Friday, September 11, 2009

Wildrose Alliance leadership debate in Edmonton, part II

With respect to the debate itself, I must confess to a predilection to consider Mark Dyrholm's comments critically. During the evening, I had gotten wind of what Mr Dyrholm's primary backer had said to a particular Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Party stalwart, who happened to be a delightfully disarming grandmotherly type, and found it difficult to stop brooding about what struck me as an incident of unprovoked thuggery. Is everyone seeing each campaign for what it is or just what's in the shop window, I wondered. And so I observed with rather wry disdain that if we were to drink a shot every time Dyrholm mentioned "Reform", "Preston Manning", or "federal Liberals", the whole lot of us would be stone drunk before he'd spoken for 10 minutes. But when it came to the point of attacking the federal court challenges program, and finally funding for the Bloc Québécois, it became decidedly unfunny for me. Perhaps Mr Dyrholm is a little honestly confused about provincial and federal jurisdictions but to promise to defund the Bloc? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he knows full well this is a promise he could not possibly fulfill as a provincial politician but nonetheless is cynical enough about his audience's level of knowledge that he believes the misinformation about the range of a provincial politician's powers is being swallowed uncritically.

"You're being too harsh," someone might say. "He's not promising to do anything about these populist outrages, he's just noting them." If this stuff is irrelevant from a policy perspective, then why is it being noted? It's marketing by association with what's perceived to be popular, with all the substance of putting prancing girls in a beer ad. There is no association? Then why bother? Who are we kidding here?

As a person who takes policy seriously, I'm not inclined to indulge a person who approaches politics like it's a beer marketing campaign with good humour. I knocked on doors for Reform, back in the 90s. I had doors slammed in my face when I was trying to sell Reform in Alberta's most hostile territory, Edmonton Strathcona. And I strongly object to the implied contention that if you are not a former Reformer or, more exactly, not a hater of the federal Liberals then you do not subscribe to what fundamentally defines a Wildrose Alliance supporter. What fundamentally defines a Wildrose Alliance supporter is a desire for better government in... wait for it... ALBERTA!

If Preston Manning or Stephen Harper has, in fact, endorsed your specific candidacy, fine, point it out. Danielle mentioned Link Byfield in the context of making a specific point, which was good politics. If you are on a federal Liberal's enemies list, who I am to shy you away from shouting this from the rooftops? Whatever floats your boat. But if not, then stop implying that you have some endorsement that your competitors don't. Many of us who were born and raised in an evangelical community will grant that we get something of a thrill when our identities are publicly acknowledged, perhaps not unlike the reaction of Canadians to the mention of Canada in a Hollywood produced movie. But digging for this reaction, by, to take an example from the debate, talking about your "pastor" without providing a connection to a provincial policy issue, is pandering.

As far as I was concerned, Danielle should have taken the metaphorical hatchet to Dyrholm for engaging in these tactics. Perhaps at the next debate, she will give him a Harper button, a Reform hat, a Bible and an Alberta flag so he can just garb himself in such a way that his primary "argument" will be made visually and the actual talking time can be saved for a consideration of PROVINCIAL politics. While Dyrholm was the primary offender here, Willerton was also inclined to argue that he was somehow going to keep the Liberal "octopus" out of Ottawa.

At the end of the debate, Danielle advanced the general interest of our shared party by addressing the people in the audience who were not party members; a dignified and appropriate conclusion.

When I challenged Dyrholm about his repeated trotting out of the Ottawa bogeyman, he mentioned an Alberta Pension Plan. Fair enough. But he wasn't advocating for an Alberta Pension Plan when he was up there blasting the Bloc and "federal Liberal smear campaigns".

Don't get me wrong here, Dyrholm is not a nasty schemer (although I'm not sure I can say the same about the entirety of his campaign team). One question that came up was obviously planted by Dyrholm, but he took the perniciousness out of this by later stating frankly that he had his team prepare the question. It's this sort of gesture that suggests to me that he has a good sense of propriety. When I told him that it would be good to see him continue to remain a member of the team regardless of what happened next month, he quite fairly argued that he has committed to that and his opponents have not. But I am at a loss as to how he can push identity politics so shamelessly. I'm not saying it doesn't work; on the contrary people don't generally vote because they like conservative policies per se, they vote because they consider themselves conservative. A candidate who convinces most people that he is one of them, be it Christian or conservative, is going to get their votes even if the policies he pursues are, in substantive fact, less Christian or conservative than those of an opponent he has successfully tagged as unChristian or unconservative. The federal Conservatives are very much NOT conservative on issue after issue, yet in their cyncism are well aware that they can sell conservative policy down the river so long as they retain the identity based allegiance of their Alberta "base". One person I met at the debate said she was leaning towards not supporting the Wildrose Alliance at all because she's an Edmontonian and all of the leadership candidates are not. Such is the trumping power of identification. But it does not serve the public interest to play to this.


Me said...

I found this post a little scattered and somewhat hard to follow!

Jane Morgan said...

Brian what is your estimate on the number of attendees?

Blaine Maller said...

Great article, not hard to read or follow and, in my opinion, an accurate depiction of one of the approaches the Dyrholm campaign is using. I have always said just put Danielle in front of the crowd and let her debate the other candidates and then formulate your own opinion.
Danielle Smith is a breath of fresh air and has my full support. Albertans are really going to be impressed by her.

Alberta Altruist said...

Thanks for the review Brian,
Right along the lines I expected. Looks like it was well attended. Actually maybe I expected more foot in mouth from Jeff, but there is still time.

Brian Dell said...

Katherine O'Neill of the Globe and Mail was there and in Saturday's paper said there were about 200.

Graham Sproule said...

Brian, When identity politics means identifying your political background it is fair game. It matters a great deal to me that Danielle's background was in the federal PC Party while Mark's was in the federal Reform Party. We've never tried the Reform Party policies in our own province and that's what Mark's campaign is all about - not finessing PC policies with a few key policies - but truly reforming Alberta.

Doug said...

I am sure Mark D. is a good guy, but the fact is if this party is to move forward Danielle Smith is the best choice? With Mark or Jeff as leader this party will remain a rump party that will maybe be able to get a couple of seats out in the boondocks, but never, ever form a government.
Ms. Smith is young, intelligent, fiscally conservative, socially libertarian....that is a winning my opinion!
If she gets in as leader I suspect we will see a lot of good candidates coming out of the woodwork? If one of the others wins we will get the old redneck white men types for candidates!
It is frustrating to have a candidate in your riding who no one even knows try to run against the powerful PC party machine! We need credible, reasonable candidates if we ever hope to knock off these guys....I think with Ms. Smith as leader we will attract those kind of candidates? Just my opinion.

Brian Dell said...

Well, Graham, I have to ask you if Chandler's abandonment of the Reform party for the federal PC party doesn't bother you then. Chandler endorsed Jim Prentice at one point, and Prentice was out campaigning with DCU against us in Calgary Glenmore just this past month.

Anonymous said...

Chandler is not the candidate. Mark Dyrholm is. If Smith supporters want to run a campaign against Craig Chandler who isn't even on the ballot than good luck to them.