Wildrose Party AGM 2013. The evolution continues.

wildroseI have been very involved in the Wildrose Party having joined the party while it was in it’s past incarnation as the Alberta Alliance Party which held a lone seat in the Alberta Legislature. Every year the party has learned new lessons (often in a hard way) and made changes to better reflect the needs and will of Albertans. This ability and willingness as a party to learn and evolve is what has led the party from being the tiny rump in the legislature in 2004, to serving as official opposition today, to very possibly becoming Alberta’s next government in 2016. Every year at every Annual General Meeting the party has made the changes required to better manage itself and to appeal to a broader range of Albertans. This year’s AGM was no exception to that trend.

With such explosive growth there will always come some growing pains. Last year it became evident that the party was suffering under some very serious managerial challenges on the executive level. This was rectified as members gathered in Edmonton and we had a nearly clean sweep of the Executive Committee. While policy was not on the table for alteration at last year’s AGM, discussion of our policies sure was. We took advantage of the gathering for some very frank self-evaluation which is what led to the great policy changes we made at the AGM in Red Deer this year.

Some policies we had were obsolete, some really simply made little sense (these will always build up in a policy set and need periodic flushing), and some policies were simply not acceptable to Albertans. We struck pretty much all of those this year.

The basis of the Wildrose Party is grassroots in nature. This means we are expected as a party to reflect the will of Albertans in policy and actions rather than dictate. To do that our policies must remain ever-fluid as the views of Albertans will constantly change as the social end economic environment around them does. The Wildrose Party is staying true to that principle. One needs only to look to the flaccid and almost non-existent Social Credit Party of Alberta to see what happens when a party stubbornly insists on clinging to outdated policies and principles.

I am going to start with the policies that we still had that reflected the “Alberta Agenda” otherwise known as the “Firewall Letter”. At the time when the Alberta Agenda was drafted by folks such as Stephen Harper and Ted Morton, Canada was in a period of unprecedented regional division. The Quebec Referendum of 1995 where secession was only avoided by a tiny margin was still very fresh in people’s minds and we had just come from the 2000 federal election where Jean Chretien won a strong majority through pandering to Quebec while demonizing Alberta. Albertans felt bruised, battered and defensive after that gross display of federal regionalism in electoral politics particularly in light of how successful it was.

In light of the political atmosphere 12 years ago, the Alberta Agenda made perfect sense to many (likely most) Albertans at that time. Times have changed dramatically since then though and it is quite clear that Albertans in general have little use for policies that are as potentially regionally divisive as those that stemmed from the Alberta Agenda.

While there was some debate on it, there was no contest when it came to the votes by members to strike the policies listed below from the Wildrose policy book.

Under Justice we had: “explore the feasibility of creating a provincial police force.”

The above policy is now gone for a number of reasons. To begin with, some people interpret that as a shot at the RCMP which while not perfect, is an iconic national police force that is well respected by most Albertans. It was pointed out that we as a province had just signed a 25 year contract with the RCMP for policing and we were reminded that we do have the Alberta Sheriffs. To put it simply, the policy was pointless as it stood and really, there is nothing to stop us from examining the feasibility of anything at any time. It is what we choose to act on that is important.

Under Economy: “withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan. The Alberta Plan will offer at minimum the same benefits while giving Albertans control over the investment fund”

Personally I still don’t think that policy is all that bad. Quebec has opted out of the federal plan so it isn’t totally unprecedented. All the same, it has been difficult to explain the need for such a move to people at large and some pensioners have expressed fear that this may threaten their economic well-being. As with other policies as well, times have changed. Great improvements have been made to the management of the Canadian Pension Plan and the plan does not look like the economic dead end that it appeared to be 12 years ago. If there really is a need for a provincial plan, the proponents of it will have to make a better case to Albertans for it. For now, such a plan does not reflect the will of many Albertans thus does not belong in the policy book.

