Wednesday, November 3, 2010

why I'm not a Wildrose member

My last post wasn't the first time I've talked about unions and what I thought was an accommodation of union interests by the Wildrose caucus members who joined the party back in January. Support for unions is an understandable stance for the NDP caucus but not, in my view, for a party that I had joined some three years ago on the understanding that its philosophy would be roughly consistent with that of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, namely, "free markets and free people."

When President Truman accused the WSJ of being the "Republican's Bible," the paper’s then editorial page editor responded that "our loyalties are to the economic and governmental principles in which we believe and not to any political party." In an editorial titled, "A Newspaper's Philosophy," William H. Grimes, who won the WSJ's first Pulitzer Prize for his editorial commentary on business, the economy and labour, wrote:
On our editorial page, we make no pretense of walking down the middle of the road. Our comments and interpretations are made from a definite point of view. We believe in the individual, his wisdom and his decency. We oppose all infringements on individual rights, whether they stem from attempts at private monopoly, labor union monopoly or from an overgrowing government.

I've returned to the issue of labour union monopoly on a regular basis this year in part because in the future it will be a critical driver of another problem Mr Grimes identifies, "overgrowing government." A growth in government is not necessarily objectionable in-and-of-itself: if starting from a sufficiently low base such that additional investment would not be subject to significantly diminishing returns, government investment in roads, schools, bridges, university laboratories, and other factors that generate positive externalities and may be bequeathed to the next generation may well be a net good. But with an aging and "what's-in-it-for-me" society, most government expenditures will be used to support non-workers' private consumption and a politically powerful non-business-owning middle class. In the case of private sector retirees, the promised entitlements may be appropriate. But for the public sector, there is a growing problem of sustainability and the biggest problem in my view is not how much will be going to the unionized public sector per se but the anti-competitive, unaccountable way the allocation decisions have been and apparently will continue to be made. This is not to say that corporate lobbyists don't also work the halls of legislatures in shadowy ways but rather to make an issue out of the fact that union lobbyists, unlike corporate ones, want to extend the reach of this tax-and-spend allocation system.

Each time I return to the issue, however, there is the tendency to make the point a little louder, such that there is increasing danger that I may be "crying wolf." And on the point, there is the possibility that I have mischaracterized the views of Wildrose caucus.

Rob Anderson has advised me that when Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith said in Red Deer in June that the passing of an AGM resolution suggested a maturation and "sophistication" of the membership's views, the Tweeter who associated that comment with the passing of a particular resolution that the teachers' union wanted passed was mistaken. When I stood as a candidate myself in 2008, amongst the lessons I learned is that, while the general public may be overestimating the magnitude of media bias, the public likely underestimates the frequency with which the media can get minor facts wrong. In this case, I don't recall the twitterer's view being confirmed by another source, hence I'll take at face value Rob's view that Danielle was referring to the gun rights resolutions(s) (there were two, an uncompromising one which failed to pass and a milder affirmation of gun rights which did) and stand corrected.

That doesn't mean I'm satisfied with what the party leader has said elsewhere, of course. While Education Minister Dave Hancock has defended the Provincial Achievement Tests against union interests that want them eliminated, Danielle has agreed with union interests that the PATs should go. She does say that the PATs should be replaced with "something", but apparently that something has to be "better for teachers" than the status quo and would be developed by "[w]ork[ing] with teachers" (who, if the unions are any guide, generally oppose all standardized testing). At the last Wildrose AGM, MLA Heather Forsyth used most of her microphone time on the floor to either speak out in favour of the P"C" government's free speech limiting legislation or against Wildrose policy planks opposed by the teachers' union. I might add that
  • a motion that proposed eliminating the "School Choice" section from the Wildrose party platform in favour of language that made no reference to choice,
  • a motion calling for replacing "[a] Wildrose Government will institute methods to hold educators accountable for performance" with "[a] Wildrose Government will promote innovation..." and
  • a motion that wanted to delete the plank prohibiting closed shops and the plank preserving the right to a secret ballot
were all "PROPOSED BY CAUCUS" and that, as a caucus member, the MLA for Calgary Fish-Creek supported all these motions. I accordingly do not believe that I have been misleading readers in my characterization of Ms Forsyth.

