Choosing the next leader of Alberta’s official opposition

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This upcoming leadership race for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will be the third one I have observed from the perspective of a Wildrose (formerly Alberta Alliance) supporter. In the last two races it was assumed (correctly) that the P.C. Party was electing the next Premier of Alberta. This time around, it is broadly assumed that the P.C. Party will be electing a person who will be serving as a seat warmer on the provincial throne until Danielle Smith can take it in the next general election. Barring a miracle, there is little that can stop the aforementioned outcome.

The mood and comments from within the Wildrose Party are indicative of how outlooks have changed. Discontent with the Progressive Conservative party’s governance of Alberta was beginning to gain some steam in the last couple years of Ralph Klein’s time as Premier. Spending was increasing dramatically and that party seemed to be losing some of it’s vision and direction. The Alberta Alliance Party had won an upset seat in the prior election along with some strong second place finishes and it was beginning to gain strength though it was still quite small on the Alberta political landscape. The Progressive Conservative Party knives came out and Ralph Klein was given a humiliating 55% support number at the 2006 PC convention which quickly ushered him out the door as Premier.

To be frank, the leadership race devastated the fledgling Alberta Alliance Party. The bulk of our supporters were discontented small c conservatives who had left the Progressive Conservatives and they now had renewed hope for change from within their former party. Our donors dried up and the office phone stopped ringing. Most had more appetite to change the leader of the PCs than take the long road of building a whole new alternative. This problem was hugely exacerbated when our leader & sole MLA Paul Hinman suggested that Alberta Alliance members should take out PC memberships and support the election of Ted Morton as leader. Paul is a truly pragmatic man and thought this approach was what was best for Alberta. It was a terribly weak position coming from an opposition party however.

By the time Ed Stelmach was elected as leader of the PC party, the Alberta Alliance was on virtual life support. Our membership numbered in the hundreds and our bank account held a few thousand dollars at best. A small surge of members returned having given up on Ted Morton’s chances and we carried on. The hope for conservative leaning change from within the PC party was dashed.

Within a few years the self-serving Progressive Conservative knives came out for Ed Stelmach and yet again we were into a leadership race in 2011. Due to Stelmach’s attacks on the energy industry, business support was getting strongly behind the newly branded Wildrose Alliance Party. Stelmach had won a decisive majority in the 2008 election but then continually lost ground to this surging new opposition. A by-election loss in Glenmore, the election of Danielle Smith and the following floor crossings by Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth and later Guy Boutilier sent a series of shockwaves through the PC party. A coup was coming from within caucus and Stelmach stepped aside before he could be formally thrown out.

Again we saw a degree of support leave the Wildrose Party in hopes that Ted Morton or perhaps even Mar could get the PC Party back on course. The degree of loss of support within the Wildrose in 2011 was much smaller than in the 2006 election. While hindered and distracted by the PC leadership race, the Wildrose Party still continued to work and establish a strong ground presence and developed constituencies. Growth in funds and membership only slowed for the Wildrose during this PC leadership race as opposed to totally drying up as it did in 2006.

When the Progressive Conservative Party not only resoundingly rejected Ted Morton but took a hard left turn in selecting Alison Redford as their leader, support for the Wildrose Party finally solidified. A tipping point of conservative/libertarian Albertans had been reached who had given up all hope on reforming the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Growth within the ever evolving Wildrose Party exploded by every measure whether public opinion polling, fundraising or membership numbers. The tone changed within the party and sights were truly set on forming government.

The 2012 election proved two things resoundingly as the Redford campaign barely hung on to power. For one thing the Progressive Conservative machine was vulnerable and could indeed be replaced. The other thing learned at that time was that the Wildrose Party still needed some maturing and evolution in order to be the party to replace the PCs.

Now that the Progressive Conservative Party has tossed out Redford and are into yet another leadership race, the impact of this circumstance on the Wildrose Party couldn’t be more different than it had been in 2006 and 2011. While some folks are trying to imply that the Wildrose Party desperately hoped that Redford would remain as the Premier in order to truly sink the PC reign, that simply isn’t true.

The Wildrose Party has been growing and evolving and examining itself for years with the goal of replacing the entire government in mind, not just the leader of it. This goal has not changed a bit. As the Progressive Conservatives have ripped apart yet another of their leaders, there is no indication of any loss of Wildrose support to any budding PC leadership candidates. The removal of Redford has not led to hope that the PC party has any chance of internal changes. What the PC coup has demonstrated is that the PCs are in utter turmoil and have no clue how to save their individual, personal political fortunes. No matter who the PCs choose to lead them this time, their party is weakened fiscally, organizationally and morally. These weaknesses are now fatal for this fading party and we can feel it in the Wildrose Party.

Within days of Redford’s resignation, the Wildrose held their leader’s dinner in Calgary. 1000 people packed the house at $400 per plate and the mood was one of nothing but excitement and optimism as people knew they were watching the next elected Premier of Alberta speaking. History is being made as a 43 year old dynasty is finally coming to an end.

Politics are fickle and much can change within a couple years. As I said before though, it will take nothing less than a miracle to turn the Progressive Conservative Party around this time.

Leadership campaigns for the PC party had been traditionally funded by people wanting to curry favor with a future Premier. It will be difficult for candidates to raise the non-refundable $50,000 entry fee (such a grassroots figure), much less the hundreds of thousands required for the rest of the campaign when pretty much all political watchers know that these candidates are running to lead the opposition after the next provincial election.

Nothing can be taken for granted by the Wildrose Party of course. In seeing and feeling three of these races from within the party though, one can tell that the time for a true change of government has finally come.

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Wildrose & Progressive Conservative. What’s the difference?

