Two political general meetings in one weekend: Wildrosers conduct gloomy post-mortem while PCs flirt with characteristic hubris

Posted on November 16, 2014, 12:22 am
11 mins

Steady as she goes! Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, centre, works to keep party stalwarts, on either side, on the right course, which would be not too far to the right, of course. Alberta Premier Prentice, at the wheel above, tries to get the earnest Wildrosers to take a wrong turn. Actual Alberta conservative party leaders, supporters and their political vehicles may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: The real Mr. Prentice and the real Ms. Smith.

Both of Alberta’s right-wing parties held general meetings this weekend – the ever-ruling Progressive Conservatives in Banff and the so-far never-ruling Wildrose Party in Red Deer.

The PCs led by Jim Prentice patted themselves on the back for their victories in the Oct. 27 by-elections and the Wildrose Opposition led by Danielle Smith beat themselves up for their inability to make any headway in the same four votes.

They both, arguably, missed the boat in their deliberations.

Readers of Alberta Diary are just going to have to put up with armchair strategizing  from afar, since getting to Banff is just too big an investment in time and money for a busy pre-Christmas weekend, and Red Deer, well, nobody in their right mind would go to Red Deer at this time of year!

Indeed, the fact the Wildrose Party’s leaders were inclined to pick that central Alberta city – a venue that seems to possess all the vices of a small Prairie town and none of the graces – may illustrate part of their problem.

That said, of the two, the Wildrose Party had the more interesting topic to ponder – how to deal with the existential crisis it faces if it can’t pull off a victory in the next general election, something that looks less likely every day Jim Prentice remains as premier.

On Friday Ms. Smith told the party faithful that she’ll step down as leader in 2016 if the Wildrosers don’t win the election widely expected that year. Of course, that’s not much of a promise as there’s unlikely to be much of a Wildrose Party left to lead if it can’t win an election after the Tories and the province suffered through a catastrophe like Alison Redford.

According to reports in the popular press, Wildrose rank and filers stood up at the meeting and complained their slogan in the Oct. 27 mini-election election sucked, the focus on Ms. Redford’s disastrous tenure in office was all wrong, and, as the Edmonton Journal put it, they had a problem with “disorganized internal data.”

This all has a ring of truth to it, but none of it really goes to the root of the Wildrose problem.

Yeah, “Time to Send the PCs a Message” was a pretty lame slogan, but I doubt any slogan would have made much difference in a vote in which, as Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson rightly pointed out, the deck was stacked by the governing party in favour of the governing party.

The Wildrose campaign’s negative focus on Ms. Redford was a mistake. Albertans seem in a forgiving mood when it comes to Mr. Prentice’s leadership, at least willing to give him a chance to prove the Redford Government was an aberration, not the reductio ad absurdum of 43 years of PC rule.

But that fact is closely related to the Wildrose Party’s genuine need to set itself apart from a PC party that espouses the identical ideology, advocates the same policies, is funded by the same corporations and people, and in many cases still has the same members, but also has the significant advantage of actually being in power.

The Wildrose plan, clearly, was to say, “we’re more honest than those other conservatives.” Or maybe, “we’re more competent,” which wasn’t a hard case to make with Ms. Redford at the helm. But the replacement of the Redford PCs with the Prentice PCs seems to most voters to have put paid to both arguments.

So how are the Wildrosers any different? Well … and this is the party’s real problem that no Wildroser wants to confront … they’re still scarier than the PCs to most uncommitted voters.  The devil you know, and all that.

Moreover, the deep-pocketed corporate oilpatch backers whose money got the Wildrose off the ground in reaction to Ed Stelmach’s feeble effort to charge a fair royalty are bound to be significantly less enthusiastic about a second conservative party now that there are no policy differences on questions affecting the energy industry.

The real problem the Wildrosers face now, as some of the news coverage of their meeting illustrated, is that they’ll be pushed away from the moderate positions Ms. Smith has worked hard to foster by the disaffected social conservative extremists who played a big role in establishing the party.

That would be exactly the wrong thing for them to do – as Ms. Smith clearly understands. The Wildrose Party will never win as the party of Tory outsiders. But the pressure on Ms. Smith to tack to the loony right will now be great.

Which brings us to that “disorganized internal data,” whatever that means. The Journal’s reporter didn’t explain.

I don’t think the problem was that the party’s data was disorganized, so much as it was misinterpreted. This may or may not be what the Wildrose insiders had in mind, but it sounds very much as if on Oct. 27 party strategists got the idea they could beat Mr. Prentice in Calgary-Foothills and pulled resources that should have been used to win in Calgary-West, where the Wildrose candidate ended up only 315 votes from the brass ring.

In reality, Calgary-Foothills voters, concerned about keeping the good times rolling, were never likely to reject Mr. Prentice and introduce major instability into the administration of the province.

But victory in just one seat was all it would have taken to turn a gloomy post-mortem this weekend into a huge celebration for Wildrosers. So that Oct. 27 miscalculation may turn out to have been a blunder of historic proportions.

As for the PCs, they seem to go from strength to strength under Mr. Prentice, but the problems of hubris and a weak bench that plagued them during the Redford Era remain, lurking in the wings.

