Was it a "Burning Lake of Fire," or…. Wildrose Growing Pains – Part 1 of 4
Monday morning, April 23, 2012, I woke up excited and ready to face Alberta Election 2012.
Since Monday night I have been racking my brain, trying to get a handle on just what went wrong, at the last minute, and cast the Wildrose Party into official opposition status and not into power as the next Government of Alberta? I have come to the conclusion that while so much went wrong, campaign wise, the outcome was exactly what most of us had expected as close to the election as 2 weeks before the writ was dropped on March 28th, 2012. While speaking with party insiders, the idea of Wildrose receiving between 15 and 25 seats was pretty much the consensus on the outcome. Therefore winning 17 seats was not unexpected, except…..
The polls, from the day the writ was dropped, were showing Wildrose forming a comfortable majority government. Where were these numbers coming from? That is the million dollar question as we sit back now, as the official opposition, and wonder. The conspiracy theories are already going around. The PC party paid off the pollsters to provide fake numbers thus giving Wildrose a false sense of security and, therefore, cause us not to work as hard as we needed to work. Even as disaster after disaster hit the campaign these blessed numbers showed us in a commanding, comfortable lead. Was there a vast conspiracy? I doubt it. Ezra Levant and Sun Media wouldn’t be bought by Alison Redford and the Alberta Tory machine. Indeed, Ezra was giving us some of the best numbers out there.
So why is Danielle Smith the leader of the official opposition, and not Premier of Alberta? What did the Wildrose Party do so wrong? The list of missteps isn’t long, but it is telling.
Rumours from reliable sources, candidates and campaign managers, were spreading long before the election that Edmonton was not a priority for winnable seats. What? That’s right. It was more important for rural Alberta and Calgary candidates to win, while the goal in Edmonton was to get less P.C. seats, even if it meant more Liberal and NDP seats for the province’s capitoal city. Conspiracy theorists even went so far as to say there may have been handshake deals with the two more leftwing parties in the event the Wildrose Party won a minority government, or, in the case of a loss, the PC party formed a minority government, these parties would side with Wildrose in the legislature in return for gains in Edmonton. I don’t for a minute buy into this theory, except when one candidate, running against the leader of the NDP was told to worry more about discrediting the P.C. candidate than overthrowing Brian Mason. Was it part of a conspiracy to keep the NDP leader, or was it just poor strategy? I’ll get to this later.
Not quite a year ago we were already holding campaign meetings. Conversations were being held on the sidelines about the optics coming out of Wildrose Party head office of the pro-Calgary, pro-Rural image in our message and even in the images in advertising, website images, and on our brochures. More than one of us was commenting on the image being portrayed of a party that was not interested in Edmonton. Edmontonians, myself included, are a passionate group. While we don’t always agree on what is best for the city, we disagree passionately and, at the end of the day, want nothing more than what is best for the people of our city. Even the slightest idea that a party may not like Edmonton is, for most Edmontonians, a reason to look at another party. People, fuelled by The Edmonton Journal and other media outlets, were screaming that Danielle Smith isn’t interested in Edmonton, hardly comes here, and when she does it is just to meddle in our affairs (Edmonton City Centre Airport for instance). Of course this was nonsense. Danielle Smith lives in Southern Alberta. The Premier, for that matter, lives in Calgary. Even when the legislature was in session, the premier could be found in Calgary, rather than in Edmonton. But if you tell Edmontonians the leader of the Wildrose is ignoring them, they will believe it. Even during the election Danielle Smith wouldn’t be away from Edmonton for more than a couple or three days at a time. She was at events in Edmonton more than the premier was.
