Saturday, June 6, 2009

WIldrose Alliance AGM - part I

I'm quite pleased at recent developments with the party. Jeff Callaway of Canaccord Capital is party President, and Darren Hopkins, an investment banker who joined the party after his first hand experience of the dry-up in capital market financing for junior E&Ps, was elected to the party executive as well. With Hopkins as Treasurer and Blaine Maller P.Eng, as VP Fundraising the party has its fiscal situation well in order. Even more important is the professional demeanor of people like Hopkins, who spoke briefly and with whom I chatted with a bit. These are people who would be very attractive hires in the corporate sector and the fact that Wildrose has them on a volunteer basis bodes very well in terms of how professionally the party can present itself.

It doesn't end there. Dave Yager, CEO of HSE Integrated, Canada's largest national industrial safety services company, gave a presentation on Stelmach versus the oil patch on Friday night that was not just highly persuasive in terms of the data it presented, but was enormously entertaining. Dave received a well-deserved standing ovation. G&M opinion columnist Jeffrey Simpson believes that a "Conservative leader needs to be avuncular" and Dave Yager is very much avuncular. Another highly valuable human asset for the Wildrose Alliance. During his presentation Dave referred to the fact that the Department of Finance in Ottawa has regularly sent people to Bay Street to inform themselves of the industry impact of proposed policies yet the Stelmach government has taken no interest at all in this sort of consultation. Speaking to Dave later, I alluded to the fact that I had been tasked on industry consultations while working at Finance Canada on a regular basis and Dave must be connected to be aware of this practice. "Yeah, well I can tell you that here in Alberta, the backchannels that were used under Klein clamped shut when Stelmach took over," Dave noted. I had long suspected this but did not realize it was so bad. I can only hope that Albertans catch on to the fact that Stelmach is more hostile to private business then the federal Liberal party. It is one thing to be undisposed to consider the interests of business and yet another to shape and enforce policy in ignorance of the interests of business.

As hard as this is to believe, the David Swann Liberals have been even more hostile to the oilpatch, complaining of "corporate giveaways". Instead of focusing on the economic disaster at hand, on June 2 David Swann choose to brag about convincing the government to extend coverage for (the great numbers of people, surely!) undergoing gender reassignment. Exacting more spending while the government is in deficit, in other words.

But the most positive development of all in my view is Danielle Smith's candidacy for the party leadership. As Former Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business she understands the needs of entrepreneurs and investors. Small town guys like Todd Loewen up in the Peace Country respect her in part because they know her from when they ran local businesses that were CFIB members. Now a lot of people who have been policy wonks simply are not cut out for politics, but Danielle demonstrated that she is anything but politically tone deaf with her speech to the party today. She has media experience and will present very well on television. She will be very difficult to caricature as "right wing fringe", primarily because she exhibits that, how would I describe it, woman's sense of bearing and judgment. She comes across as an urban, professional woman.

When I learned that Dennis Young, leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada had enthusiastically endorsed her I could only grin at what seemed to be developing here in Alberta. Conservative intellectuals across the Anglosphere, from Perth to Glasgow, have lamented the limited political traction libertarianism has gotten time and again, yet here in Alberta it was actually coming together: a pro-business party combined with evidence-based social policy. I should think the Economist would be proud.

Of course, nothing has been proved yet. But the fact is that the Wildrose Alliance could get likely 10% of the vote without even running a campaign when most libertarian parties would garner 3%.

Now, predictably, there has been a backlash. At the AGM I had an amiable enough chat with a candidate who intends to run against Danielle for the leadership but after I came home I read his letter to the Party and he accused Danielle of having defended "a woman's right to terminate" 11 years ago and of not being 100% opposed to gay marriage. This after I had been going around defending an attempt that this person supported to strike "support a unified Canada" from the party Principles saying "Just vote it down without trying to purge these people." "But they are separatists," was a typical response to me. "Well, they say they are not necessarily separatists and in any case I think[so-and-so] should not have tried to demonize them by suggesting they are somehow the 'usual suspects' by calling attention to another dubious amendment they had sponsored," I replied. My point being that we should exhibit more sensitivity to everyone's right to express themselves by framing a defence of not striking "unified Canada" in terms of how attacks on the party will be precluded by not striking. Use a "including this advances our common interests" argument, in other words. Yet after saying let's not apply litmus tests such that we run around with a spotlight to expose the heretics, there's this gentleman applying a litmus test in the most flagrant way to another Wildroser, in a letter to all members. I've often taken issue with leftist activists who initiate attacks by raising social issues that the victim of the attack has not raised. But any such attack against this guy would of course be after he had insisted on making an issue out of it in the first place.

When someone asked me to sign the nomination form for yet another competitor to Danielle on Friday evening (so far it appears there will be 3 candidates for leader) I later asked why he was here supporting this candidate in a nutshell and he replied that he was a social conservative. The question I have is what is the party supposed to do on the other 364 days of the year if abortion and gay marriage are banned on day 1 of forming the government? You've got to bring more to the table whatever your opinion is.

I do not believe either side here should be trying to purge the other (as it is I thought there was rather too much purging of environmentalists). An amendment came up that referred to the "conscience rights" of healthcare professionals. A girl at an adjacent table asked me what it meant. I said it was a "dog whistle" since everyone who is deeply concerned about abortion and/or birth control knows that that was what that one's about. I considered going up to the microphone and saying, look, let's not have hidden agendas here, let's be explicit about what this is about, regardless of one's views for or against. But I felt that that would be the "smoking out" that I felt should be avoided if we are going to work as a team so I stayed seated. In the end, further evidence that there was confusion was implied by the fact an amendment on "government employees" that was explicitly identified at the microphone as a gay marriage dog whistle was rejected while the unexplicitly identified amendment passed. This when gay marriage has considerably more skeptics in Alberta than abortion prohibitions.


Anonymous said...

Excellent summary, thank you!

As for comments that Danielle Smith may have defended abortion 11 years ago and might not be 100% opposed to gay marriage, that makes me just want to vote for her more.

If the WAP is going to succeed in the next election, it absolutely has to chase the urban conservative, as well as it's traditional rural vote.

Why is it impossible for fiscal conservatives to keep their moral beliefs to themselves? The purpose of the government should be to protect property rights and safety. If a candidate for the leadership strays from that message and starts to dabble in moral policy, they will lose my vote for leader.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to add my name to the last post.

Tanner Waldo
Lethbridge, AB

Harold Davenport High River said...

It was interesting to see the mix of people at the Bearspaw meeting yesterday. Those of us old time conservatives came looking for a fresh start to the faltering conservatism in Alberta were not disappointed. Danielle reminds me of a young Thatcher, she has the royal jelly of a very good leader.

Brian Dell said...

I changed the original post from "abortion" to "a woman's right to terminate" since no one, not even her opponents, has in fact claimed that Ms Smith has ever "defended abortion" per se, either now or in the past.

Craig B. Chandler said...

Danielle is a great person and a good candidate.

Mark Dyrholm also represents small business. In fact he was the Vice President of the Progressive Group for Independent Business (PGIB) for years. If I am not mistaken I think Danielle was with the CFIB for 1 or 2.

I do think the more people that get to know Mark will be quite impressed with his abilities.

Danielle and mark are both good choices for our party. I was a little disappointed with Mr. Willerton and his tactics.