Wilting Roses: Wildrose ‘coup’ bid pushes party toward social conservative fringe, former leader Danielle Smith says

Posted on June 12, 2016, 1:30 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Danielle Smith leads Wildrose Party members in the 2014 Calgary Pride Parade, with then-MLAs Kerry Towle is on her right and Jeff Wilson on her left. She was punished for this defiance by the party’s social conservative wing. Below: Ms. Smith, Mr. Wilson, Ms. Towle, Joe Anglin and Heather Forsyth.

A powerful, social conservative cabal within the Wildrose Party is determined to do anything it can to prevent Alberta’s Official Opposition from moving close enough to the political centre to have a realistic chance of forming government, the party’s former leader says.

DanielleIn an astonishingly blunt blog post published Friday and in emails exchanged with AlbertaPolitics.ca yesterday, Danielle Smith connected the dots between the “coup attempt” faced by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean today and the social conservative uprising that led to her decision in December 2014 to cross the floor of the Legislature and join the Progressive Conservative Party.

Specific issues that drove this angry and influential group when she was leader, Ms. Smith said, included opposition to Indigenous people’s rights, to debt forgiveness for post-secondary institutions and, in particular, to LGBTIQ rights.

Then and now, Wildrose social conservatives clearly believed that they can somehow win a general election without the compromise on these issues both Ms. Smith and Mr. Jean have concluded is essential to victory.

After she and then-Wildrose-MLAs Kerry Towle and Jeff Wilson defied opposition by social conservatives in caucus and marched in the Calgary Pride Parade in August 2014, the rebellion against her leadership gathered force, Ms. Smith wrote in the blog post published by CHQR News Talk Radio in Calgary, where she now works as the host of a talk show focusing on Alberta politics.

JeffAs she bluntly put it, “the knives were out for me.”

In October 2014, an anonymous, targeted, telephone push poll designed to keep Wildrose voters at home in that month’s four by-elections attacked Ms. Smith for marching in the Pride Parade.

“I am convinced it cost us the Calgary-West by-election,” Ms. Smith told me in an email yesterday. “Had we won just that one, everything would have been so different.” Instead, the Progressive Conservatives led by Jim Prentice won them all, by only 315 votes in Calgary-West.

Ms. Smith said in her blog she later learned the poll “was done by a Wildrose organizer and supported by a Wildrose donor.”

At the party’s November 2014 annual general meeting, resolutions she supported in favour of progressive positions on the issues that infuriated the party’s social conservative faction were voted down by members. “The effort at the AGM to vote down the LGBTQ equality rights policy was apparently part of an effort to teach me a lesson for marching in Pride,” she wrote.

KerryNow Mr. Jean is facing exactly the same kind of revolt from the same quarters, Ms. Smith asserted, pointing to a blog post by former political staffer Nicky Walker for additional evidence.

“Brian Jean has spent the last year trying to build a big tent party that would attract more centrist voters and build a large enough coalition to be able to win the next election,” Ms. Smith said. “A portion of the Wildrose Party faithful don’t want to go there. So they want to turf Jean as leader.”

In her emails, Ms. Smith’s frustration with the unwillingness of the Wildrose Party’s social conservatives to accept the rights of LGBTIQ people is very clear. At the time, she reminded me, she had only four progressively minded MLAs in her caucus – Ms. Towle, Mr. Wilson, Joe Anglin and Heather Forsyth – so taking a position acceptable to most Alberta voters meant an uphill fight within the caucus.

“By 2014, it was becoming glaringly obvious that Pride was the only parade my caucus/staff/party members were not attending,” she told me. Before the opposition to her leadership came to a head in the fall, she said she already felt as if she was letting down her staff, some of whom were gay, and that her husband was also embarrassed by party’s position on LGBTIQ rights.

JoeIn April 2014, the Wildrose caucus “had given itself a new black eye” when every member in the Legislature voted against Alberta Liberal MLA Kent Hehr’s motion calling for a law requiring all schools to permit gay-straight alliances. The caucus had talked about a split vote, but “the socons were furious with me and heavily lobbied my caucus to get me to put a sock in it.” As a result, she was asked to stay away on the day of the vote, she said. (Mr. Hehr is now the federal Liberal MP for Calgary Centre and the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs.)

“It was a new catastrophe that brought back the Lake of Fire comparisons,” Ms. Smith recalled. “That was it for me on staying silent. I told my caucus I would attend yegpride in Edmonton in 2014.”

