Kicking Dead Horses – Wildrose AGM 2014

It was AGM weekend yet again for the Wildrose Party.  A weekend of training, networking, and most importantly, voting on policy resolutions and constitutional resolutions.  This year, more than any previous year, it was also a year to communicate with the leadership and party insiders regarding our feelings as grassroots members.  It was important we get our message out, and that the upper echelons of the party listen.  Well, we got our message out, but did the hear us?  The answer to this question will come in time.

Due to other obligations, I was unable to attend the first day’s functions.  I did listen to the keynote speech, delivered by party leader Danielle Smith, on Friday night, and again while driving to Red Deer on Saturday.  Both times I found good and bad in the speech.  One important aspect of the speech that caught my ear was it was too long.  It failed to inspire to action.  There was good stuff in it, for sure.  There was also stuff that could have, for the sake of length and for the sake of not confusing people have been left out.  There was stuff that could very well make us look somewhat infantile in our approach to politics.

The best part of the speech was Danielle’s admitting, what many of us have been saying for over two years now, we failed to become government in 2012, and to gain any ground in the by-elections of 2014 is not because we didn’t provide enough reasons to vote against the reigning PC’s.  It is because, while the PC’s have given Albertans enough reason not to vote for them, we have not given Albertans enough reasons to vote for us.  We have oft heard that Albertans see us as PC 2.0.  Danielle gave 12 reasons we are different from the reigning party.

  1.  We believe the budget should be balanced. Really balanced. Every year. And the books should be an honest reflection of the money coming in and the money being spent without taking on new debt. The governing party will have racked up $20 billion in debt by 2016. At this rate they will have $40 billion in debt by 2020 and $60 billion in debt by 2024, costing us billions upon billions a year in annual interest charges.
  2.  We believe low taxes, streamlined regulation and a level playing field is the best way to support families, attract new investment and diversify our economy. The governing party continues to pick winners and losers with an appalling number of sole source contracts to politically connected companies, an army of consultants and corporate welfare handouts to individual firms.
  3.  We believe in property rights and we will fight for the rights of our landowners to own and use their property as they see fit. If land is needed for public use, we believe landowners need full, fair and timely co The governing party has shown that whenever property rights interfere with what they want to do, they pass legislation to take those rights away.
  4.  We believe our energy business needs a stable, predictable environment to operate under. The governing party hasn’t provided stability; we’ve seen arbitrary changes to royalty rates, cancelled leases, and increasing red tape that has undermined investor confidence.
  5.  We believe we need stable, low cost electricity to fuel our continued growth and protect consumers. The governing party continues to build transmission lines we don’t need, makes consumers pay the full amount of cost overruns, makes it difficult for microgenerators to sell back into the grid, and seemingly has no ability to moderate extreme price spikes.
  6.  We believe to improve our reputation on the environment we need to make real measurable progress on improving the quality of our air, water and land, and reduce greenhouse gases. The governing party makes grand gestures and public relations announcements but has made no progress on reducing greenhouse gases, or improving water quality testing, or recovering the sites of abandoned wells, or eliminating tailings ponds.
  7.  We believe we need a new relationship with municipalities that treats our municipal partners as another order of government and flows through a stable, growing number of dollars in a permanent transfer program with no strings attached. The governing party has created a begging model for funding our municipalities, where our cities and towns have to guess where they are on the priority list of projects, hire special staff to fill in applications and lobby for grants, or go to PC party fundraisers so they don’t get moved to the bottom of the list.
  8.  We believe our Heritage Savings Trust Fund should grow from about $15 billion to about $150 billion and that future generations should be able to share in our resource wealth. The governing party has not only racked up new debt, they have blown through nearly $17 billion in savings that were in the sustainability fund, they continue to spend every single dollar of our resource revenues every single year, and they are not setting aside enough money to pay back our debt when it comes due.
  9.  We believe health care should be decentralized to the local level with day to day decisions for staffing, surgeries and procedures made by hospital administrators with their own budgets overseen by local hospital boards. The governing party has centralized our $18 billion health system into the office of the health minister, they have centralized EMS services, they have centralized home care, they have centralized lab services, and they have no plan to increase the number of 24 hour long term nursing care beds, reduce surgical wait times, or unclog our emergency rooms.
  10.  We believe that parents have a fundamental right to choose the kind of education they want for their kids, whether that means being taught proper basic math and literacy skills, or having parents informed when sex education is being taught in class. The governing party continues to introduce fads in education curriculum that are impacting our students’ international performance, they believe in fuzzy math and fuzzy report cards. They force schools to charge fees to make up cash shortfalls, they promise schools and then don’t build them, and they make political decisions on which projects get approved.
  11.  We believe in free votes in the legislature so every single citizen can know that they will be represented on the issues that matter to them most. The governing party wouldn’t know a free vote or real representation if it punched them in the nose.
  12.  And finally, we believe we need a return to ethical behaviour in government. No first class flights. No five star hotels. No lavish salaries and six figure severance packages. No sole source contracts. No special deals for cronies. No buying elections with shady announcements designed solely to buy votes. In short we need clean government.