With respect to the right to a secret ballot, Mr Anderson currently says,
I clearly support “right to a secret ballot.” In fact, that topic never even came up at the convention - there was never a resolution vote on it.
On May 5 Vitor Marciano issued "Executive Director's Memo #3" to the membership which included as an attachment some 85 policy resolutions that Vitor wanted whittled down to a more manageable 40. One of the resolutions concerned section II "Economy" Part G "Labour" and "Moved that II G 1 and 3 be deleted and replaced..." This motion was "PROPOSED BY CAUCUS".

What were the two planks that the "caucus" wanted "deleted"?
II G 1 read:
A Wildrose Government will allow individual workers the choice to determine their membership in labour organizations.
II G 3 read:
A Wildrose Government will extend to workers the democratic right to a secret ballot vote on labour organization certification under the Labour Code and ensure that the same rule apply for decertification as for certification.
These deleted planks were to be replaced with "[a] Wildrose Government will review labour laws to ensure fairness for all Alberta workers whether employed in union or non-union settings," a plank that is, of course, so vague as to be entirely equivalent to nothing for a MLA who does not want to be held to a policy resolution.

This motion, and all of the other union-related motions proposed by caucus, made their way into the green sheets that constituted the resolutions for debate at the AGM and I accordingly stand by my last blogpost. I was at the AGM and do not recall Mr Anderson saying that he wished to retract the part of the motion that called for deletion of II G 1 and/or II G 3. I might add that if it were necessary to do further "research and consultation" in this area, the results of the research and consultation could have been presented to the membership for the membership's review. As I recall the membership was instead advised at one point to "trust" the caucus with the party's policy platform.

As it was, the vote was very close, going to a count, and II G 1 and II G 3 survived, but I think this should be of limited comfort when the caucus has revealed its hand as not wanting to be held to the provisions. Relevant here is the history of Wildrose Executive Director Vitor Marciano. When controversial Calgary West MP and former professional heckler Rob When in doubt, pull the trigger" Anders told the Canadian Press, "I would fight shoulder to shoulder with [Marciano] in any battle," this apparently included a battle between himself as a caucus member against his own Conservative constituency membership. When the board of Calgary West EDA voted in favour of asking riding members if they wanted to hold a new nomination meeting, Marciano, who represented Alberta on the National Council, approved a top-down takeover of the local board. 19 members resigned from the disempowered board, leaving behind 7 a number of whom had not been elected at the board's previous AGM. This recent incident came after the candidacy of Walter Wakula for the Calgary West nomination was rejected in 2006 and Rob Anders acclaimed, an acclamation that was ultimately overturned via the intervention of a Court of Queen's Bench Justice, despite the objections of Andrew Constantinidis, Wildrose's recently nominated candidate for the provincial riding of Calgary West.

Wakula isn't the only Wildrose member to have a run in with the federal Tory machine. John Baloun, Wildrose Alliance candidate for Edmonton-Rutherford in 2008, found out how MP James Rajotte's board plays ball when he tried to challenge Rajotte for the Edmonton-Leduc nomination. I had my own encounter with Rajotte's people a year ago, when myself and someone who had served on David Kilgour's board were attempting to organize Wildrose members in Edmonton Whitemud. We both ended up resigning from the newly formed constituency board, realizing that Rajotte's people, who were backed by Eleanor Maroes who was in turn backed by a member of the provincial executive, didn't much want us (and I was going to be out of the country for a few months). It will be interesting to see how the nomination in the new Edmonton South West constituency will be managed given that, with popular incumbent Dave Hancock almost certain to run for re-election in the old Edmonton Whitemud, this very suburban open seat is likely the only riding within Edmonton city limits that Wildrose HQ would consider a realistic pick-up for the party.