Mr. Prentice boasted that money is again flowing into Tory coffers, just like the good old days before Ms. Redford ascended to the leadership. No surprise, really, since the PCs are now advocating the oilpatch policies the Wildrose Party was established to ensure.

Mr. Prentice cleverly left the impression an election may come sooner than later – a simple strategy that could stampede the Wildrose Party into once again trying to line up candidates too soon. It’s said here the Wildrosers would be smarter to wait for serious candidates to emerge from the woodwork.

It was this mistaken sense of urgency that led to the party’s acceptance as a candidate in 2012 of Pastor Allan Hunsperger, who holed the Wildrose boat just before election day when his religious views on homosexuality emerged in a blog post no one had thought to cleanse from the Internet.

And it could again result in the Opposition party picking, at best, weaker candidates than necessary.

But it would be a grave mistake for the Tories to conclude, as they seem to have done, that all the damage suffered by the PCs under Ms. Redford can be patched up in a few weeks by Mr. Prentice.

Their strongest players are gone, purged from important positions by Mr. Prentice for the crime of being too closely allied with Ms. Redford.

The weak players that remain may be just as prone to egregious blunders as the candidates the Wildrose Party is in too much of a hurry to nominate.

So while things look bleak for the Wildrose Party this weekend, it would be a mistake to count them out.

And while things look as rosy as an Alberta wild rose for the PCs, it would also be a mistake to assume their restoration to another four or five years of power is a foregone conclusion.

Mr. Prentice and his three new MLAs – Health Minister Stephen Mandel, Education Minister Gordon Dirks and Mike Ellis – will be sworn in Monday morning, then everyone will repair to the Legislative chamber in the afternoon for the start of the third session of the 28th Legislature with the delivery of the government’s pre-election Speech from the Throne by Lieutenant-Governor Donald Ethell.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments to: Two political general meetings in one weekend: Wildrosers conduct gloomy post-mortem while PCs flirt with characteristic hubris

  1. November 16th, 2014

    Ultimately, it appears that the majority of Albertans are unable to vote for a party that doesn’t hold one of the varying-slightly-around-the-fringes set of ‘conservative’ policies. Or, to put it in perhaps more accurate terms, believing in any other religion would be heresy!

    Until that changes, Alberta elections will remain nothing more than a character debate.

    Reply
  2. November 16th, 2014

    You may or may not be correct in your assessment of both party AGMs and current states, but I find it odd that you felt the need to go out of your way to insult Alberta’s third largest city. It not only shows how little you know about Red Deer but also reveals your elitist attitude. I could make a generalization about the hoity-toity mentality of St Albert people, but I actually know some who are quite nice.

    Reply
    • November 16th, 2014

      Fair enough, Danielle, I’ve only visited Red Deer, oh, a hundred times or so in the last decade – if you don’t count the 300 or so other times I’ve raced through its environs with my foot to the floor. And Hoity-Toity is my middle name, of course. It’s actually darker in Red Deer at night than anywhere else in Alberta. They had to install special lights on the highway south of town. I reckon the gravitational field is stronger there and actually sucks the light into the ground. It’s always a relief to get to Innisfail, or, even better, Ponoka. DJC

      Reply
      • jerrymacgp

        November 17th, 2014

        I don’t know Red Deer well enough (I’ve only been there once, and that was years ago) to know if it’s true you have slandered that city, or if your characterization was spot on; but I do know where it is well enough to know it is hardly “central”. It’s southern Alberta. However, this is a forgivable error that likely arises from Edmonton’s conceit that it is “northern Alberta”.

        Here’s a little exercise: Take a map of Alberta that displays the entire province on one sheet or page. Draw a vertical, north-south line, or pin a piece of string, from the “Medicine Line” at the 49th parallel, to the AB-NWT border at the 60th parallel. Measure carefully to find the halfway point, which would be on 54°-30’ latitude, and draw a horizontal east-west line crossing that point. That line is the geographic and geometric centre of Alberta. Then take a look at what cities and towns are closest to it. What you will see is that the closest major town in the northeast is Cold Lake, and in the northwest it would be Fox Creek (on Hwy 43, halfway between Whitecourt & Valleyview), with Grande Prairie slightly further to the north. (Fort McMurray, by the way, is a bit further north than Grande Prairie, at 56°-44’). Edmonton (and even St Albert) is well south of the “central Alberta” line, and Red Deer is further south.

        Perhaps Edmonton should start calling itself “somewhat southern”, Red Deer, “more southern”, Calgary “even more southern”, and Lethbridge & Medicine Hat “really southern”.

        Why am I harping on this? It’s because of the neglect of genuinely northern Alberta by those further south, to the extent that much of northern Alberta is often treated like Alberta’s version of Labrador.

        Reply
        • November 17th, 2014

          I was aware of Red Deer’s location on the map when I located it in Central Alberta, as do the residents of that city. The reason, of course, is the distribution of population in this province. According to Jerry’s way of thinking, Whitehorse, Yukon, is in West Central Canada. This is clearly not the way most people, even most Whitehorsonians or whatever they call themselves, would see it. DJC

          Reply
  3. Marie

    November 17th, 2014

    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 (this tells me she already knew 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.

    Reply

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