the book.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated the approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline over a bottle of champagne with President Barack Obama during his first visit to the White House last month. Conservative opposition leader Jason Kenney complained that Canadians should thank former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the pipeline’s success.

In an unexpected gesture, Prime Minister Trudeau named Harper the Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine where, unfortunately, the Canadian Ambassador’s residence was burned down last week by a pro-Russian mob.

Read Dirk Pranter’s December 20, 2014 column: What a year 2014 has been in Alberta politics!

A closer look at PC constituency-level fundraising

Alberta Progressive Conservative PC Party Fundraising Assets 2013

Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, Fundraising and Assets in 2013 (click to enlarge).

After 43-years in government, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party now faces serious competition in the fundraising field from the Wildrose Party.

Raising only $2.86 million in 2013, the PC Party ran a $136,000 deficit and owed $1.1 million on a line of credit. This shaky financial situation is unheard of for a natural governing party that is usually flush with cash.

The PC Party is are also facing criticism over a secret trust fund – the TAPCAL fund – which is a holdover from before changes were made to Alberta’s elections laws 36 years ago.

At the local-level, PC constituency associations raised more than $1.4 million in 2013. While most of the 87 PC associations reported  revenue in the thousands of dollars in the post-election year, a sharp gap in fundraising amounts has highlighted wealthy and poorer constituency associations in the PC Party.

More than $650,000 of the $1.4 million were raised by eleven local PC associations. In former premier Alison Redford‘s Calgary-Elbow constituency, the local PC association claimed more than $119,000 in revenue in 2013. In Calgary-Hays, represented by Infrastructure minister Ric McIver, the local PC association raised more than $95,000 last year. Most of the other nine associations are located in constituencies represented by cabinet ministers.

Meanwhile, PC associations in opposition held constituencies mostly reported low or insignificant levels of revenue in 2013. Many of these areas are now represented by Wildrose MLAs and had been represented by PC MLAs since the 1970s.

Last year, formerly powerful PC constituency associations in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, Medicine Hat reported zero revenue in 2013. PC associations in Cypress-Medicine Hat, Little Bow, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, Calgary-McCall, and Edmonton-Mill Woods reported less than $1,000 in revenue in 2013.

These low numbers suggest that some Tories may be having a difficult time adjusting to business without a local MLA to boost their fundraising initiatives.

———

It appears as though Randy Thorsteinson is attempting to resurrect the Reform Party of Alberta. Mr. Thorsteinson, the former leader of the Social Credit Party and the Alberta Alliance Party, has launched a Facebook page advocating for the recreation of the party that was dissolved in 2004.

who should be invited to the televised leaders’ debate?

Alberta Election Leaders' Debate 2012

PC leader Premier Alison Redford, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, NDP leader Brian Mason, and Liberal leader Raj Sherman.

The televised Leaders’ debate for Alberta’s 2012 election will be aired on April 12 at 6:30pm to 8:00pm on Global Television.

The debate will include Progressive Conservative leader Premier Alison Redford, Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman, Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, and NDP leader Brian Mason. Some members of the Alberta Party have voiced disappointment that their leader Glenn Taylor was not invited to participate in the debate.

Glenn Taylor Alberta Party leader Election 2012

Glenn Taylor

The Alberta Party gained a presence in the Assembly in January 2011 when former Liberal MLA Dave Taylor joined that party. Despite strong campaigns from candidates Michael Walters in Edmonton-Rutherford, Sue Huff in Edmonton-Glenora, Tim Osborne in St. Albert, and Norm Kelly in Calgary-Currie, recent polls have placed the party with 2% support province-wide.

If I were making the decisions, I would invite the leader’s from all the political parties to join the televised debate, but because the decision is being made by a private television company I can understand how they came to this conclusion. With only 30 candidates nominated in 87 constituencies, most viewers tuning in to the televised debate will not have the option of voting for an Alberta Party candidate on Election Day. The four other parties are expected to nominate candidates in all 87 constituencies.

What about past leaders’ debates that included parties with no elected MLA’s?

