Monday, November 26, 2012

Wildrose 2013

For the past few years, I've given a run down of what I found noteworthy at the provincial party's AGM.  That won't be happening this year, because I didn't go.  I can, however, comment based on what I've seen reported.  Since this post is directed at current Wildrosers, I will be calling attention to some local constituency details that won't be of interest to a wider readership, and I'll be stepping back into my old shoes as a party activist to speak to social conservatives from an "us" perspective, issues I wouldn't say I've since "evolved" on but I would say would require more discussion of what things look like from the libertarian perspective were I addressing a broader audience.

First of all, I'll note that there seems to be a continuation of the mentality I took exception to at previous AGMs, namely, that the party's MLAs in particular seem to be of view that the party's popularity challenges are best overcome by making policy concessions as opposed to advocating for the party's policies more effectively.

The best example of this is not "conscience rights" since there is little room to advocate more effectively and convincingly on life issues.  Most people are already informed enough in that area to make a decision, rightly or wrongly, and it's a decision that is typically based upon an ingrained world view.  However, even here it could be pointed out to the media that anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage planks have been shot down continually by the party membership ever since "Wildrose" was first attached to a provincial political party name more than five years ago.  All that's left today is a plank that is consistent with a pluralistic society wherein a significant minority does not support either abortion on demand or state-approved gay marriage..  In theory, access to abortion or a marriage certificate could be constrained by finding that one's first point of contact is declining to offer the service.  But if my local medi-centre declines to perform brain surgery on me and I end up having to head down to the university hospital, have I been really been denied access to this surgery?  In a free society, coercion is a last resort and if someone is modestly inconvenienced by someone's freedom to decline a service, that may seen as a reflection of the fact that it's one thing for a society to come to a conclusion about a contentious issue and another to coerce conscientious objectors into helping implement that conclusion.  Surely the manpower of the dissidents is not necessary if community consensus is in fact so decisive.  The real problem for those requesting the service is not the inconvenience of moving on to the next provider but the audacity of the refusant to not recognize their entitlement.  If we can tolerate cops declining to ticket someone even though the letter of the law calls for a ticket, I should think we could allow some room for other representatives of the state to exercise their personal judgement.

But if the "conscience rights" clause must go nonetheless, the party would still have a raison d'├¬tre without it, even just on social conservative grounds (properly construed).  I've long been of the view that narrowing one's advocacy down to a pro-life agenda often ends up undermining the larger conservative social agenda, because, to take an example, it may end up increasing out-of-wedlock births instead of decreasing them.  I understand that the ends don't necessarily justify the means, but if one person is trying to get a guy to take more responsibility for his partner and his children and another is trying to convince him of the need to obey Levitical prescriptions concerning the eating of pork, do we decide which person we should ask to stop talking over the other so a single, less confusing message can get through based solely on who makes more references to Scripture?  I'm not trying to trivialize abortion by talking about clean and unclean food, I'm rather noting that not everything in the Bible is treated, or can be treated, as a litmus test.  What matters is whether the candidate's approach to public policy will advance or retard God's will for the family and society.  It's not impossible that an atheist could be used by the Lord.  Once a particular theological point assumes dealbreaker status, where you do you stop?  We saw the logical conclusion of how the issue plays out politically south of the border when GOP Senate candidates Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri were pressed on how far they would go in their opposition to abortion.  With respect to gay marriage my primary objection has been to the characterization of the matter as a "rights" issue when such characterization ought to be reserved for a call for the state to step out, not for a call for the state to step in.  And a "step in" is indeed the issue here because the issue is not striking sodomy laws off the books but recognition of gay marriage as a social norm.  It's the difference between the freedom to deviate and whether it's deemed deviant in the first place.  There's a fundamental difference between approving gay marriage via the legislature or by referendum, in other words, and approving it via courts citing "rights."  Once democratic support for gay marriage has been established, that may make no difference in terms of its rightness theologically or metaphysically, but it does make a difference in terms of the return one is going to get on one's political advocacy going forward.  I am not so much saying that social conservatives need to move on from the issue so much as I am saying that social conservatives need to look at advocacy holistically and the breakdown of the nuclear family in particular is an issue that not only provides more fertile ground for moving public opinion but has consequences that do not presume a particular metaphysical view to be identified as negative.  Even atheists can lament the number of single parent households.