Under Democratic Reform: “propose a Constitution for Alberta, within the confines of Canadian Confederation.”

This is just a recipe for inter-jurisdictional conflict and endless time in the courts. Our federal constitution is in dire need of reform as it is when one looks at things such as the Senate scandal. Why would we want to mire things further with trying to draft a parallel constitution? When asked this, Wildrose members overwhelmingly agreed to get rid of this policy.

In writing I see that there is a gap in my notes on one policy resolution as to whether or not it had passed and I honestly can’t remember at this time. Either way, there was a resolution under economy that would have gotten rid of the policy for Alberta to provincially collect it’s own income tax and I am pretty confident that the resolution to get rid of that policy passed. I may be corrected on this though. Again like other Alberta Agenda type policies, it simply is not required, there is no demand for it and it is out of date.

Rest assured I still have a good deal of regionalistic jingoism within me as an Albertan. Until we can clean up our own act within the Alberta legislature both fiscally and democratically though, we are in no place to cast stones at federal policies right now. As a provincial party we need to remain focused on our local needs rather than getting distracted by perceived federal injustices. We will be much better placed to lecture the federal government and pursue changes from them if we form a provincial government and then lead by example through building a fiscally responsible and democratically fair Alberta first.

The Wildrose Party never really has had a large set of socially conservative policies but we certainly have managed to wear the mantle of extreme social conservatism thanks to the likes of Alan Hunsperger and a few others. We did have a couple stinkers in our policy book with that regard all the same though and we rightly cleaned them out.

One policy that caused us a great deal of grief was the one calling for the protection of “conscience rights” of healthcare professionals. This policy had always been most frustrating as it caused us untold grief as a party and it was calling for the protection of rights that are already protected under the Charter and under medical legislation. This policy was a bone tossed to hardcore pro-life folks years ago and it was well past time to get rid of it.

The move to strike that pointless policy was put forward by multiple constituency associations. In the first round of vetting the proposal to strike was supported by 95% of the room. When the move to strike the policy was brought to the floor it was overwhelmingly supported by the membership. It is now gone and never to return. I am still pissed that it was ever in our book to begin with. Lesson learned.

Another big policy problem for us on the social end was our policy on the Human Rights Commissions.

The policy used to read like this:  “amend the Human Rights Act to unequivocally protect the freedom of speech and freedom of the press and should disband the Alberta Human Rights Commission.”

I still think we should disband the Human Rights Commission as it provides nothing that a court of law doesn’t and it has been abused terribly as a way to stifle free speech with little in the way of legal controls such as presumption of innocence and rules of evidence.

People purposely used that policy to try and wrongly claim that the Wildrose Party wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act itself or opposed human rights in themselves. While this was nonsense, it led us to constantly have to explain ourselves on the distinction between the Human Rights Act and  the Human Rights Commission. This was nearly impossible to do in the heat of an election and on doorsteps. The policy simply was dragging us down right or wrong.

The drafted and overwhelmingly accepted new policy does not call for the abolition of the Human Rights Commission. The new policy does the next best thing in that it calls for changes to the rules for the commissions and explains the exact part of the act that needs reformation. The new policy is below:

amend the Human Rights Act to unequivocally protect the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by removing section 3 of the current Act and reforming the complaint process to introduce rules of evidence, the presumption of innocence, and protection from frivolous and vexatious claims.

The new policy is a solid statement affirming the protection of human rights while setting solid targets for the reform of the current system.

Many other policies were amended, deleted and added over the weekend. Much of that was simply housekeeping and helped tidy up our policy set.

There were some contentious propositions last weekend to change the party constitution last weekend as well. For some reason, a group of folks felt that we needed to consolidate the party’s powers more solidly within the leader’s office rather than within the executive. I wrote in detail on these proposals a few months ago when they first came out.

The most offensive of these proposals was the one that would have given the leader a direct veto over the selection of the party’s executive director and in the formulation of the powers of that role. It was heartwarming to see that resolution overwhelmingly shot down by the gathered membership. The vote was not even close.