During the 1997 election, both NDP leader Pam Barrett and Social Credit leader Randy Thorsteinson were allowed to participate in the leaders debate. Neither of those parties had elected an MLA in the previous election. The Social Credit Party had not elected an MLA since the 1979 election. During the 2004 election, as the Alberta Alliance leader, Mr. Thorsteinson was not invited to join the televised Leaders; debate, despite his party having an MLA in the Assembly. Just before the election was called, Edmonton-Norwood PC MLA Gary Masyk crossed the floor to the new party.

There is no denying that the Wildrose Party is a force in this election campaign and should be represented in the televised debates, but it is important to remember that neither Ms. Smith or any of her party’s four incumbent MLA’s were elected as Wildrose candidates in the last election. Former leader Paul Hinman returned to the Assembly in a 2009 by-election and Heather Forsyth, Rob Anderson, and Guy Boutilier were elected as PC candidates in 2008 before crossing the floor to join the Wildrose Party in 2010.

Debate in front of an audience.

Instead of holding the televised debate in a sterile and controlled television studio, I would love to see the party leader’s demonstrate their debating skills in front of a live audience. A live audience would add an atmosphere of unpredictability and would force the leaders to speak to both the voters in the room and those watching their television screens.

victims of alberta’s opposition meat-grinder

Since Peter Lougheed catapulted from official opposition leader to Premier in 1971, Alberta’s opposition leadership have become a political graveyard for many well-intentioned and ambitious politicians. There are many reasons for this: Alberta’s tradition of electing large government majorities, the ability of the PC party to create a big-tent party, the unpopularity of opposition parties federal counterparts, and the trap of falling into an opposition mentality.

Dr. David Swann is one of many Albertans who have stepped up to the daunting task and challenge of leading a party in the divisive and dysfunctional world of opposition politics in Alberta. Calgary MLA Dave Taylor gave Dr. Swann a verbal lashing when he left the Liberal caucus earlier this past year and last week Tony Sansotta resigned as President after co-signing a letter with Dr. Swann appealing for cooperation with other opposition parties. To the untrained eye, it may look like the Liberal Party is on the verge of internal collapse and maybe it is, but I struggle to think of a time when Alberta has had an opposition party not rife with internal division.

Taking a quick look back at Alberta politics over the past twenty-five years, you will find opposition leaders that made positive contributions to Alberta politics, but could not withstand the meat-grinder of opposition politics in Alberta. A quick read of the list of individuals below could easily lead most Albertans to determine some of the most thankless jobs in our province indeed belong to leaders of provincial opposition parties.

Nick Taylor was the Liberal leader from 1974 to 1988.

Nick Taylor (Liberal leader, 1974 to 1988): He bravely led the Liberals through the darkness and proved that even in the height of the National Energy Program that Liberals had hope to win in Alberta. In 1979, Mr. Taylor placed only 355 votes behind PC candidate Ken Kowalski in a by-election in Barrhead. After six attempts at elected office since 1968, he was elected as MLA for Westlock-Sturgeon in 1986 and was only Leader of the Liberal Opposition in the Assembly for less than two years before his position was challenged by Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore and Edmonton MLA Grant Mitchell. He continued to serve as an MLA until 1996, when he was appointed to the Senate.

Former Calgary Mayor Rod Sykes briefly led the Social Credit Party from 1980 to 1982.

Rod Sykes (Social Credit leader, 1980 to 1982): After serving two terms as the Mayor of Calgary (1969-1977), Mayor Sykes took over the leadership of the Social Credit Party. After nine years in opposition, the party was mired with internal and financial problems which led him to resign in 1982. He later ran as a federal Liberal candidate in the 1984 election.

Former NDP leader Ray Martin introduces Jack Layton at a 2008 federal election rally.

Ray Martin (NDP leader, 1984 to 1994): He led the New Democrats to its height as Official Opposition with 16 MLAs in 1986 and 1989, but that did not stop the internal bickering. Mr. Martin’s faced calls to resign from Calgary candidate Barry Bristman in 1989 and fought a leadership challenge by St. Paul veterinarian Don Ronaghan in 1991. In 1992, Stony Plain MLA Stan Woloshyn abandoned the NDP for the PCs. Mr. Martin resigned after his party lost all their seats to the Liberals and PCs in the Assembly in the 1993 election. He returned to the Assembly when he was elected as MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008.