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As the Wildrose Party has grown and matured as a party, our policies have evolved and moderated every year. We have learned from experience what is realistic and what is acceptable to Albertans and have adjusted our actions accordingly. As the policy set moves towards what some may view as a more mushy middle, some critics have questioned what differences remain between the Wildrose Party and the reigning Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. While the policies may appear to be getting similar (can’t really find a good copy of the PC ones), the difference between the parties is still immense.

The biggest difference between the Wildrose Party and the PCs is subtle yet profound. The difference between the parties is one of both culture and of attitudes held by both the general membership and senior party members. This huge difference was laid out and exposed excellently in a blog posting by Christina Rontynen who courageously has spoken up from within the PCs.

Christina and her husband Piotr Pilarski have both been very loyal and involved members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta for years. Christina has now spoken up out of concern for the party that she has given so much to. In return for Christina having expressed frank concerns, she has received a letter of censure from the Party President Jim McCormick.

Letter of censure

The bottom line is that the powers that be in the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta have told a concerned member in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up. This exposes the great difference from the Wildrose  Party and sickness from within the PC Party of Alberta. Redford can’t be blamed for this attempt to gag a concerned loyal member. This missive came from the Party President who is supposed to represent the membership.

 

My wife Jane and I have both been very vocal and outspoken when we have felt that some elements within the Wildrose Party may be trying to move things in the wrong direction. We have been critical of the Wildrose Party on a number of occasions. Jane is a former Executive Director for the Wildrose and has served in a number of executive capacities while I served multiple terms on the party executive. Both Jane and I are past candidates for the party. Serving in those sorts of roles does not mean we can no longer be openly critical of the party at times as McCormick has implied in his letter to Rontynen.

Jane and I have surely made many senior members of the Wildrose Party grind their teeth when we have gotten openly cranky with the party. I have gotten more than one grumpy phone call from higher-ups in the party asking what I am up to. One thing that has never happened though is that nobody in the Wildrose Party considered for even a second to tell Jane or I to shut up!

The culture of the Wildrose Party is still one where the concerns of the membership (and Albertans) are paramount. The party is still relatively new and embraces internal critique as part of it’s growth rather than try to stifle it. Perhaps if the Wildrose Party held power for 43 years in Alberta these values and attitudes would change but for now the party is as grassroots as it gets despite taking an increasingly pragmatic approach to it’s actions.

The culture and attitude of a party can’t be captured in a policy statement. Those things can only been viewed in actions and felt within membership. Even if the Wildrose Party and the PC Party had the exact same policy set (they certainly don’t), the difference in cultures within these two parties would still set them greatly apart.

The Progressive Conservative Party acts only for the benefit of the party itself. The Wildrose Party is still dominated by the ideal of service for the benefit of the province and acts through the guidance of the party membership. That difference is and will remain tremendous no matter who may lead the Progressive Conservative Party next.

 

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There is only one way to increase affordable housing in Calgary, increase the supply!

News story after news story are coming out and pointing out how Calgary is experiencing a crunch in housing supply that will only get worse if things do not change and soon. Calgary’s rental vacancy rate is sitting around 1% right now and the average price of a home is expected to reach almost $600,000 this year. This problem will only grow more acute in coming years unless our density fixated city hall starts to release more serviced lots and soon!

Yes, there are some other ways to increase some supply of housing. Nenshi has had the legalization of basement suites as something of a pet project for some time though it has not been able to pass council yet. More basement suites will help to some degree should they be added but what Calgary really needs is new housing and soon. Changing the status of the legality of basement suites will only add a limited supply as there really are only so many people out there who want to rent out part of their houses. Many of those who do want to rent out their basements are already doing so illegally.

Like the law of gravity, the law of supply and demand is not terribly flexible. Calgary has high demand for housing and city hall has been strangling the supply. Something will have to give. Some reports are even predicting that Calgary may be nearly running out of serviced lots by the end of 2015. As stated in the article, there is a world of difference between planned lots and available ones. The city needs to stop meddling around and release these new developments.

There is an ideology that has become prevalent in Calgary city hall that almost fervently calls for increased urban density at all costs. That sort of ideology led to the hiring of planning extremists like Rollin Stanley. Despite squeezing supply in hopes that Calgarians simply throw up their hands and move into condos, developments such as the much vaunted “East Village” wither while the vast majority of new Calgarians seek homes in the suburbs.

It seems to be forgotten that over 85% of Calgarians do NOT live or commute downtown. To try and force more population into the core will actually make commute times longer for many as they head to industrial areas, schools, hospitals or one of the myriad of other employment zones that are distant from downtown. We need to plan and develop with this reality in mind.

The bottom line is that Calgary does not need extremely high downtown density. The city is surrounded by literally thousands of square miles of available land. Calgary is not like a coastal or mountain city with hard limits on where it may grow. There is no excuse or good reason to keep trying to hinder the natural outward growth of the city.

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Finally, density efforts have been an utter failure that has actually led to even more of the ever demonized “sprawl” anyway. People are voting with their wallets and feet and are moving to bedroom communities in record numbers. Okotoks lifted it’s growth cap, Chestermere has just put forward a massive new growth plan and Airdrie and Cochrane are experiencing explosive growth. Despite what some may wish, Calgary can’t put up an iron curtain to keep people from leaving the city limits to escape the escalating costs due to a lack of land supply.

If the powers that be in Calgary City Hall truly do want to address the shortage of affordable housing, it is simply without question that more serviced lots and developments must be approved and as soon as possible. How critical will Nenshi and City Hall let this problem get before they relent, face reality and begin to release the supply of land that Calgarians are demanding? We have the space, let’s use it!

 

 

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