When she did, Ms. Smith recalled with an edge of humour, “imagine my shock to learn I had been lied to about the nature of the parade. No naked men. No booze and drugs. Just lots of people in T-shirts and moms pushing‎ kids in strollers. It was a total family affair!”

“I told caucus I was going to March in Calgary Pride. The majority of caucus still opposed‎ me doing it, but I told them I was going to anyway.” Former Little Bow MLA Ian Donovan “lobbied me all summer to try to stop me, saying it would hurt him with his base. I‎ didn’t care.”

HeatherBy this point, Ms. Smith told me, she was realizing “I couldn’t stay on as leader.” By the fall, facing a civil war over LGBTIQ rights, “the caucus and party were falling apart” and Mr. Prentice “was being touted as the saviour of the PCs.”

So in December 2014, she and eight MLAs crossed the floor to join the Tories, a move Mr. Donovan and Ms. Towle had already made.

The Wildrose Party was left reeling, although Mr. Jean arrived on the scene not long after resigning his seat as a Conservative MP for Fort McMurray and rallied the party. He was chosen leader in March 2015. Despite the PCs’ four by-election victories the previous Oct. 27, Alberta voters were deeply disillusioned with the party’s 43-year reign. There can be little doubt these circumstances contributed significantly to the NDP victory on May 5, 2015.

Ms. Smith’s blog sums up the Wildrose saga as she now sees it:

“When the AGM was over, I decided I was done as Wildrose leader,” she remembered. “With all the nonsense still going on behind the scenes, I have to wonder if Brian Jean is going to come to the same conclusion after his AGM in October.”

12 Comments to: Wilting Roses: Wildrose ‘coup’ bid pushes party toward social conservative fringe, former leader Danielle Smith says

  1. Donnie McLeod

    June 12th, 2016

    “calling for a law requiring all schools to permit gay-straight alliances”

    Those who appose these alliances refuse to accept that the thoughtful discourse the alliances facilitate prevent gay and straight youth from committing suicide. What kind of God wants kids committing suicide? A God for the 1% of our species, psychopaths.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      June 12th, 2016

      Actually, the 1% are generally pretty progressive on social issues such as LGBTQ rights – it’s generally an education effect. On the other hand, probably about half of hard-core conservatives are against them, although I don’t have any hard data (I’m sure it’s available somewhere).

      Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    June 12th, 2016

    These Wildrose so-cons are the right’s equivalent of the NDP’s Wafflers in the ’70s, or the LEAPers of today: more interested in purity of policy and principle, than in ever gaining office and the resultant ability to actually implement policy.

    While Canada has its own streak of social conservatism, our politics is much less dominated by that viewpoint than south of the “Medicine Line” (as you so colourfully call the Canada-US border). Most Canadian voters take a much more laisser-faire view of social issues like family structure, marriage, gender identity and expression, and sexuality. There really isn’t more than a very limited market in this country for the idea that an allegedly small-government party still wants to be Big Brother in the bedroom, and so conservative parties are slowly recognizing that there is no political headway to be made on this front. Let the so-cons vote for a fringe party like Christian Heritage, and allow other conservatives to battle it out with the Liberals and NDP on matters of more importance to Canadians. I still think their ideas are wrong-headed, but at least there is room for debate. On same-sex marriage and trans rights? Not so much.

    Reply
  3. Brogan

    June 12th, 2016

    It’s good that the fascists are tearing themselves apart. … Such hopeless, unambiguously stupid and bigoted mental defectives shouldn’t be part of our political process. They don’t have the intellectual capacity or social graces required of our legislature, and they never will.

    Reply
  4. ruralgal

    June 12th, 2016

    Danielle Smith was wrong about what happened t the convention – it was an excuse for her copping out on the party as she strove for power! The policy manual was always for equal rights for all Albertans – NO MATTER what group (ie indigenious, LBGQT etc). to make this statement is just disingenious to the members of the Wildrose Party. Mr Jean is NOT facing a revolt from “the same conservatives” that is just nonsense – would someone get their facts straight.
    then she said Ian Donovan lobbied her BUT he crossed before her – so her words are full of nonsense – she cannot keep her stories straight,
    i like Danielle – she was my MLA – but she has to stop carrying this excuse of why she crossed – it was for POWER and nothing else – she just has wasted a lot of time making up excuses. for once, Danielle could you please OWN the real reason!

