Last Friday and Saturday the Wildrose Alliance Party held it’s AGM and policy conference at the Bearspaw Lifestyle Center in Calgary. As (now former) VP of policy for the party, the task of organizing the affair landed on me. I can now add event-planning to my resume though I will try to avoid such tasks in the future. Our main challenge was that we filled the house to the rafters with enthusiastic attendees and keeping everybody comfortable and fed in such tight quarters can be quite a challenge. Thanks to a small army of excellent volunteers, we pulled it off. I can’t thank those who rolled up their sleeves and helped keep things moving along enough. The lineups for food were rather long, but people were patient and their attitudes were great. We all realized that having challenges with too many people coming out beats the heck out of having too few.
Getting to the meat and potatoes of the gathering, the party has clearly passed some milestones and is approaching some more. It was reported to the room that our membership has tripled since last January and continues to grow. The party is at an all time high in membership numbers and doubtless those numbers will explode as our leadership hopefuls pound the pavement in their campaigns.
In our financial reporting, it was re-confirmed that we are completely debt free (unlike the rest of the opposition parties) and funds continue to come to the party at an unprecedented rate from both corporate and individual donors. Concerned Albertans are putting their money where their mouths are and investing in Alberta’s future by supporting our future government. Money isn’t everything, but it certainly is essential when going against the withering but still entrenched PC party of Alberta.
Paul Hinman while leaving his post as leader (though remaining as interim) clearly still is held in high regard and respected by the membership. It is great to see somebody like Paul stepping back for the sake of growth of the party yet still remaining involved and enthusiastic. Assuming Paul wins the upcoming nomination for the Calgary Glenmore by-election, Paul will continue to be an incredible asset to the party as he is a very skilled campaigner. While Paul lost his seat by 39 votes in the last election, his even taking that seat in an upset victory in 2004 demonstrated that underestimating Paul Hinman is a poor course of action. The fence-straddling Alderman running for the PCs down there had best not take that seat for granted.
The policy discussions were excellent and very telling of the direction of the membership. One of the more difficult tasks in front of us was the presentation of a greatly streamlined and completely updated version of our policy set. Our past set was somewhat convoluted, outdated and clearly suffered from a case of the bloat. Part of grassroots policy development means that it can be much easier to get policies added than it can be to remove them. A periodic housecleaning of the policies is required and that can be sticky. We managed that and I expect that people will be impressed when our new version is added to the party website.
Another reality of grassroots policy development is that some members will submit some let’s say less than rational proposals at times. Opponents try to paint the party as radical when they get wind of such things at times. What really counts is how well those oddball policy proposals are received when presented to the membership at an AGM. The policy calling for an immediate referendum on separation from Canada was dropped by it’s proponent after the membership resoundingly rejected her other proposal to have the party principle speaking to working within a unified Canada dropped. This should put to rest those trying to paint the Wildrose Alliance as being a separatist party. Somebody tried to move the party into that direction of political suicide and the attempt was rejected en-masse by the gathered members. Those who want to pursue a separatist mandate should join the Separation Party of Alberta and share in the 1% showing that they had in the one constituency that they contested in the last general election.
There was another rather odd policy submission that called for the government to assume the management of professional associations and such. That one did go to a vote. Two people voted in favor while the other two-hundred and some in attendance rejected it. Collective wisdom won and we had a wise and moderate minded crowd.
With the elections to party executive things went well. We retained many excellent board members and gained some new and very skilled people. It was commented that we really should have more board seats as all of the candidates were excellent and it was a shame that they did not get on the board simply due to lack of space. That being said, there certainly was no hard feelings on the part of those who did not get on and they will be still contributing their skills and efforts to the party. The unity and enthusiasm within the room was excellent. As a side note, while I did leave the posting of VP policy, the members did select me to serve as a Southern director so I will still be on the board. The details and bios of the new board should be on the party website soon so I will not go into more detail in what is already a long-winded summary of the AGM.
One of the main items of interest to many was the formal introduction of two candidates for the leadership of the party. Danielle Smith and Mark Dyrholm both gave well received speeches and began making their rounds among the membership. This will be a strongly contended leadership race with two bright and rational candidates campaigning. The nomination cutoff is September 1st so we may see some more faces added to the mix. It is going to make for an interesting and busy summer for the party to say the least.
Finishing the event we had Tom Flanagan speak to the group where he announced his purchasing of a membership with us and gave some wise advice. Having been so critical in the development of Reform/CA/CPC Flanagan has learned a thing or two. We were reminded that factionalism is one of the main factors that can lead to the demise of an up and coming party and it is to be avoided at all costs. With the clear unity and enthusiasm of those who attended we are not challenged with factionalism right now. That being said, with a leadership race and continued growth that is a very real risk and we will be well served to watch out for that.
In looking at comments on articles posted about our AGM and the leadership race I am more heartened than ever. PC supporters and other lefties have quickly moved into attack mode and are trying their hardest to discredit the party and leadership contenders. The dwindling status-quo supporters are seeing the threat of the Wildrose Alliance Party to their parties of choice and are beginning to lash out. I expect it will only get worse as we continue to gain steam.
I have been in provincial politics since the 90s working on libertarian style alternatives to the tired out PC party of Alberta. Never has the light shone more brightly on the future for such an alternative as now.