While the membership was very open to the evolution of policies to better reflect the wishes of Albertans, the membership very clearly got their backs up en masse whenever something appeared to threaten the grassroots, bottom-up nature of the party. Every one of the proposals to centralize power in the party was overwhelmingly shot down by the membership. For those who claim they can no longer see the difference between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party, this is one of the most glaring differences.

The Wildrose Party is led by the membership and that was made crystal clear last weekend.

Last weekend’s Annual General meeting of the Wildrose Party was a success by every measure. The meeting was well organized, the staff and volunteers did an excellent job, and of course most importantly the party took great strides forward in it’s evolution as a political organization that is preparing to govern Alberta. Members left the meeting feeling upbeat and unified and the message going out to Albertans was clear in saying that we as a party are listening and will change to best represent the province’s needs and wishes. We are true to our principles and are growing up.

The policies of the party are still not perfect (they never will be), but as long as we retain our open process of policy formulation and discussions we will continue to have the best set in the province. While some who feel a strong connection to some socially conservative policies may feel excluded, they really need to swallow a dose of reality and pragmatism.

The party used to actually have a policy against gay marriage back when I joined it nearly ten years ago. My wife Jane and I both found that policy regressive, offensive and unnecessary. Jane fought against some pretty dedicated supporters of that policy but won in the end and it was removed from the party policy book. Had that dog not been removed, the party would surely still be sitting at one seat in the legislature with no hope of forming government at best or even influencing it. Instead of turning our back to the party due to policies that we didn’t like though, we got involved and used the grassroots means to change those policies. If unfettered, grassroots policy formulation will always work as the collective wisdom of the membership guides the evolution of the party.

Last year the party focused on introspection and the reform of it’s internal management. This year the party focused on the policies and perceptions of the party. Next year I expect we will be focusing on bringing the party before the electorate again. We are in for an exciting couple years as we head towards finally forming a new government in Alberta.

 

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Recall legislation would have settled questions with disgraced MLA Mike Allen

mikeallen

There are few more effective ways to destroy a political career than to get busted in a sex scandal. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen pretty much eliminated any real political future for himself when he got arrested in a prostitution sting while on government business in Minnesota. Whether charges get laid or not, the damage is pretty much done at this point.

While Allen has resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus and all committees (to save Redford the task of kicking him out of those roles), as of this writing Mike Allen is still sitting as a member of the legislative assembly.

In light of this scandal there really are only two possible paths in Allen’s future; he can resign from the legislature altogether or he can sit in shame as an independent lame member who gets the odd opportunity to ask a question during sessions.

I can only see two reasons why Allen would choose to remain in the legislature for the remainder of his term. Mike Allen may simply really really need the job and the money and is willing to endure the shame of sitting in there or Allen may remain in his seat as a favor to Redford to ensure a by-election does not add yet another Wildrose MLA to the opposition that has been so effectively bringing the Redford administration to task this last year.

If we had recall legislation in Alberta Mike Allen could have had a third option ahead of him. Allen could have legitimized his place in the legislature by withstanding an effort to recall him or even have won his seat again in a by-election triggered by a recall.

People usually view recall as a means to get rid of an MLA who no longer enjoys much support among their constituents but it should be remembered that recall can vindicate a member who is caught in a controversy as well.

Recall is a mechanism that allows the electorate to potentially get rid of an elected official should they have done something so odious while elected that a large segment of the electorate feels that this person should no longer be able to serve out the rest of their term. Mike Allen’s prostitution bust is a perfect example of this. The situation and perception of Mike Allen as a person has dramatically changed and many within Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo may now feel that they do not want somebody who indulges in such activities to represent them any longer. The package that was presented to voters in that constituency just over a year ago looks much different today and voters may want a new choice.