The speech went on to discuss our message and how we can get it out.  Danielle, seemingly, blamed the media for us not being able to get our message out.  In her defence, I don’t believe that was what she was saying at all.  Her statements about media were not in anyway trashing the media.  Indeed, I had an opportunity to speak with Rick Bell during a break in the activities.  He admitted that reporting on Wildrose when they were attacking the PC’s was and will be all the media is interested in.  I can’t quote him word for word, but he implied that controversy sells, boring policy statements don’t.  So when Danielle said it is next to impossible to get the media to report on our good policy, she wasn’t trashing them.  She stating facts.  The whole point of this portion of the speech was to mobilize us, the membership, to get off our duffs and get the word out about Wildrose.  I agree.

Here is where her speech went south, in my opinion.

She discussed creating a viable list of 100 things we, once elected to govern, will do in the first 100 days in office.  Unfortunately, she gave examples of items we could tackle.  Big mistake.  Now the media, and indeed our own members started stating, as fact, we would do these things.  An example of this is “we will repeal photo radar.”  Not two hours later the membership voted down repealing photo radar.  So this makes it look like the party and the leader aren’t on the same page. That’s democracy.  Another suggestion was, we will eliminate paid parking at hospitals, making parking free for patients and visitors.  Now it is being quoted that this is what we will do when, in reality, it was an example of what we could put on the list, not a policy statement.

In order to keep the speech shorter, she could have left out statements about the media and simply asked us to get out there and get the word out.  She could have used the time to rally the troops.  In order to keep the speech shorter and not give anyone the ability to ask what she was smoking, she could have asked for suggestions of things we can do in the first 100 days in office, minus the examples. Clarity clarity clarity.  More on clarity later.

And then came the “fun police” and “Wildrose Ambassadors”.  How do we build our CA’s and get more people involved in the process?  We make politics fun again.  I’m sorry Danielle, politics is FUN!  We don’t need fun police.

Danielle suggested we appoint “Fun Police” in the CA’s to ensure politics is fun.  These people would ensure that meetings have a fun aspect to them, be it beer nights, Christmas socials or what have you.  I’m sorry, but we have all been doing all this.  I worked two campaigns during the 2012 election.  I sat on the board of both CA’s, one as president and one as CFO.  Both boards regularly went for beer and wings, or what have you.  We always invited members to come along and join in the FUN!  We didn’t have fun police.  We simply had FUN!

Fire obnoxious board members?  Excuse me, define obnoxious.  In some circles, obnoxious means the person doesn’t agree with me, or you.  We can’t dismiss people who argue their points, or disagree with ours.  That’s grassroots.  We don’t always agree.

Wildrose Ambassadors?  Great idea.  However, the definition of Wildrose Ambassador in the keynote was very much the same as being a good neighbour.  I like to think I, and most of our team are good neighbours.

So this sounds critical and it is.  However, there was some great stuff in the speech.  Danielle assured us that the upper echelon of the party has been hearing us.  She admitted we have made mistakes.  She admitted we have to find a new direction, and new methods to getting our message out there.  While a little cheesy, and less than inspiring, I came away from listening to the speech thinking, “There is hope.”  Full Speech Available Here

Unfortunately, I was not there to attend the free booze and pizza parties.  Like Cory Morgan said, it was nice not to have a hangover during the business of Saturday, for the first time ever.  I hear they were a blast, and there were some antics going on.  I guess the Fun Police were there.

