Thursday, July 8, 2010

constructive criticism?

Rudy de Haas, Wildrose's most prominent organizer in Lethbridge, says he has quit the party. He was a constituency association president and was on the party's policy committee.

Reviewing Rudy's complaints I find it difficult to see things Rudy's way. But why is that when I have also described myself as "disillusioned" with the party?

The first reason may be that an alternative to quitting is stepping back and seeing how the future plays out. In my own case I have taken myself "out of the loop" (not that I was ever that much of an insider) in recent months but I am still a party member. After all, things can change.

More important in my view is the rationale for taking issue with the party in front of a large audience. Rudy seems to be very upset with the procedures which led to what was voted on at the AGM. But how do the procedures really matter in the end if the policy that is generated in the end is acceptable? Nobody outside the party cares much about how the party came up with the policy planks it did.

Even more critically, what ends up in the party policy book is not that important anyway. How much of what contemporary western governments do follows from what is in the policy platforms of their governing political parties? I know Wildrose aspires to be different on that count, but if the party was really serious about holding its elected MLAs accountable it would ensure that the policy planks were written in such a way that a MLA couldn't possibly weasel out of what they called for. The current reality is that the Wildrose policy platform has oodles of wet noodles that couldn't nail down an ordinary person never mind a politician who has made a profession out evasive maneuvers. The other parties are even worse when it comes to taking a clear stand on what's controversial but that fact alone doesn't excuse anything.

But if professed policy (from a source that is unlikely to ever become a minister) is irrelevant, and procedure even more so, what does matter?


Which people? The caucus. The biggest change in the party between now and December is that it has 3 new caucus members and these people have had enormous influence over the party's communications. It is the party's people in the legislature who will ultimately decide the province's direction if the party forms government. I have issues with all four of the ones currently there. Lorne Gunter writes:
So where do I get off saying they’ve stalled?

Let’s start with the acquisition of Mr. Boutillier.

Gunter then proceeds to outline concerns that should be taken seriously. I am not quite so inclined to put the party in the gunsights as Gunter because I hold out hope that it is not, in fact, true that "getting him to cross over from the Independent seats will have come at the price of a post in any future Alliance cabinet." (Memo to Lorne: it is rival parties interested in tying the party to its Randy "referenda on abortion and gay marriage!" Thorsteinson days that describe it as "Alliance" alone) Given the sensitivity that was exhibited towards the floor crossers' personal interests in January, however, I don't hold out hope with much confidence.

Both Boutilier and Rob Anderson have politician written all over them. That isn't entirely a bad thing because it means they have people skills, skills I am quite jealous of. But I prefer the style of, say, Heather Forsyth who together with Danielle makes a good argument for getting more women into politics. While my differences with Rob are more or less summed up by the Canadian Press wire story that quotes me (twice, actually, since I believe I'm also the "one delegate" who objected to "wishy washy" resolutions), my problem with Heather is that she is just too far to the left fiscally. The Economist that went to press today had an article titled "an unavoidable clash" that said "[the public sector] unions may mobilise against the [British] government’s plans to curb public pay and pensions. But they are defending the indefensible." I cannot see Heather taking up the gauntlet on behalf of taxpayers despite the nobility and urgency of a showdown with the union lobby. Never mind the fact that every dollar that goes into a union member's pension is one less dollar for a school, a hospital bed, a library, etc. Heather has been a great champion for children's interests (named Reader's Digest' Canadian Hero for the year 2002) but had little of note to say about the neglect of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund (and saving in general) despite chairing the Standing Committee for that fund when revenues were rolling in. As for Paul Hinman, I still have great respect for him. He is conscientious and a genuine conservative. But I'm afraid Paul's obsession with Legislature matters may have led to the party into becoming too interested in picking up floor-crossers. Wildrose may not be treated well by the governing party on the Leg grounds but as far as most Albertans are considered these scraps are inside baseball.

The final test for whether criticism is constructive is whether the damage complained of has already been done such that the problem can't be fixed anyway. The AGM cannot be done over again. But what we could and should yet see is the caucus leaving the limelight to the leader. The caucus cannot win over voters to anything like the extent the leader can but caucus (and this includes future candidates) can very much lose votes for the party. So... No issuing news releases that have not been thoroughly vetted by the leader, by party communications, and by some sort of policy committee or expert(s). No back room deals for floor crossers, or for caucus members lobbying for special interests, or the appearance of such. No more fawning over caucus members by party spokespeople. Continue to pay little heed to the Ken Chapmans and David Climenhagas who will not be shaken from the view that Wildrose is but a front for the oil lobby and intolerant extremists but do pay heed to observers like Lorne Gunter and the Alberta Altruist (on that note, somebody should ask Rob Anderson what happened to AA since he lives in Anderson's riding).


Anonymous said...

Until Smith reveals who bankrolled her leadership bid, questions will remain about the influence of the oil patch on the party.

Chris said...

Brian, I've appreciated reading your take on the Wildrose AGM. I supose I'd also be somewhat happier if the occasion had resulted in a more unambigious conservative/libertarian policy agenda. On the other hand given the proclivity of various media outlets to be water carriers for the left, I supose attempting to avoid controversey has its tactical merits that should be considered.

With respect to Rob Anderson I think you're being a bit hard on the fellow. I don't agree with some of his more socially conservative views, but on fiscal matters he's usually as sound as any politician in the province. Knowing Rob personally from law school, I think saying he oozes politician might be a touch unfair. I can't argue with a perception but he's a passionate guy about making this a better run province on conservative principles and has been long before he ever ran for office. I can tell you he's not just a guy interested in the job, he cares about the ideas in play.

I wouldn't lose too much heart though. The crux of the thing is Danielle Smith and she at least appears to have some fashion of coherent libertarian/conservative view point that frames her approach to the issues. Given the alternatives on the offer I find that rather refreshing. Right now the province lacks direction and seems to be overly guided by squishy PCs whom have little to distinguish them from the Liberals.

I do very much sympathize with your frustration regarding the vagueness of policy. Although provincially (previously PC) and federally (Conservative) my experience tends to be that activists exert their influence mostly by electing good people with the right policy instincts rather than policy conventions per say. I suspect the same will hold true with the Wildrose. However, I do hope that engaging in that process is still something that appeals to you as to effect positive change in this province and dislodge the PC dynasty those supporting the Wild Rose are going to need all hands on deck.

Brian Dell said...

Well I will give credit where it is due in the sense that Rob is highly available on Youtube and other social media. But to take this clip as an example:
Government ministers make a couple of perfectly reasonable points and Rob is of the opinion that the ministers are making "very shameful" comments. I cannot picture Danielle bringing this level of antagonism to QP. The fact is Rob ran for Team Stelmach in 2008 when the prospects for the Wildrose Alliance have always been very good in Airdrie - Chestermere; even Jeff Willerton, who supported Mark Dyrholm, is a separatist, and who was arguably best known for getting his photo in the paper fighting with gay parade participants in the street, beat the Liberal candidate in Airdrie - Chestermere. Even if he had no chance, he could have done what I did and run against the Stelmach spenders based on pure principle.