I have seen some people defending Mike Allen and speaking to how well he has served the community in a municipal role and then as an MLA. Some people have expressed the view that Allen’s transgression is not serious enough to warrant his resignation as an MLA. The decision of how serious this issue is can only be left to the electorate and not to straw polls and pundits. Recall legislation would have allowed for this.

Mike Allen may remain in his seat and weakly try to claim that he has heard from constituents that they want him to remain. I suspect that most of Alberta would look at such claims with a jaundiced eye at best.

Recall legislation must be crafted so that the bar is not set unreasonably high nor so low that it is done frivolously. This has been managed in many jurisdictions before and there is no reason that it couldn’t be brought into legislation effectively within Alberta.

Only though a full accounting to his electorate can Mike Allen now claim to be entitled to his seat as an MLA. It is too bad that we don’t have the means in an effective recall legislation to have given Allen the chance to have vindicated himself through his constituents. A failed recall effort would shut down any further claims that Allen is not entitled to remain in his seat as an MLA.

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The power of social media.

While I am prone to using thousands of words in a posting to get an idea out there, Amanda Achtman managed to cut the Redford Progressive Conservatives right to the core with a catchy and funny parody video that is less than two minutes long.

In light of Redford’s plummeting support and incredible budget deficit despite such a strong local economy, many many people are wondering just what happened to the party that they used to support.

People are abandoning the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta in droves as they simply really don’t know what the party even stands for anymore. Amanda drove that home excellently in her little video and it is going viral. It is an awesome example of a small grassroots effort making a strong impression on thousands. Proper use of social media can be very politically powerful.

Improper use of social media can be politically devastating. The Redford government see’s their lack of popular presence in the social media world (due to a lack of real grassroots support) so they have hired a cadre of leftover comms staffers from other provinces in a desperate hope of swinging online views. As with most of Redford’s efforts this has been a failure and the flood of tweets and such from her paid gang is really not taken terribly seriously by most.

Never ones to let a small irritation remain small, the Progressive Conservative twitter bunch thought that the best course of action would be to collectively report Amanda Achtman’s twitter account for spamming. This in effect leads to an account being temporarily suspended while they confirm that Amanda indeed was not spamming (and she wasn’t).

The foolish effort above of course then turned Achtman into an online grassroots martyr leading to radio and television coverage of the video. At times I swear the Redford gang will cross a street just to purposely step into a pile of dog crap.

Below is a link to Amanda Achtman on the Source with Ezra Levant discussing the issue.

http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/featured/prime-time/867432237001/some-party-that-i-used-to-know/2297143795001

Good work Amanda. I hope we see more efforts such as your video from both you and others. It helps broaden political discourse for us all and as has been seen, it helps expose where the real extremists are.

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Health care “premiums” are a tax. Say it like it is.

To say that the Redford government is up the fiscal creek is an incredible understatement. The Redford led Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta won the 2012 election on a platform of false revenue projections and completely unsustainable spending promises that can only be called outright lies. Fiscal reality has come home to roost and Alberta is now facing a catastrophically large budgetary deficit.

Like rats from a sinking ship, Alison Redford’s communications staff are bailing out as they know that participating in the festival of lies demanded to try and polish Redford’s turd of a budget will only destroy any future hopes of work within the field of communications. The lack of communications strength was quite clear and visible in Alison Redford’s bizarre address to Albertans where she spit out blame and excuses for the disaster of her own making while really saying nothing else of merit. Even the Alison Redford’s twitter account appears to have been assigned to somebody with the communications skills of a six year old as petulant tweets attacking radio hosts are sent out.

Now that is has been pretty clearly established that Redford has reduced her communications staff to one of the most expensive yet simplistic groups in the nation, we can speculate on where they plan to go to try and dig their administration out of this embarrassing hole.

Redford has now claimed that she will not raise taxes despite the gargantuan deficit that she created. This leaves her in something of a quandary. A simplistic way to get around this of course is to label a tax something else. That is exactly what happens when we hear speech on health care “premiums” and predictably we are hearing rumblings that the health care tax may be reinstated.