Looking forward, there will likely be a great deal of pandering to the rural vote over the coming year that would not be to my taste and looking back I'm not interested in supporting a party that imports the Conservative Party of Canada's hardball culture into its operations or caucus members who want to delete a party plank allowing "individual workers the choice to determine their membership in labour organizations." Stop maneuvering and finessing and stand and fight for the plainly stated principle.
I don't mean military courage or civil courage, or any special kind of courage. I mean just that inborn ability to look temptation straight in the face - a readiness unintellectual enough, goodness knows, but without pose - a power of resistance, don't you see, ungracious if you like, but priceless - an unthinking and blessed stiffness before the outward and inward terrors, before the might of nature, and the seductive corruption of men - ...
- Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Having said all this I would consider returning to involvement with the party if changes occurred and I should make it clear that I do not know Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth, or Vitor Marciano personally. I met Rob for perhaps a minute at the Wildrose AGM but of course I was already rather prejudiced at that point based on my dissatisfaction with the "terms," or absence thereof, surrounding the floor crossing the January and the policy that the new caucus was proposing in May, policy I couldn't imagine Paul Hinman supporting. Anderson should be congratulated for the way he puts unmanipulated videos of himself speaking as an opposition member in the Legislature online and further makes his views on various matters available on his website. Our elected officials are generally well-meaning people trying to reconcile the contradictory policy wishes of the electorate and far too many people want to blame politicians for everything they see as wrong with society when, really, the enemy is us. Democracies generally get the government they deserve. At the PC AGM this past weekend, the results of a survey of Albertans were passed around. It found that "65% say the province should base spending decisions on the public’s need for services, not on the government’s ability to pay." No business or household could make spending decisions without reference to ability to pay but popular opinion, here in supposedly "conservative" Alberta, is what it is.

I just happen to think that politicians could deal with this in the way PC MLA Doug Griffiths has tried to deal with this. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister, he has access to some information that the man in the street does not. Griffiths has been trying to communicate with the electorate, asking people to re-examine their assumptions. As I said on Sunday, it was the fact that Marciano reckoned Griffiths' party should be attacked for Griffiths' independent effort to start an adult conversation that was the last straw for me.

The fact is that no one party has a monopoly on the sort of politicians we need more of. During the 2008 provincial campaign there wasn't an all-candidates forum in my riding and when I tried to contact the other candidates to try and arrange one there wasn't any interest. So I did the next best thing and kept a look-out for any sort of city-wide forum that came up. I then ended up speaking at a forum hosted by a local Ukrainian group. A young Liberal candidate sparred with me on several issues and afterwards we agreed we should go for coffee sometime. In the audience were a few other Edmonton area candidates. John Baloun gave me some tips on public speaking. A distinguished older gentleman came up to me and quite impressed me although it might partly have been because he flattered me suggesting that I should consider joining his party. He was the PC candidate in Edmonton Gold Bar and during the recent mayoralty race I realized that he must have been David Dorward.


Duncan Kinney said...

Is there any party ideologically pure enough for you?

Jonathan Williams said...

Brian that is a total fabrication of what happened with you and the board of Edmonton Whitemud.

You were a director at large. You did not live in the riding and our riding was fairly healthy and able to gather strength with federal conservative and non fed ranks.

You told me that you were leaving for a few months so you wanted to leave the board. I took that at face value and offered to keep your seat warm plenty of times.

The fact that you bring this up and the way it is brought forward now makes me wonder if you are even telling the truth on any of this.

Fact, yes Danielle was talking about the gun resolution because she voted against the motion while the majority voted for it.

I am sorry you are upset about where you think the party should go is not where it is going. I am neither upset nor appalled by any actions of the party to date.

Personally I think you are being disingenuous with readers here.

While I do not agree with your policies I have never seen a reason to stamp you out of the party and I am sorry you feel you need to leave but my goodness get the story straight.

Brian Dell said...

I like the BC Liberals and the British Tories just to name a couple. The former have championed business-friendly policy in the face of populists like Bill Vander Zalm and the British Tories have made the sort of spending cuts that I don't believe any North American party would come remotely close to trying to do.

My "ideological" problem with Wildrose is not "left" vs "right" but going populist. I returned to Alberta from Ottawa's policy shops because I wanted to see the sort of informed, detailed discussion that was occurring in the halls of Finance Canada occurring here. It was like we were stuck in an ivory tower. Those discussions MAY be occurring in Alberta Finance (hence the occasional musing about a consumption tax by Morton and/or Griffiths) but they seem to be stuck there.

There is too much emphasis on parties anyway, in my view. Like I say, I think Doug Griffiths is a good MLA. I dedicated a blogpost to praising Kevin Taft this year. And Danielle Smith is an unusual combination of both charismatic politician and policy adept.

Brian Dell said...

