To begin with I have to say that the 2012 Wildrose Party AGM in Edmonton this year was nothing less than a smashing success. Those familiar with myself and or my blog know that I will not hesitate to be critical of my party when I feel they have strayed from a good course. I am happy to give a fully positive review of things today.
To be frank I had been concerned about how turnout may be for this event. There were a few factors that I felt could have negatively impacted turnout this year; roads were a little wet and icy at times though not as bad as they could be at this time of year, Edmonton is not traditionally our most supportive part of Alberta (though that is changing), it is the Grey Cup weekend and Calgary is in the final game and the AGM had initially sort of been slapped together in a rush almost grudgingly as documented here.
Despite all of the above challenges, I am thrilled to report that nearly 700 members attended this year’s event. I found the Mayfield Inn quite full of folks for the informal social and hospitality suites on the Friday evening. On Saturday morning hundreds were already seated at breakfast and the room simply kept filling and filling through the course of the day as people arrived from all over the province. By the end of the day seats were at a premium as the very large room literally got to a standing room only state.
There were a few reasons for this great turnout. To begin with, there is simply a great attitude of enthusiasm and optimism among the party membership. While some felt disappointment in our not forming government in last spring’s election, it was still a tremendous success as the Wildrose Party went from four seats in the legislature to what has turned out to be an incredibly effective 17 member opposition. With the talent being demonstrated by our caucus and with the clear lack of direction of the Redford government, members can indeed sense that we are on the way to forming Alberta’s next government. With that feeling of confidence in the future members can sense the importance of our party events opportunities to build and prepare for the future.
As opposed to the 2011 AGM, positions for the provincial executive were very well contested this year (candidates and outcomes can be found here). Having such hotly contested positions by so many people ensured that many teams were on the ground encouraging members to attend the AGM and vote. Being able to participate in something so important as executive elections engages members and adds a great element of satisfaction for members as they know and can feel how important their participation is in guiding the direction of the party. Flaccid lists of acclamations with endorsements from a party committee in 2011 did not add that element in that years underwhelming and poorly promoted elections.
The pricing for attendance at this year’s AGM made a great difference as well. For a two day event, an early-bird rate of $100 which capped out at a top cost of $150 was a great deal. At the 2011 AGM the rate to attend was $250 (there was a modest early-bird rate but it eludes me). We have many very dedicated members and had around 700 people attending in 2011 despite that high cost. Many members did stay home in 2011 though and word is that the party posted close to $100k in losses from that event as it had been hoped that well over 1000 people would be attend and space and supplies had been prepared for as much. Many members have bluntly expressed that the high cost of attendance is what kept them from coming out and that they did not feel such a high price to attend reflected grassroots well.
The venue this year was not as fancy as the Telus Convention Center had been last year. No giant audio/visual lightshow was prepared and presented and there were no long (clearly expensive to produce) video introductions. There was a giant Alberta flag as a backdrop along with screens on either side of the stage providing a magnification of the people speaking for those sitting near the back. The only complaint I could have is that we needed speakers near the back as it was hard to hear on occasion for people like myself who are somewhat hearing impaired. The food and refreshments were modest but adequate and were provided efficiently. I truly heard not a single soul bemoaning the lack of excess or luxury this year as there had been in the 2011 AGM. I hope that all of this has been noted by the powers that be this year (I will be sure to remind them of course).
The massive division, leadership questions and internal turmoil!
I think one ironic factor leading to such a good turnout this year was a mixture of curiosity/concern by some members over apparent division and a plot to overthrow the party leader. In a tiny way, I feel that my wife and I bear a little responsibility for this as we had both exposed some operational and attitude problems within the party in something of a public way. I think those planted the seeds for the more nefarious to take elements of what we had pointed out and craft it into a rather shabby conspiracy theory of a possible internal takeover by some members of the caucus. A video was displayed on the site of a rather non-credible blogger in Edmonton that tried to show a chain of events and personal links leading to a conspiracy. The video was quickly discredited and it being promoted by a person who has an obsessive opposition to the Wildrose in hopes of desperately gaining personal attention really didn’t add to it’s credibility.
An email from a fake caucus members account then went out to some members and began to be forwarded around that was implying essentially the same conspiracy theory as the one on the short lived aforementioned video. The email was no more credible than the video but it did bring some life to the conspiracy in a media that was hoping to find something more interesting to report on than a simple annual general meeting of a party.
Back to that irony, I think that many fence-sitters made up their minds to attend the AGM in hearing about the video and email. Some members were concerned that this smoke may have indicated a possible fire and decided to come and see for themselves.
With so many members coming, looking for possible division and finding none what happened is that we found ourselves more unified than ever before. The conspiracy led to many good jokes both from people speaking to people on the floor. I almost hope that such petty efforts continue.
This does drive home though another element of the importance of general and well attended meetings of the membership of the Wildrose Party (or any party for that matter). When meetings get too far apart as they had this time, complacency on the board can and did happen and small issues indeed began to fester into larger ones. Better communications can ease this problem and good meetings such as last weekend obliterate the problem. It must be borne in mind for the future that the “A” in AGM stands for Annual!