The general health care tax that was mislabelled as a “premium” was one of Alberta’s most regressive and inefficient taxes ever. While the tax provided little burden to high income earners, it was quite onerous for people and families on fixed incomes. The health care tax was very difficult to administer and a very large portion of the generated revenue was lost through collections and administration.

The funds from the health care tax were never kept in a separate dedicated fund for health expenditures. The health care tax was indiscriminate of the payer’s own health or lifestyle. Healthy people and sick people paid the same “premium” and all revenues went into general revenues. That is why no matter how some try to say it, the health care tax is a tax and not a “premium” by any measure. Redford’s communication army should try something new through telling the truth for a change. Admit a tax increase for crying out loud. It’s not as if Albertans have not already concluded that Redford is full of bullshit. We won’t be fooled now.

Some claim that a health care tax helps teach Albertans the true cost of health care. Unless the health care tax is at least a few thousand dollars a year, that simply is not true. A few years ago, I encountered a somewhat informed lefty who was convinced that the monthly “premium” that he paid for health care accounted for his entire costs in health care.  The monthly payment actually added to confusion about the real cost of care in our socialised monopolistic health care system.

Perhaps bringing in a health care tax is a good idea or perhaps it is not. Let’s not cloak this in bullshit though and call it what it is; a tax increase and another broken Redford promise if it comes about.

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Compounding the issue through lies.

In a small way, there is a similarity between Premier Redford’s situation and that of Rob Ford who was so recently judicially tossed out as Mayor of Toronto. Ford’s issue was rather small (though wrong) in using city letterhead to raise $3000 for a cause of his choice. Where Ford really went wrong was when he refused to recuse himself on a council vote on that very matter. Through his own stubborn, foolish pride Ford compounded the matter which eventually led to his ousting.

Alison Redford’s government has been awash in corruption and questionable practices essentially since the day Redford took power. Redford even had her sister essentially laundering tax money to the Progressive Conservative Party through her expenses in a government position.Other scandals kept popping up indicating everything from doctor intimidation to other illegal donations. Despite this though, Redford has always managed to walk that thin line in that while her government is clearly grossly un-ethical, it manages to always stay just within the bounds of legality (due to her own shoddy laws).

With Alberta’s terribly lax laws in regards to ethics, whistle-blowing etc, I am pretty sure that Alison Redford’s personal selection of her ex-husband’s (current friend, heavy party donor and head of her transition team into office) law firm to run a multi-billion dollar action for the government while odious would still have not been found as a  conflict of interest.Everything changed when Redford blatantly lied to the legislature!

This lie by Redford is so blatant and bald faced as to be staggering. Despite CBC finding a very solid paper trail proving without doubt that Redford personally made the decision, Redford continues to lie in the legislature and out of it about this whole affair. Redford has turned this from what has become a run of the mill corruption thing with her government and turned it into a full blown contempt of parliament case which is potentially terribly serious.

The graphic below simplifies the whole case. This is not a case of interpretation. Redford is simply lying. The image from facebook is less long winded than I am prone to being but makes the point clearly.

Alison Redford’s lying has put many people into tough positions now. Our current Justice Minister has been bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean seeking to run as he said “on the same song sheet” as he tries to keep up with the Premier’s stories. The past Justice Minister now is trying to slide more deeply under the bus and the Speaker of the Legislature himself is now in a very awkward position.

The impartiality of Speaker Gene Zwozdesky has been somewhat questionable in what has been an exceedingly raucous session of the legislature. With a clear cut case of the Premier misleading the legislature like this before him, Zwozdesky is truly now put to the test. How the speaker rules on this on coming days will truly indicate whether we still have something of a functional and balanced legislature or not.

Having taken a moderately bad ethics accusation and turned it into a full blown contempt of Parliament issue through bald-faced lying, Redford has proven herself dishonest at the least. Redford has not exactly proven herself all that bright in all of this either. I want neither of the aforementioned shortcomings in my Premier.

