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Danielle Smith David Swann Ed Stelmach Mark Dyrholm Randy Thorsteinson Shayne Saskiw

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.

Categories
Danielle Smith Ezra Levant Jeff Willerton Joe Anglin Mark Dyrholm

danielle smith could be a game changer in alberta politics.

Last night, I ventured into the world of right-wing partisan politics in Alberta and attended the Wildrose Alliance leadership forum. As someone who doesn’t share this party’s politics, and would have a very difficult time voting for its candidates in an election, I have found myself surprisingly curious about that party’s potential.

Wildrose Alliance Leadership ForumWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Around 180 people were in attendance, and like most political party events, the majority of them appeared to be in the +60 grey-haired category. In the crowd, I noticed former Edmonton-Sherwood Park Conservative MP Ken Epp and former Alberta Greens leader Joe Anglin. I spoke with Anglin before he left the forum and he told me that while he wasn’t going to join the Wildrose Alliance, as he felt they were too socially conservative for him, he continues to be open to work with all the parties. Anglin is gearing up for a fall fight against Bill 50, which is the sister of Bill 19 that passed earlier this year. Anglin’s Lavesta Area Group of landowners are the most recent group to reach out to voters before the September 14 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore.

At some points during the forum I felt like I had walked into a Conservative Party of Canada rally. Mark Dyrholm took a stance that he would cut political party funding for the Bloc Quebecois, and both he and Jeff Willerton took regular shots at Pierre Trudeau, the NEP, Liberal Peter Lougheed, Liberal Don Getty, and the “Ed Stelmach Progressives.

Wildrose Alliance Leadership Forum - Mark DyrholmWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

A strong pro-life social conservative and former PC organizer, Dyrholm strikes me as the kind of person who would excel as an organizer for the right-wing party, but as leader would not increase its appeal much beyond its already loyal base. He was well-spoken, but offered little beyond the expected Liberal-baiting and attacks on the Human Rights Commission and court challenges program. While it is difficult to tell how much support each of the candidates has among the party faithful, Dyrholm’s preaching spoke directly to the base of the now defunct Reform Party.

Jeff Willerton was easily the most entertaining and off the map of the three candidates. Describing “the slimy Liberal tentacles” of “the rotten octopus of the Liberal Party of Canada,” Willerton took the position that if elected Premier he would hold a province-wide referendum on separation within six months of each time the Liberals form government in Ottawa. He was adamant that he wasn’t a separatist, but was convinced that this would send a message to the Liberals (I’m still unclear on what kind of message that would be).

Wildrose Alliance Leadership Forum - Danielle SmithWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Danielle Smith largely steered clear of the expected right-wing sophism, and offered a more nuanced and articulate vision of where she would lead the Wildrose Alliance. While she appears to have mastered the art of talking points, she spoke passionately of building a big tent conservative party, the need to look beyond out borders to fix the problems with health care and poverty, and her values as a libertarian and fiscal conservative. Not surprisingly, Smith was recently endorsed by her ideological companion Ezra Levant. She has received a lot of media attention since entering the contest, but I wonder if her message is connecting with the Wildrose Alliance base.

It will depend on the results of the leadership contest on October 17, but I believe that as the leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith could be a game changer in Alberta politics. For over 20 years, electoral politics in Alberta has been stuck in a rut where the Liberal and NDP opposition have focused their resources on 15 to 20 ridings and have left the PCs uncontested in 40 to 60 ridings, ensuring majority governments and mediocre governance. I find it highly unlikely that the Wildrose Alliance under any leader would form government in 2012, but if a young, savvy, articulate, and well-spoken leader like Smith can succeed in moderating the traditional social conservatism of that party’s members, she could turn the electoral map on its head by dislodging the democratically unhealthy logjam with which Albertans have become apathetically accustomed.

Categories
Avalon Roberts Calgary-Glenmore Danielle Smith Diane Colley-Urquhart Mark Dyrholm Mary MacDonald Ralph Goodale Susan Stratton

alberta red, green, and blue.