Former Edmonton Mayor Laurence Decore led the Liberals from 1989 to 1994.

Laurence Decore (Liberal leader, 1988 to 1994): The former Edmonton Mayor built the best political machine an opposition party had seen since the 1970s, but that was not enough for some of the MLAs in his caucus-mates. In 1993, after the Liberals won their largest vote share with 39.7% and 32 seats, a group of MLAs and party members were not satisfied with official opposition status called for his resignation. Calgary-North West MLA Frank Bruseker was stripped of his major critic portfolios after telling reporters he was worried the party could not win enough seats in Calgary to secure an election win due to Mr. Decore’s leadership. Mr. Decore gracefully resigned in 1994.

Former MP Ross Harvey briefly led the NDP from 1994 to 1996.

Ross Harvey (NDP leader, 1994 to 1996): The former NDP Member of Parliament was selected as leader of the seatless party shortly after he was unseated in the 1993 federal election. He was unable to satisfactorily rebuild his party after it was wiped out in 1993 and quit in 1996. He was soon replaced by Pam Barrett.

Grant Mitchell led the Liberals from 1994 to 1998.

Grant Mitchell (Liberal leader, 1994 to 1998): After a brutal and divisive leadership race in 1994, Mr. Mitchell faced opposition from within his own party and caucus. Three MLAs crossed to the PCs during his time as leader and his leadership opponent MLA Sine Chadi waged a constant campaign to undermine his leadership. Shortly after the 1997 election, former Calgary MLA Danny Dalla-Longa called for his resignation. He resigned in 1998 and in 2005 was appointed to the Senate.

Pam Barrett led the NDP from 1996 to 2000.

Pam Barrett (NDP leader, 1996 to 2000): After serving as MLA for Edmonton-Highlands from 1986 to 1993, Ms. Barrett returned in 1996. She led her party to elect two MLAs in the 1997 election and later resigned after a near-death experience in a dentist’s chair.

Former PC cabinet minister Nancy MacBeth led the Liberals from 1998 to 2001.

Nancy MacBeth (Liberal leader, 1998 to 2001): After losing to Ralph Klein in the 1992 PC leadership race, Ms. MacBeth (then Ms. Betkowski) left politics until 1998 when she swept into the Liberal leadership. The former PC cabinet minister faced some tough opposition from MLAs within her party’s caucus, including two who crossed the floor (Gene Zwozdesky joined the PCs and Pamela Paul sat as an Independent). She resigned almost immediately after she was unseated in the 2001 election.

Randy Thorsteinson led the Social Credit Party from 1992 to 1999 and the Alberta Alliance from 2003 to 2005.

Randy Thorsteinson (Social Credit leader, 1992 to 1999, Alberta Alliance leader, 2003 to 2005). Even after leading the long-dormant Social Credit Party to win 6.8% of the vote in 1997, Mr. Thorsteinson was at odds with his party after a movement within the party to limit the involvement of members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Thorsteinson quit the party in April 1999 and was a founder of the Alberta First Party. In 2003, he re-emerged as leader of the Alberta Alliance – the Wildrose Alliance‘s predecessor – and led that party to earn 8.7% of the vote in 2004. He resigned after failing to win a seat in the 2004 election.

Lethbridge MLA Ken Nicol led the Liberals from 2001 to 2004.

Ken Nicol (Liberal leader, 2001 to 2004): Quiet, respected, and more conservative than most of his caucus colleagues, Dr. Nicol reluctantly accepted the leadership from the unseated Ms. MacBeth in 2001. He briefly led the Liberals until internal conflict from within his party and caucus convinced him that running as a federal Liberal candidate might be a better career option. He resigned as MLA in 2004 and was defeated in his bid represent Lethbridge in the House of Commons later that year.

Kevin Taft led the Liberal Party from 2004 to 2008.

Kevin Taft (Liberal leader, 2004 to 2008): The first Liberal leader to increase the party’s seat total since Mr. Decore, Dr. Taft led the Liberals through two elections. He tried to distance the provincial party from its unpopular federal counterparts and while he did not face as much internal dissent from his party and caucus as did his predecessors, he did have the unfortunate task of having to remove MLA Dan Backs from the Liberal caucus. He stepped down as leader after the 2008 election and is currently the opposition Health & Wellness critic.

perfesser dave’s five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party’s multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.

Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of “self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power.” I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta’s opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

does policy matter?

Last week’s posts “Danielle Smith’s Free-ride” and “PC Policy Veep defects to the Wildrose Alliance” generated a lot of heated discussion and responses from at least three other bloggers either supporting (Alberta Altruist and Brian Dell) or criticizing (David Climenhaga) the policy positions of the Wildrose Alliance. These posts and the debate that followed in the comment sections has led me to ask the question: how much does party policy really matter?

The defection of Progressive Conservative Party Vice-President Policy and Resolution Shayne Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance has raised questions about how much influence do PC Party members have on the actual policy that a government implements? According to Saskiw, not much.

“I was able to give their opinions on policy to the government, but the government was not acting on their advice.”

This is not a surprise, nor a new criticism of how responsive governments are to ordinary citizens – engaged or otherwise. Does anyone remember Premier Ed Stelmach campaigning on the PC Party platform of dissolving the regional health authorities and centralizing control into the largest employer in the province? It was not mentioned in the “Change that Works for Albertans” (PDF) document, nor do know of any PC candidates who campaigned on this policy position. Perhaps after nearly 40 years in government, the upper echelons of power at the Legislature feel that the election process is simply a formality. Perhaps the PC Party interpreted the 52% support they received in the election that recorded the lowest voter turnout in Alberta history equal a blank check mandate?

It would be wrong to suggest that policy does not matter, because it does. It is important to recognize that in many cases, the majority of challenges that a government will deal with during a term in office will be reactive. In these cases, it is important to recognize leadership and which elected official or officials will offer the kind of leadership that will be best suited to dealing with reactive situations. For example, mainstream business and economic forecasters were predicting smooth sailing ahead during the 2008 election when politicians were practically promising a jet-pack for every citizen. In 2010, the economic outlook is quite a bit more modest (though we are fairing better than our American neighbors).

During my time working with the Liberal Party until 2007, I remember it being normal for policies to be generated from the Official Opposition Caucus offices, rather than the party policy committees. Perhaps this is one of the problems with the traditional political parties in Alberta. They do consult with stakeholders and rely on well-educated researchers and analyst, but in the end, new policies became more about marketing and messaging instead of listening and generating a party membership driven policy apparatus.

This leads me back to Ms. Smith and a statement she made about Wildrose Alliance policy:

“Our party does not take a position on divisive social issues. We prefer to focus on those areas where we agree.”

This statement reflects a smart (and so far successful) strategy of positioning the Wildrose Alliance as the moderate conservative/conservatively moderate anti-establishment party in Alberta politics. I have been told that many of Ms. Smith’s financial backers in Calgary’s oil and gas sector would like to turn the page on the more hard social conservative views that the party has advocated in the past. Refusing to talk about divisive social issues is a smart political tactic, given the positions that her party has taken in the past.

During the 2004 election, the Alliance led by Randy Thorsteinson called for province-wide votes on abortion and same-sex marriage. There have also been questions about the influence that conservative members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had on the development of Alliance policies.

This said, an elected official’s personal or religious views on social issues do not necessarily result in major government policy changes. During the 2001 election, Vegreville-Viking MLA Ed Stelmach responded to a questionnaire from LifeSiteNews in which he declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances (his response to the 2004 election questionnaire is not published online). This was his position nine years ago and may continue to be his position today, but since becoming Premier three years ago, Stelmach has hardly been a champion in the fight against allowing women the choice to access abortions. Like Premier Stelmach’s, it would be extremely difficult for Ms. Smith’s party to enter a divisive debate on social issues and continue to hold their current mainstream support in the polls.

Tempering the more extreme elements in her party is going to be one of Ms. Smith’s largest challenges. In 2009, nearly 2,000 Wildrose Alliance members voted for social conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm. What happens if these “grassroots” dispute Ms. Smith’s position? Is Ms. Smith willing to cut them loose in order to avoid the damage of being labeled as the “scary conservative party?” If it reaches the point where push comes to shove, maybe policy will matter.