 

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Wildrose Party 2012 Annual General Meeting Summary

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.

Turnout

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.

Summary

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.

::update::

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.

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Real transparency is what we need.

Buzz words come and go. I almost get nauseated when I hear the vapid overuse of the terms “vibrant” and “sustainable” these days particularly when they appear to be tossed into political speech with no context. The word transparency has been a popular word too and it has been terribly abused. Last spring while Alison Redford was claiming a balanced budget on her campaign of misinformation, she also used the word “transparency” constantly.

We know that Redford was lying about balancing the budget, and in light of Alberta’s transparency rating a couple months ago, it is clear that Redford was only paying lip service to that concept in the last provincial election too. Alberta is one of the least transparent provinces in the country.

True transparency is simple. With modern communications and databasing, there really is little excuse for exorbitant FOIP fees. It is not as if a government employee has to dig into a cavernous archive of micro-fiche any longer and provide a paper copy for an information request. Aside from some personnel employment specifics and some discussions that need to remain in-camera for competitive reasons, there really is no reason that Albertans should not be able to access damn near any government information at any time online.

We will have some election financing reforms coming in today. Hopefully some meaningful reforms come in this legislation. Our provincial government fired a Chief Electoral Officer the last time he dared to suggest changes to our electoral system so my faith in this corrupted government’s will to actually change things.

If we do see some good reforms in new legislation, it will only be because of the deep corruption that has been exposed in our current government with over 80 cases of apparent illegal contributions to the Progressive Conservatives having come to light. Transparency exposed these aspects of government corruption rather than any legislation and it took some very heavy digging by a determined CBC reporter to expose most of this. Most people simply do not have the time and resources to get all that information.

Redford showed that she is happy to gleefully spit in the face of the spirit of electoral finance legislation when her party happily pocketed what appears to have been a single cheque from Katz for $430,000 and then got to work on laundering it out to fit within the grossly loose contribution laws. This demonstrates again how legislation will have little effect on our current corrupted government.

Public exposure and shaming has far more deterrent effect on our government than any legislation will. As we have seen in the legislature yesterday and in the last election, the Redford government will lie blatantly and without hesitation in order to maintain their grip on power. With real transparency though, their lies can and will be exposed immediately.

When we see a government so deeply corrupt that the Premier’s own sister is laundering tax dollars back to the Progressive Conservative Party, I think we can say with confidence that we will not see true reform or transparency coming from this corrupted regime.

What I am saying is twofold;

Alberta needs a true and massive reform that will give real transparency of government spending and actions to the public.

Alberta will never get that transparency from a government as corrupted as our current one. We need to replace the governing party.

We don’t need legislation for immediate transparency though. We simply need open truthful dialog from our leaders. Below though, is the video of Alison Redford hiding from our provincial legislature and hiding from the press as the corruption involving her sister was exposed:

 

What a cowardly Premier we are saddled with. The biggest scandal of the year is surfacing and she hasn’t even the glimmer of courage or leadership to at least speak to this mess of her creating.

Transparency is to corrupted people such as the Redford Sisters as sunlight is to vampires.

Let’s keep working to dislodge the Progressive Conservative Party from the reigns of power in Alberta. We also must ensure that the incoming government has ironclad policies that will force real transparency upon the government and that putting those policies in place is a prime priority. Only then will we be able to keep corruption effectively out of our provincial administration.

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Stranger than fiction.

The latest breaking story of corruption by our Progressive Conservative government really is such a gross example of corruption on so many levels that it reads like a novel of a fictional government in some sort of third-world dictatorship.

Premier Alison Redford’s sister who was appointed to a plum executive position with the Calgary Health Region had been illegally laundering tax dollars back to the party that her sister leads!

In light of the above sentence it really sounds too grossly corrupt to be true. Even Fidel and Raul Castro would blush at such blatant corruption and family cronyism.