The first thing I'd acknowledge, Jonathan, is that people who quit a political party because of fights over the control of constituency boards or because their relative was fired from the party back office or what have you are people who are typically difficult to deal with and/or have a poor sense of discretion such that people who are not directly involved shouldn't make much of it. And even here the local situation is not really a factor in my dissatisfaction with the party (that would be rather petty); it rather just made it difficult for me to contribute where I most wanted to contribute so I'd have to go work somewhere else.

The problem in Whitemud was primarily the fact that a highly involved gentleman who lived south of the Henday was not invited on to the board. Besides being the type of non-angry non-Tea Party type I felt the party needed more of, I strongly felt that we needed more people involved from the south so that the new riding likely to be created out of the area south of the Henday did not end up a runt. The other organizer Eleanor asked us to work with wasn't much interested in advancing this objective, and partly as a result this summer when the higher-ups were anticipating a South-West board it was noted that they would be short people.

After raising a clamour in the days after the founding meeting, it became clear that the situation wasn't going to change and the gentleman from the Blackburn neighbourhood would not be coming on to the board. I'll grant that he was likely partly responsible as well for not trying to meet in the middle. So one might as well try and make things work. When I resigned in the spring I indeed did not accuse anyone of not wanting me on the board. I had already leveled accusations about the Blackburn fellow not being wanted and that didn't seem to solve anything. Burning a bridge would have made it that much harder to work together in the future.

In the summer, though, when it was getting closer to the time when a South-West board might be created, with the encouragement of a higher up I tried to get back on the board. I was advised that "without the board's due deliberation and ratification, your participation in our meetings could be viewed by some board members as illegitimate." Well after due deliberation it was apparently decided that no invitation to rejoin would be extended. A member of the board wanted to meet about the situation and we talked, but the political reality is that party HQ would have had to give an order to get me back on the board. In my view that would have created tension between the board and party central that was unnecessary when Whitemud seemed to be doing just fine without me. The problem was, again, South West's relative underdevelopment and I hadn't anticipated that the only way to develop the South West was to first rejoin Whitemud.

As for residency, I didn't really have a residence since I haven't been in one place for more than a few months since coming back from Ottawa and I can give you the email of a resident who would confirm I was trying to move into the southwest last winter. When that fell through and I didn't have another near term option it did make me less comfortable about remaining on the board. I nonetheless believe I was genuinely interested in serving the party's interests in Edmonton and the party's interest meant a developed presence in every constituency. As I understand it several ridings in the city that needed some help have non-residents on their board and that that group might even include yourself.

All this to say that I would take exception to the "our riding was fairly healthy" claim. Edmonton South West was not healthy and ready for launch according the information I had, and it was this very idea that the people who lived in the Riverbend idea "owned" the whole territory of the current Whitemud riding such that the success of the new riding was not a concern that I saw as a problem.

Brian Dell said...

In any case I have no disagreement with you and am sorry if there is one. I wasn't happy that it fell to me to nominate you to the Whitemud board a year ago because I had hoped that others would have realized what an asset you had been to the party and its predecessor over the years. The wisdom of nominating you and people like you was what I had been trying to convince Eleanor's friend to agree to prior to the founding meeting and I was unsuccessful, such that, with possibly one exception, the nomination of anyone to the board that wasn't part of the CPC clique ended up falling to me which in hindsight was a no win situation.

Again, this is something of a side show and I was dubious about referring to my local experience here since even if one is unhappy with an organization and moves on, only an indiscreet person goes public with about the internal politics they encountered, especially when there is always another side to these stories that isn't being aired. People who are not team players act like that and it may mislead readers who don't know that the situation was actually relatively mild compared to similar organizations. I happened to be mentioning some cases where I thought people who had served on CPC local or national boards had a habit of looking out for a narrow or strictly political agenda and so threw in what I saw as another example.

I've gone into detail in the comments here because I feel I have to respond to the charge of fabrication. If it is a fabrication that myself and the Blackburn person weren't welcome I would assume that we would both get a call or email anyday now (I indicated to the board a desire to return on August 24 but had no illusions that I would be any more desired than at the beginning of the year) saying that we have been invited to help organize a founding meeting for Edmonton South West, the first step of which I have been instructed is to rejoin the Whitemud board. I could go help out somewhere else, of course, but like I say if I am helping the enemies of Doug Griffiths I'd be working against everything I have been trying to do politically these past few years.

Anonymous said...

You better start watching Dr Phil