So if abortion and gay marriage are not the best examples of where the party should dig in and just fight harder, how about the human rights commission plank?  I'll repeat here what I said after the 2010 AGM:
The question for me, however, was why there was any need to finesse this policy plank when even the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, which draws its name from a former Liberal MLA [photo at right from Foundation website], thinks a simple repeal of section 3 acceptable.
Here we have the best illustration of why the call by party poohbahs to move closer to the "centre line" represents a lack of creative thinking.  On abortion, OK, the lines have been set for a long time; - if someone had an idea about how to bust open that issue to new movement in public opinion, someone would have surely thought of it by now.  But this human rights commission issue is highly susceptible to framing.  The left has been dragging the centre line their way for a while now and the current situation calls for yanking on the other end of the rope, not capitulation.  The spectrum here consists of the left, the libertarians, and the conservatives.  On this matter it's already been dragged well into libertarian territory such that current policy can be, and should be, entirely defended on free speech grounds.  I call attention here, again, to the fact that Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, took exception to how this issue has been framed:
Here's one that especially rankles. The Alberta legislature recently confirmed the provincial commission's jurisdiction over offensive speech, but [chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Jennifer] Lynch notes "not without a chorus of 'boos' from the far right." The Chumir Foundation, other organizations and individuals presented carefully constructed arguments against Alberta's hate-speech provision. It is disrespectful to dismiss our reasoned objections as "boos"...

Our most prolific provincial pundit, David Climenhaga, is of the view that it wasn't a "couple of candidates mak[ing] controversial comments" that brought Wildrose up short in April's election but "Wildrose policy".  Aside from the fact that Mr Climenhaga's thesis isn't supported by the polls ( it wasn't previously undisclosed policy that grabbed headlines late in the campaign but "comments") it requires far less reaching to contend that what voters took issue with was not the fact that Edmonton South West candidate Allan Hunsperger wasn't legally prosecuted by the human rights commission for referring to the "lake of fire", it's that he was a party candidate.  I assure you, dear reader, that "lake of fire" does not appear in the party's policy platform.  It's one thing for the party to defend Hunsperger's right to free speech as a private citizen and another to make him a potential legislator in a Wildrose government.

Tom Flanagan [photo at right from] says Wildrose should have been spent more money on oppo research, digging into the background of both Wildrose candidates and PC candidates.  Is it not a little odd that a prescription to spend more money is coming from someone seen as a conservative ideologue?  Is it not oddly ironic that someone with such a (well deserved, in my view) reputation for cynical, hardball politics, ended up the lamb before the lion of the PC's political attack machine?  Flanagan repeats the call for softening the party's policy book, when in fact it was the party's campaign tactics that were the problem, and if anything the tactics weren't hardball enough, substituting shrillness and sheer volume for sophistication in its criticisms of the governing party.  The idea of paying out energy revenue directly to Albertans didn't come from the policy book, or the grassroots, anyway.  This was entirely a creation of the head office brain trust.  One of the biggest arguments for conservative taxation and spending policies is that incentives matter and should be rewarded.  Paying out unconditional cheques for simply existing does pretty much zero in terms of creating additional incentives to work or otherwise add value to the economy.  Consigning entitlement schemes like this to the dust bin, in other words, would move policy to the right, not left.  The problem with the policy book is not that it is too right wing but that it isn't smart and innovative enough.

From: Brian Dell
To:  Wildrose VP Policy
Date: Tue, Nov 17, 2009
subject: Re: Making Policy
"We cannot simply call on... people that do not have a connection to us..."
Now where's that "can do" attitude, [...]?  If say, getting someone from the U of C's School of Public Policy to speak to the membership about trends in tax reform or an Edmonton-based academic economist to provide input to a policy task force is truly mission impossible, why not suggest to the policy committee that they consider and come to a consensus about whether to give me, or anyone with a public policy background, authorization to try and make it happen?  After all, I would only be failing where others have failed before, no?  Just be sure to have that Mission Impossible theme music in the background! ;)  If it is a requirement that the invited person be sufficiently "connected", just get specific about that in the mission details.  I don't think a "connection" of comparable strength to whatever the connection was that brought someone to speak to the membership twice this year about privatizing healthcare would be impossible to find or create.

I think you've struck upon precisely what I see as the issue, namely, that the people that have a "connection" to "us" are Calgarians, media people, oil patch lobbyists, or all of the above.  We can either move beyond that, or we can take that attitude that we can't build new "connections"....