The full story is here and was broken by Charles Rusnell with the CBC. I am often quite the critic of the CBC but a huge hat tip has to be given to Rusnell’s investigative work in this last few years. This is one of many stories of Progressive Conservative corruption that he has broken in his actions as a one-man opposition party and watchdog.

Fewer issues have better illustrated the deeply ingrained culture of entitlement and corruption of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta than this latest revelation.

The utter shamelessness of this government has been striking. They are leading us back into debt, giving themselves an 8% raise, while forcing our Doctors into a contract with a 2.5% raise and in the midst of constant scandals breaking of their obscene expensing such as with Premier Redford’s gold-plated trip to the London Olympics we still see more of these scandals breaking.

The Progressive Conservative Party has been applauded for it’s ability to hit bottom with the electorate and manage to renew itself at the last minute before losing power. This happened with Getty and Stelmach. Dogged partisan supporters of the party would crow of “change from within” and optimistic Albertans unfortunately would buy it at election time. This time the thin facade of reform didn’t even last a year before all of the scandals began to surface showing that the Progressive Conservative Party is more corrupt than ever.

The culture of the Progressive Conservative Party is one of entitlement and it shows rather clearly. The movers and shakers in that party do not lose a wink of sleep as they rob taxpayers to fund their own partisan activities. They really do feel that Albertan taxpayers owe them something. Premier Redford doesn’t think twice about expensing a $24 cup of coffee nor keeping her sister in a senior government position. Redford thought nothing of lying bald-faced in claiming that she didn’t know that a single donor provided almost a third of her election budget in the last election and she thought nothing of lying to Albertans in campaigning on a balanced budget.

This is a form of group sociopathy. The people in the Redford government truly do not even realize that they are doing something wrong. They have been in power for 41 years and really feel that this entitles them to act however they please and that the laws do not apply to them.

This party atmosphere of entitlement, corruption and indifference to the needs and laws of Albertans is not the sort of thing that can be “changed from within”. The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta needs to be removed from power within Alberta. It is unfortunate that it will still be 3 1/2 years before we get the chance to do so in an election and I fear for the amount of corruption and damage that this broken regime will cause before we can get them out.

Left right or center, it is clear that we as Albertan’s  have to get rid of the corrupt regime that we so recently elected on false promises and premises.

Redford and her cronies are embarrassing us as a province. This illness can’t be treated, it must be excised.

UPDATE

 In compounding their cowardice in the face of this reprehensible scandal, Redford hid in Ottawa and assigned her Deputy Premier to sit in for her in the legislature. The Deputy Premier shamelessly lied repeatedly and called all who dared question the illegal contributions made by the Premier’s sister “bottom feeders”.

Redford was found sprinting through an Ottawa Hotel. Rather than answer pressing questions for the Albertans who employ her, Premier Redford refused to even make eye contact with cameras as her security detail rudely shoved press aside as can be seen in the video below:

 

Redford clearly lacks even an ounce of principle or leadership. It is bad enough to embroil our province in such an embarrassing scandal, but to be too cowardly to even address it herself shows Redford is completely unfit to stand as our Premier.

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Abuse of electoral laws doesn’t bother you? How about tax evasion?

Understandably most people don’t really pay close attention to or study provincial electoral laws. They are dry and the way our Redford government has repeatedly stretched and abused them, surely many are wondering if we have electoral financing laws at all.

Personally, I would not be wholely against the lifting of all limits, ending the grossly generous tax-credit system for political contributions and simply focussing on ensuring full transparency of all fundraising. In the meantime however, we do have some laws regarding electoral financing and they should be abided by and equally applied to all parties. If the Redford government has not outright taken part in breaking our electoral financing laws, they certainly have been complicit in a gross and massive abuse of the spirit of the laws.