Down to Business and Kicking Dead Horses

Due to a last minute withdrawal of his candidacy, there were no votes for provincial directors or other board positions this year. Very quickly we moved on to the Reverse Bearpit Session.

The whole concept of the reverse bear pit session is, instead of members asking the leaders questions, a cross section of the leadership, The Leader, President, Caucus members, and Candidates took to the stage to ask US questions.  Unfortunately, save for a few disenfranchised members getting up to say their piece, the session turned into a bit of a love fest.  Love fest aside, the whole concept of the session was refreshing.  I am sure it went a whole lot better than those on the stage thought it would.  I am sure they were expecting to be bombarded by disgruntled members hitting them with all the things we have been hashing out in private forums.  While a few people did put them on the spot, most simply answered the questions asked, many with blunt honesty.

One question hit me.  What did you think of the slogan for the by-elections.  We all remember it. “Send the PC’s a Message.”  The response was pretty much unanimous….  IT SUCKED!!  Of course Danielle is already aware of the problem with the slogan.  It is another example of us giving Albertans every reason not to vote for the PC’s, but not enough reasons to vote for us.

We ate, and then we got into kicking dead horses.  Policy resolutions are never exciting, usually one group trying to get their pet projects recognized, and usually take no time to get through.  Not so this time.

I don’t know why, but people are referring to Policy Resolution 15 as coming from an MLA.  How about we just say, Jeff Wilson’s pet resolution was brought forward and was spoken to by his wife.  The exact wording of the resolution is as follows:

VII.    SOCIAL

  1. Equality

Wildrose members believe the Government of Alberta should:

1…. recognize that all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.

Calgary-Shaw moves that Section 1 be amended.

  1. Equality

Wildrose members believe the government of Alberta should:

1…. regonsize that all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.  Wildrose will defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons.  This includes, but is not limited to, the right to freedom of belief, public expression practice, and association.  These rights and freedoms shall be protected, regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of the person or class of persons.

Once again, without any need to, without any calls to, without any focus groups stating that the phrase “Wildrose members believe the government of Alberta should: recognize that all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities” doesn’t cover ALL ALBERTANS, this amendment, certain to bring the Lake of Fire to the forefront made its way to the AGM floor.

Albertans are pretty smart people.  I don’t think they need a definition of the word ALL.  It seems, however, some of our MLA’s do.

all  (ôl)

adj.

  1. Being or representing the entire or total number, amount, or quantity: All the windows are open. Deal all the cards. See Synonyms at whole.
  2. Constituting, being, or representing the total extent or the whole: all Christendom.
  3. Being the utmost possible of: argued the case in all seriousness.
  4. Every: got into all manner of trouble.
  5. Any whatsoever: beyond all doubt.
  6. Pennsylvania Finished; used up: The apples are all. See Regional Note at gum band.
  7. Informal Being more than one: Who all came to the party? See Regional Note at you-all.

 

Fortunately, the amendment failed.  Here’s the problem with having a list.  No list is exhaustive.  A list of qualifiers leaves off other qualifiers.  To make a list of all who are equal leaves us open to having every other special interest group demanding to be included.  The next thing you know, geriatric joggers will want to be on the list.  It won’t be long before blonde 22 year olds want to be on the list.  It will go on ad nauseam. There is no arguing with the word all.  It is all encompassing.  So of course it is all over the internet that we are bigots and homophobes because we didn’t vote to add a list to a statement that already encompasses ALL ALBERTANS.

Wildrose has gone so far as to include “Wildrose will defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons.” in our Constitution.

Let’s not forget, in 2013 we endorsed the statement

“Wildrose will defend the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to freedom of belief, public expression, practice, and association. These rights and freedoms shall be protected, regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.”

The statement still stands.  Wildrose has enshrined the belief that ALL people are equal three times, in three different documents, two of which have the very list everyone is so horrified we wouldn’t add to the policy document.  Regardless, not one of these statements has the intent of guaranteeing equality to any less than ALL Albertans.  Seems pretty clear to me.  There was no reason to kick this dead horse.

Remove this one dangerous amendment, and the AGM was, if nothing else, productive.  The leader and the upper echelon of the party have clearly been told how the membership feels.  Will they listen?  Time will tell.

For the sake of the party, one can only hope.

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