For all of my frustrations about policy, I might have been able to deal with it, had it not also been for other factors including what seemed to me to be a shortage of professionalism when it came to local organization.  I lobbied for the early creation of a southwest Edmonton constituency association that I and others could work with in anticipation of Edmonton Whitemud's split and I couldn't find any takers at the stage when the association could have avoided ending up a runt. This brings us back to Hunsperger, the party's ultimate nominee for the new riding of Edmonton South West.  According to the Journal, "[Danielle] Smith repeated her stance that it was largely up to local constituencies to weed out problematic nominees."  But of course.  This means, however, having a developed local constituency association early in the game.

From: Brian Dell
To: [select local riding people from the southern part of Edmonton Whitemud]
Date: Tue, Nov 24, 2009
Subject: anticipated division of the Edmonton Whitemud provincial constituency
I'm Brian Dell with the Wildrose Alliance.  I may have left a message for you or sent you an email in recent weeks.

The Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission is scheduled to release their preliminary report with respect to redrawing the province's ridings in late February.  Public hearings will be held in April, and a final report presented to the Legislature in July for the Assembly to consider and enact as law.

During preliminary hearings last September it was apparent that of the 4 ridings to be added to the province (for a new total of 87), at least 1 would be going to Edmonton and the #1 priority for placing this new riding would be Edmonton's southwest; - the Whitemud riding is currently the most overpopulated riding in Edmonton and one of the 2 or 3 most overpopulated in the province.

It follows that the chances of you gentlemen... remaining in the same constituency as those up in Brookside or Rhatigan Ridge is close to nil.

The two main proposals under consideration would either divide the constituency more or less east-west (as proposed by Edmonton's PC Party VP) or north-south.  See attached maps....
...the south of the riding will likely be in need of another individual or two who could be called on to form a nucleus for the new constituency in the south and east of Edmonton Whitemud.

... If you are interested in helping guide the development and success of the Wildrose Alliance in southwest Edmonton generally we encourage you to stand for a position as soon as possible on the executive to be established...

By meeting each other... we could become briefly acquainted and could have something of a game plan for avoiding the scenario whereby only 1 or 2 people from the south volunteer to serve on the [Edmonton Whitemud CA] executive or the south's representatives consist of self-promoters and/or oddballs who popped up out of the weeds.

From: Brian Dell
To: Eleanor Maroes
cc: [Edmonton Whitemud CA Assoc]
Date: Wed, Dec 2, 2009
Subject: a modest proposal re Edmonton Whitemud
Could we perhaps constitute the board with northern people and then just have it understood that the south is in development?  The idea here is that the north continues without so much as a hiccup post-split because it is the heir of the pre-split riding while the south formally launches upon the split, with people expected to be on the southern board having been meeting separately on an unofficial basis prior to the official division.  The south could conduct its own fundraising, general meetings, etc and have its own bank account.  For Elections Alberta purposes it would not be an official constituency bank account, of course, but that should not matter to the bank.
...The reality is that the south of the riding is going to be more of a challenge developmentally and I think southerners will be confident that there will be no conflicts of interest with respect to that development by having southerners handling it from day 1. 

From: Brian Dell
To: Link Byfield
Date: Sat, Dec 5, 2009
Subject: Fwd: Wildrose Alliance - Edmonton Leaders SAT DEC 1 may end up hearing on the grapevine that my view of the success of Edmonton Whitemud's founding deteriorated within a day or two of my talking to you on the phone and [X] and I are a little at odds over what happened.

Fact is, me and another organizer took to facilitating board nominations like we were a recruiting committee for a corporation, meaning skill sets and where vacancies existed in the board mattered and personal relationships didn't matter, [X]'s friend went and surprised us by nominating directly or indirectly about half a dozen people she was friends with and sit on James Rajotte's federal board.  There was a glaring omission in the minutes released after I talked to you that suggested that not only did this group not cooperate with the idea of ensuring representation from the south of the riding, the one southerner who nominated (another southerner) had his nomination fail to appear in the minutes.  I in turn ended up nominating this nominator because he was a month-long organizer who even went down to Calgary on the 29th but only when forced to because no one else would, and he later said that he wasn't surprised because for weeks now it was apparent that [X]'s friends were not interested in his input (or mine, in my view).  So he's actually quit the board before it even got started, costing us our most motivated volunteer in the riding.
This compromises the viabiltiy of the new southern Whitemud riding post-split and, re the "triage" argument, the polls here went 58.8% PC in 2008, which in my amateur strategizing indicates an area that should not be written off as unwinnable [especially with no PC incumbent].

From: Brian Dell
To: Eleanor Maroes
cc: Jane Morgan
date: Mon, Dec 7, 2009
subject: Re: comments
"Creating division at this point is not helpful to getting a strong CA executive."