Green endorses Glenmore Liberal: Former Alberta Greens Vice-President & candidate Susan Stratton has endorsed Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts in the by-election in Calgary-Glenmore, which is being held on September 14.

ā€œIā€™m not a Liberal; I’m a Green, but our first job as opposition voters is to stand together to defeat the Conservatives. Only Avalon Roberts can do that. She’s a quality candidate who won nearly eight times more votes than either the Greens or New Democrats in last year’s general election.ā€

The Greens aren’t running a candidate in this by-election and are in the process of being de-registered by Elections Alberta. On another Calgary-Glenmore related note, Jeremy at PolitiCalgary has leveled some strong criticisms of PC candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart, suggesting that she ‘needs to move away from the same political game.

Wildrose Leadership Forums: The Wildrose Alliance will be holding leadership forums in Grande Prairie (September 8), Edmonton (September 10), Calgary (September 16), Lethbridge (September 17), and Red Deer (September 23). Candidates for the leadership of the right-wing party include Danielle Smith, Mark Dyrholm, and Jeff Willerton. I am planning to check out the September 10 forum in Edmonton.

Goodale in Edmonton: Wascana Liberal MP Ralph Goodale is in Alberta today and will be speaking at a Town Hall meeting in Edmonton-Centre, no doubt to help shore up support for candidate Mary MacDonald. The Town Hall will be held from 8:00pm to 9:00pm at the Westmount Community League.

Categories
Danielle Smith Dave Taylor David Swann Ed Stelmach Harry Strom Mark Dyrholm Mo Elsalhy

who is running to be leader of alberta’s official opposition?

Judging from the buzz, it looks like Danielle Smith.

The two-person contest (which also includes Mark Dyrholm) to lead the now seatless right-wing Wild Rose Alliance appears to be attracting a larger amount of interest than last year’s contest to lead the official opposition Alberta Liberal Party.

The 2008 Liberal contest, which culminated in a December 2008 vote, attracted as contestants Calgary MLAs David Swann and Dave Taylor and former Edmonton MLA Mo Elsalhy. While the Liberal Party earned over 250,000 votes in the March 2008 election, the leadership candidates were only able to attract around 6,500 Albertans to join their party in anticipation of the vote. As far as I am aware, Alberta’s only other opposition party in the Legislature, the Alberta NDP, haven’t held a contested leadership race since 1996.

I remained somewhat skeptical following Alex Abboud‘s bold prediction and the recent columns in the Calgary Herald, but some of the latest buzz that I’ve been hearing has me wondering: could the Wild Rose Alliance under a leader like Danielle Smith could actually pose a serious threat to Ed Stelmach‘s Progressive Conservative Party?

The dominant PCs have become accustomed to facing a Liberal and NDP opposition that largely self-quarantines its resources in 20 to 25 urban ridings in Edmonton and Calgary, making it easy for the PCs to rack up massive majorities in the remaining 60 or so ridings. Both the leaders of the Liberals and NDP are having a difficult time gaining any traction in public opinion and voter turnout has dropped to a pathetically low ~40% in 2008, which has left the political environment in tinder dry conditions. A Reform Party-esq firestorm ignited by a smart and savvy libertarian like Smith could create a political challenge stronger than anything the PCs have seen since the dethroning Harry Strom‘s Social Credit Party in 1971.

Kevin Libin‘s National Post coverage has revealed that a number of prominent Conservative Party of Canada organizers in Calgary have joined Smith’s campaign, which could destabilize what in many ways has become a delicate relationship between the governing Federal and Provincial Conservative parties in Alberta.

While the hype around the Wild Rose Alliance leadership contest may end up being little more than summer-time buzz, it will remain quite telling that at least in the short-term it is making some members of the governing PCs a little jumpy.

Related Link:
David Climenhaga: Danielle Smith to lead Wildrose Alliance? Remember where you read it first!