So when well known Journalists the likes of Paula Simons and David Staples, and bloggers decided to convince Edmontonians not to vote for the Wildrose Party, they didn’t attack on the basis of the leader not being in Edmonton, they based their attacks on real and imagined, and exaggerated issues
The Real Issue:
It has never been a secret that the leader was a supporter of the Envision Edmonton attempt to force the City of Edmonton into holding a plebiscite on the fate of the Edmonton City Centre Airport. Indeed, I first met Danielle Smith at an Envision event and was very impressed with her, and with Wildrose. Ms. Smith has even, since the petition for a plebiscite failed, made statements to the effect that a Wildrose government would look into purchasing the land at ECCA in order to ensure medivac access to and from Northern Alberta. Every time I would hear these statements I would cringe. My party is sticking their nose into a an issue so hot, hell wouldn’t withstand the heat. Being one of the most contentious issues ever to face the city, one would think no one would be insane enough to keep bringing the issue to the forefront. When a candidate came to me and told me Nathan Black was contacting candidates and offering Envision Edmonton money I wasn’t surprised. It seems Envision Edmonton and a group of companies who support them can’t take no for an answer. What surprised me was the employment history and past relationships certain of the candidates had with Envision Edmonton. What surprised me even more was several candidates, who had no connection to Envision Edmonton, or the City Centre Airport were being conscripted or tempted with Envision money. When a candidate I was working with told me he had been approached, by a group of other candidates, with offers of volunteers, possible campaign money, and office space at the City Centre Airport, I immediately resigned from his board and distanced myself from him. With my history with Envision Edmonton I wanted him to be able to make up his own mind without me there to hinder him should he decide to get on board with the Envision agenda. Fortunately, he didn’t.
I don’t know what the party’s plans were, should we form government, for the airport lands, or if the province can even do anything about something that is clearly a municipal matter? But this topic, and a list of one-issue candidates makes it a very tough row to hoe in Edmonton.
Even though Ms. Smith has only ever stated a purchase of the ECCA is one option, it is suddenly headline news. ((Staples: Smith ponders provincial purchase of City Centre Airport land, Edmontonjournal.com, April 10, 2012))
The Imagined Issue (or scaremongering)
How many times did we hear the Edmonton Arena project mentioned during the election? I lost count. The media decided the next contentious issue to scare Edmontonians with was funding for the arena. This is a complete non starter. Ed Stelmach, as Premier, stated there would be no provincial money for the arena project, a project that sees the city of edmonton and the taxpayer on the hook for $350 million, to build an arena from which all profits will go to a billionaire, Daryl Katz. Furthermore, Premier Redford has stated there will be no provincial money for the arena. The leaders of the LIberal and N.D. parties have stated there will be no money for the arena. So, is it any surprise that a Wildrose government would not provide provincial dollars for the arena. This isn’t even an issue since at no time, at least publicly, was any money being offered, by any party, for an Edmonton Arena.
The cry went up on social media outlets such as Twitter that Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party would not give the city any arena money because we hate Edmonton. No, we won’t give any arena money because, like the other parities have stated, at least publicly, the province will not give money to a project where the profits will go solely to a private enterprise. But the seed was sown.
The Exagerated Issue:
On his way out the door, former Premier, Ed Stelmach decided he needed a legacy in Edmonton. What better legacy than a $350 million museum we don’t need. The current Royal Alberta Museum was slated for renovations and upgrades which were to begin this year. But the outgoing premier, with lots of push no doubt by Edmonton Mayor Mandel, decided a brand new Museum should be built within blocks of, you guessed it, the site of the $350 million arena for a billionaire. Do we need a new museum? About as much as we need to give a billionaire and arena. Would it be nice to have? Of course. Then why would the Wildrose government delay it? Simple. When a government is in a deficit budget is not the time to be building legacy projects. The city is already getting to impossible debt loads with all of the current city council’s legacy projects. There is no reason the province has to fall into the Mandellian trap of building for the sake of building all these projects our grandchildren will be paying for long after we are dead. ((David Staples, Edmonton Journal, The Edmonton Commons, April 19, 2012))
I liken this issue to home budgeting. It is really nice to have a 70″ 3D television set. But when the kids need braces and the roof is leaking, it is not the time to buy TV’s. When the province is in deficit budgets and our Heritage Fund and rainy day funds are being depleted is not the time for $350 million museums.
The Wildrose Party realizes the needs of Edmonton, and it knows the difference between needs and WANTS of the mayor and a handful of people who want a NEW museum. The project was to be tabled, temporarily, in order to help put Alberta, all of Alberta, back into a surplus situation. Of course this isn’t the tone used by Staples et al as they did their best to convince a city the Wildrose Party hates them. Nevermind sound fiscal management of the taxes of ALL Albertans, only worry about how badly one city will be treated. All, of course, scaremongering and false.
Mr. Spock, yes of Star Trek fame, wisely stated, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” ((Leonard Nemoy, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982))
In Part 2: Conscience Rights and The Burning Lake of Fire
Note: Comments will be turned on after Part 4 is completed.