There was a similar situation a few years ago when the Wildrose Party was in it’s incarnation as the Alberta Alliance (yes they are technically the same party)., The Thorsteinson family had made unusually large contributions which rang the alarm bells of Elections Alberta. An investigation ensued which even involved the RCMP appearing in the party office demanding documents. Is the RCMP demanding documents from Katz, his family and the long list of associates that apparently all donated to the Redford government? With heavy pressure from opposition parties, Elections Alberta has almost grudgingly launched an investigation into the Katz scandal. Nothing less than such a police search of the PC offices would ensure equal application of the laws in this case.

If indeed it is true that one cheque for $430,000 was presented to the Progressive Conservative Party by Katz (the Globe has not been sued yet so I suspect that is true), then it will have to be proven that all of the people listed had shared access to accounts in such a way that they could all have come from one source such as this apparent cheque. That is the sort of thing that covers a married couple for example should they both donate through one cheque.

My wife Jane has done some incredible work in digging out who was supposedly at the source of all those donations and has documented it here.

Now is it really within the realm of credibility that all of those people had a shared account? Do you really believe that coincidentally so many tight associates and family members of Katz suddenly decided to donate the maximum legal amount individually to the Progressive Conservatives? Do you really believe Redford when she says she didn’t know anything about over 25% of her campaign funding from a single source? It would take a great deal of substance abuse to believe any of that.

There are couple of big “Ifs” in there though. If there was indeed over a dozen cheques writted from all of these individuals and it can be proven that it was their own money and not laundered by Katz through them then there is no problem. If there was a giant chain of joint accounts that led to the one account that wrote a single cheque for $430,000 (if it was indeed one cheque), then there is not a problem. Seems pretty unlikely though.

Now if this was indeed all from Katz and he gets away with it, we may as well dump our electoral financing laws altogether. Think of it this way, lets say I won the lottery and decided that I wanted to donate a million dollars to the Wildrose Party. All I would have to do is go to my local bar and shout out “Who wants a free guaranteed $1000 tax credit for their return this year?”. I could then just gather names and addresses from people and donate on their behalf. If I say only donated $5,000 per person using one million dollars, I could get 200 people tax credits equalling $200,000 taken from provincial tax revenue fraudulently. Possibly even more if I drop the donation to $2,500 each.

While PC apologists keep trying to dismiss this issue, the gravity of it simply can’t be understated. Leaving aside the clear appearance of influence peddling to a man who has a great deal to gain or lose through government actions, we have what could be a case of mass tax fraud.

The speaker of the legislature keeps trying to halt discussion of this as it being a partisan issue. Well Mr. Speaker, may opposition members speak about potential tax evasion? How many more excuses can the Speaker generate to quell debate on this issue?

This investigation is too important to get swept under the rug. We have to keep the noise up to keep this from going away before all of the facts are exposed.

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Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

The few dogged supporters remaining for the corrupted and embattled Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta are chirping on social media in a lame defense of their party having gotten nearly 1/3 of their entire election contributions from one source. That the donor (Katz) is also seeking a $100,000,000 cheque from the provincial government in return is apparently either lost on the Progressive Conservative crowd or they are perfectly alright with this blatant purchase of their party’s favor.

Yes, this will likely be legal though the Chief Electoral Officer (appointed by the government) may take a moment to have a look at things. Yes the ethics commissioner (appointed by the government) likely and predictably would see nothing wrong with this.

It is the judgement of the electorate that the Redford regime needs to face the wrath of. In her first few days of the legislature’s first real session, we have seen the PCs push for and then back off from a reprehensible gouge and increase in their severance packages and RRSP contributions and now making excuses for stretching the electoral laws to the maximum by happily taking hundreds of thousands from a man with interests in getting government money. I fear to think what this corrupted regime will accomplish in the next 3.5 years.

Hey Redford, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

We blew it as Albertans in the last election. The campaign to fix that error needs to begin now. The entrenched and corrupted PC regime has been in power for 41 years. Like a tick that has dug in deeply, it will be tough to get it out but it will be worth it.

Graham Thomson covers the whole mess excellently here.

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