WE ALREADY HAVE A DIVISION!  Sorry for the caps but in my opinion I was as accommodating as possible until the minutes came out and somebody resigned as a consequence. ...The message that his input would be routinely ignored could not have been clearer.  By proposing a division I am proposing a mechanism to keep this asset ("[Y]") engaged.  Now maybe he is a liability we are better off without.  But if that's the case I would like to see an argument since we are very short volunteers from the southern part of Edmonton Whitemud as it is.  And I have already received a complaint to the effect of why raise money in the south if the money is going to end up in a bank account controlled by northerners.  I am reacting to the division here and am trying to figure out a way to make the best of it. ...

The point of the above is to note that just "calling on local constituency associations to ask tough questions of anyone running to be a nominee in 2016" isn't going to cut it.  The local CAs have to be both able and willing to ask those "tough questions" and if they are not, vetoing the CA nominee treats the symptom, not the disease.  Is it going to go like this?
Local CA player #1: Danielle says our nominee is unacceptable!  Apparently they were suspicious that a person who has spent most of his adult life lobbying for home schooling might have said something eyebrow raising about the insidious corruptions of secular society at some point and apparently HQ indeed ended up finding something problematic.
Local CA player #2: No complaints here!  Nothing undemocratic about that!  Both we and the nominee himself are going to just nod and sit back down.
Local CA player #3: So else do we nominate?
Local CA player #2: How about approaching that business owner, you know, the one that's prominent in the community? That lady who also sits on the hospital board?
Local CA player #1: Of course, that's why we passed her over the first time!  Because that was just a practice run!
A problem CA is going to nominate a problem candidate.  Head office has to get involved in local CA politics by ensuring that every CA has a minimum number of volunteers and money.  The strategy of focusing resources on "winnable" ridings can be unraveled by having a fringe candidate emerge out of neglected riding.  You can't hide that person's record and trying to hide the policy book instead just creates suspicions about your agenda.  Stop apologizing for the policy book and get your hands dirty by intervening in local constituency politics.  Of course a group of friends is going to nominate each other to the board and then nominate one of their own to be the candidate!  Rubber stamping that sort of thing is respecting the local cabal, not the local grassroots.  If there's a controversy in the local CA the party needs to step in and adjudicate, and adjudicate with an eye to whether the procedure that was followed was appropriate, not whether it was followed or not.  It's easy to argue that you've followed the local rules when you're the one who made them up.

I might add that even if the Edmonton South West CA was a gong show, all head office had to do was ask me to throw my hat in the ring and I would have rigorously contested the nomination (if the nomination period was open more than just a few days) and I would have pointed to Hunsperger's blog, even if it was just to a tiny crowd at the nomination meeting.   I'm a graduate of Briercrest Bible College and accordingly wouldn't accept any Wildroser's contention that I was attacking Hunsperger because he's a believer.  "Lake of fire" may be biblical, but Hunsperger's view that public education is inherently evil is not part of the evangelical mainstream, never mind the secular mainstream.  Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson once wrote to the Legislature Offices Committee requesting authorization for his office to post MLA financial disclosure statements on internet and the PC members on the committee said no.  That didn't stop me from physically going down to the Leg Annex to take a look at Dave Hancock's file, and I didn't bill Flanagan for doing oppo research.  All of this stuff is just a matter of making use of your motivated volunteers.

To anyone concerned about my quoting from email exchanges, you needn't worry about me not respecting expectations of privacy.  What I've repeated here is what I've wrote, except for a few phrases the attribution of which I've left ambiguous.  I'll repeat the most important bit that I said in those emails again: "me and another organizer [sic] took to facilitating board nominations like we were a recruiting committee for a corporation, meaning skill sets and where vacancies existed in the board mattered and personal relationships didn't matter."  I didn't feel that head office was going to back up those of us who had this view by intervening in CAs to ensure that that principle was followed, and so it was that I was essentially on my way out the door at that point.  If the party's floor crossing MLAs are too scared of special interests like the teachers' unions, perhaps their influence could be diluted by electing some longer serving party members.  But that requires professionalization of the how the constituency associations are staffed, as these CAs in turn "staff" the candidate slate, and it didn't appear that that was going to happen.  Would I do what I did again if I had the chance?  I'm not entirely sure about that because I alienated a lot of people by complaining to anyone that would listen that there was too much nepotism going on at the constituency level.  A person may consider himself a righteous crusader or whistle blower when reality he's just a pain in the buttinski!

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