Policy and direction
Due to constitutional constraints and some disorganization on the part of the past Executive Committee, we could not do any formal changes to our party policy at this year’s AGM. Getting back into the realm of irony, this lack of formal policy work led to planning for a great deal of informal policy discussion which gave us much more clarity in our party stances and allowed our representatives to get much more direct member feedback on direction.
It has to be remembered, that the two issues that are most constantly attributed to the sudden drop in polls in the last election actually had utterly no basis in official party policy. The “lake of fire” garbage was based on the mental meanderings of a lone candidate on his personal blog. The weird caucasian blatherings by Leech were just the poorly phrased statements of one person. There is nothing referencing gay people or minorities in any of our policies so it must remembered that policy reforms alone will not do anything to counter these sorts of issues.
We do have some policy that is redundant, vague and out of date. We do need as a party to go through our policy set at our next gathering and fix this up.
What my poor photography demonstrates above is what our time was filled with due to the lack of formal policy work.
We had three sections of policy represented by groups of caucus and then two different breakout periods where people could have direct exchanges with MLAs on policy concerns. The discussion was incredibly frank and open and dialog went in both directions from members to caucus. This provided more clarity to policy direction than any policy book revisions ever could have. Caucus members got to hear directly from members and this will help them form their stances in the legislature. We can never have a policy for every issue so the best way that caucus members can represent party members is to engage them directly like this. One small but important critique here though, Joe Anglin needs the hook when speaking at such things as his long-windedness precluded many other questions. We do have many other caucus members and other questions Joe.
The other picture shows the open Q&A where Danielle Smith and Kerry Towle took completely open and unfiltered questions from members on the floor. Nothing was sugarcoated and while there were some softballs, the tough questions were asked too. Danielle was asked directly about the Hunsperger/Leech things and answered at length. Danielle Smith’s respect for free speech was evident but it was clear that she recognized the importance of taking care of these issues through better and more vigorous candidate selection processes and policy clarity. Both free speech and integrity of candidates can be maintained.
Some have already yelped that Danielle Smith did not condemn Hunsperger enough. Seriously folks, had Hunsperger been brought to the AGM, hung up, flogged by the entire membership and then personally fed his own recently severed testicles by Danielle Smith, there would still be some people saying she did not go far enough. It was one person, it did not and does not reflect the whole party, it is past and get over it already. Those who will never get over it are those who would never vote for a responsible option like the Wildrose Party in a million years anyway so it is past time to simply ignore them and move on.
True and real transparency
Some media and members alike expressed something akin to shock at how open everything was. Birds really should fall from the sky or something when Premier Redford dares to utter the word transparency considering how hard her government works to hide their actions from citizens and in light of the recent Progressive Conservative Party AGM where media was outright banned from the majority of activities, the open nature Wildrose Party AGM was indeed shocking in it’s contrast.
Even noted dipper Lou Arab took some time to pop in and put our open meeting to the test. He was only moderately abused 😉 .
Danielle Smith and the entire caucus was available throughout the entire two days. Even during the inebriated later hours of the hospitality suites Danielle could be found in the hallways being cornered with question after question directly from members. It must have been exhausting but it is incredibly appreciated and sends an incredible message.
Had a person wanted to speak one on one with every member of the entire caucus and provincial executive during the AGM it was easily possible with some effort over those two days. I expect it will be tougher in 2016 but only because there will be well over 65 caucus members as opposed to any lack of transparency.
While so many pay lip service to the whole concept of transparency, the Wildrose Party clearly practices it. It is through these practices and through member vigilance that we will maintain these high principles and that the Wildrose Party will usher in a whole new style of responsible government soon.
Hindsight and self-evaluation
Members and media alike were surprised by Tom Flanagan’s (party campaign co-chair) very frank and open summary of the past election. This sort of candid discussion of strategy and and personal humbling is never demonstrated by other parties. Flanagan spoke to our naivety in some elements of the campaign and he spoke to how some issues caught us off guard. Charts demonstrated how some of our policy initiatives during the campaign gained support while others (such as the energy rebates) actually cost us a fair degree of support. Flanagan spoke on how some of our policies are simply out of date and others just won’t sell.
It is through this unvarnished discussion that we ensure growth and evolution as a party. In being open, we must learn from our errors and successes. Contrasting these things openly before the entire membership brings us all into this learning and helps foster a sense of pragmatism and understanding of how we will have to always keep electability in mind when crafting our plans and policies.
The 2012 AGM was a great success and the Wildrose Party is much stronger today than it was just a week ago.
A new and invigorated Executive Committee was elected in a well contested race. In having to fight for their spots, these members will not be as inclined to fall into the complacency that crept into the last EC. I expect they will do a great job in guiding and managing the communications and operations of the party.
A deeper sense of enthusiasm and unity was gained by all in attendance and the importance of these gatherings was demonstrated (even to those who seem to try and avoid these things).
Danielle Smith’s keynote speech was excellent. I left it alone as myriad media and bloggers have covered it and it was live streamed.
We still have a mountain of work to do on our way to forming government in 2016. Major progress was made in creating that path to government this weekend. We need to keep this attitude and maintain momentum.
Just wanted to add that the staff and volunteers did a great job. Things went smoothly from registration to scheduling.It all was very well organized. Couldn’t happen without them.