PHOTOS: With AGM delegates’ endorsement in hand, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is calling for Alberta’s right to reunite under his party’s banner. Below: Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, in her current role as a radio talk show host (Global News photo) and Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA and former leadership candidate Drew Barnes.
In his speech to Wildrose party faithful in Calgary last night, Leader Brian Jean predictably advocated reunion of Alberta’s right under his party’s green banner. He followed that up by immediately getting a comfortable endorsement of his leadership from delegates to the Opposition party’s annual general meeting.
But even with the formal approval of 78 per cent of the Wildrosers at the meeting, Mr. Jean’s effort to reunite Alberta’s right is far from a done deal.
As noted in this space a week ago, Mr. Jean’s strategic brain trust seemed to have embraced the idea of a leadership vote now, when they didn’t really have to have one, because they understood it might be easier that way to get an endorsement for a leader whose recent performance has been less than stellar than it might be in a year’s time.
If Mr. Jean’s wooden recent performance continues in the Legislature and on the stump, Wildrosers may regret yesterday’s vote year from now, when the party’s rules would have required them to hold a leadership review.
Remember, just one year ago then-leader Danielle Smith received an endorsement of 90 per cent of the party faithful at the 2014 AGM in Red Deer – which only goes to illustrate how a politician who is chicken salad one moment can become chicken something-else the next!
But notwithstanding her economic views, Ms. Smith was no social conservative, and the Red Deer AGM’s rejection of her policy affirming the rights of all – including sexual minorities – seems to have been the final straw that drove her into the arms of the PC caucus a month later.
As the Globe and Mail reported at the time, by backtracking on the definitive statement on equal rights that Ms. Smith had advocated, the party’s social conservatives undermined her effort “to remove the stain of being anti-gay bigots.”
At the same time, although no Alberta government party rejected by voters has ever risen from the ashes of electoral defeat, there weren’t really that many examples of that phenomenon before the Conservative flame-out last year – three, in fact, the Liberals, defeated in 1921; the United Farmers, defeated in 1935; and Social Credit, defeated in 1971.
So with its inclusive big tent, small-c conservatism and 44-year history of electoral success, there are bound to be people in the PCs reluctant to join the Wildrose Party on the grounds they have a better chance to return to power without Wildrose-style social conservatism holding them back.
Nor is the current Wildrose caucus free of dissension, despite the efforts to paper over the differences at this weekend’s AGM. Political blogger Dave Cournoyer reported last week that bad feelings persist from the party leadership race that saw Mr. Jean, then a recently retired MP, beat Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes 54 to 40 per cent. Mr. Barnes is now rumoured not to be happy with the direction Mr. Jean is taking the party.
Finally, the social conservatism in which the party is still steeped had become the elephant in the ballroom this weekend at Calgary’s Coast Plaza Conference Centre for Wildrose strategists. This might explain the party’s decision to conduct all its AGM policy debates behind closed doors.
If doing its business in secret looks ridiculously hypocritical for a party that has styled itself the champion of transparency in government, presumably the party brain trust decided it was less of a risk than airing members’ social conservative laundry in public and letting voters know what they really think.
Had they risked that, it could easily lead to a re-election of the NDP government in three and a half years, a resurgence of the big-tent Progressive Conservatives, or both.
So the champions of transparency in government held their policy deliberations on allowing homophobia to be taught in schools, implementing U.S. style health care, and making guns easy to buy and own behind tightly closed doors. (Each of these three items passed, by the way, about which I will have a little more to say tomorrow.)
That way, when the Wildrose Party releases its policy platform, they can do it with appropriate spin, and with a little luck we’ll never know what they really think – unless, of course, some public-spirited citizen snuck in and recorded the proceedings.
This is certainly a change from the days of Ms. Smith, now employed as a radio talk show host, who always consistently insisted the party’s conventions be completely open.
Instead, everything will be as tightly controlled as the federal Conservative Party was under former prime minister Stephen Harper, under whom Mr. Jean served loyally if without much distinction for a decade.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.