    Reply
  5. Edna

    June 12th, 2016

    Are these statements by Danielle Smith supposed to convince me her defection to the PCs was for any other reason than what she was promised by Prentice for her own personal advantage? Didn’t work.

    Reply
  6. Linda Marshall

    June 12th, 2016

    Sorry, Ms Smith, but when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. What did you expect in a far right party? A group of people who feel the Conservatives are not far enough to the right aren’t going to be socially progressive – and you knew it. If you don’t want to be judged by the company you kept, you shouldn’t have hung around with the bigots.

    Reply
  7. June 13th, 2016

    Why was Danielle so interested in getting Rob Anderson to cross over from the PCs to Wildrose if she’s so committed to social liberalism? It certainly wasn’t the grassroots that brought Anderson and his influence into the party.

    She also has to bear at least some responsibility for the fact people like Alan Hunsperger were nominated in their ridings. She could have done something besides absolutely nothing to guide the process.

    Forsyth isn’t exactly a libertarian, by the way:
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/09/30/a-splash-in-ontario-makes-waves-in-alberta/

    Reply
  8. David

    June 13th, 2016

    I think Ms Smith’s comments are probably somewhat self serving, but that does not mean there is not some truth in them. She seemed to be much more progressive on social issues than her party was. This seemed to generate some conflict when she tried to lead the party in that direction and they did not want follow her.

    I believe her goal all along was to gain power and she realized her party needed to broaden its support considerably in order to do so. In the 2012 election, Wildrose was branded as a rural rump out of touch with modern urban Alberta and they didn’t seem to want to do much to dispel that reputation.

    In the end, she chose a different path to power which did not work out for her. Now she is on talk radio trying to retell history in a way more favourable to her. However, the Wildrose party’s stubborn clinging to out of date ideas didn’t work well for them either in the 2015 election. Judging from their performance since then, I am not sure they have really learned much from the events of late 2014 and early 2015 either.

    Reply
  9. Kurtis Staples-King

    June 14th, 2016

    I never agreed with Danielle Smith politically. But I’ve always felt that she represented the politician of a generation for Alberta.

    The Wildrose seems incapable of making a centrist pivot, in the same way the PCs seem incapable of wooing back progressives (who unlike circa Redford era have had a real taste of unadulterated power). At best we’ll see an opportunistic coalition.

    Have Albertans said No! to the Wildrose enough times? As much as conservatives want to believe that the NDP are a protest vote against The Wildrose – urban Alberta said No! to the Wildrose in every riding on election day. If you asked 40% of Albertans election night if they wanted the WR or the PCs they all said No, hardly a protest vote and hardly a vote against the PC party.

    It was a vote against social conservatives AND austerity. The moment a conservative realizes this, if they love power they’ll concede that now is the time for Centrism in Alberta. Austerity will not work, picking on minorities will not work, only pragmatic rhetoric and centrist policies will move you forward – and even then your vote share will be eaten by the “better by the day” government in office.

    The PCs made a huge step to simple Corporatism with the carpet bagger Prentice. He wasn’t us, and he wanted us to accept austerity so that the boardrooms could remain a little more economically padded a little longer – as if they had any power to hold back the tidal waves of Saudi Oil.

    I hope someday that there is a centrist party in Alberta, and I hope that Danielle has a place in it.

    Reply
    • Donnie McLeod

      June 14th, 2016

      Austerity was to refill the pews so coffers at born again Churchs. Their vengeful God feeds on ignorance and misery so shorter live spans. From their perspective austerity with out tax funded safety nets is just what Alberta and Canada needs. It’s a death cult.

      Reply
    • Linda Marshall

      June 15th, 2016

      The WE were unable to make the pivot to centrist because they are not centrists – they are extremists.

      I’m not really quite sure what your idea of a centrist party is – the PCs under Ralph Klein, maybe? If so, thanks but no thanks, they’ve already done enough damage.

      To my mind, the government we have right now is pretty centrist – progressive on social issues, not hostile to business but also not putting the needs of business above other needs. Nobody is nationalizing industries, or putting a guaranteed annual income in place, or undertaking other policies that would be left-extremist.

      As for Ms Smith, if she wanted a socially progressive political party to be part of, such parties exist. She knew what those in WR were – how does the story go: “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up”.

      Reply

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