I finally joined the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta

Progressive_Conservative_Association_of_Alberta_Logo

Yes, for the first time in my life I have purchased a membership with the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. While this is hardly earthshaking news to the world, it is indeed a big deal to me. I have been a member of one political party or another since getting my first membership with the Reform Party in 1991 and I never take my membership in a party lightly.

While many keep dismissing Wildrose members as being nothing more than disenchanted former PC members, I was never a member of that party until this morning. I viewed the PC party that had held power in Alberta since the year of my birth as being an entrenched group dedicated to cronyism and maintaining power by any and all means possible. While there were some shining individuals within and actions taken by the party over the years, my general assessment of the party was rarely proven wrong.

 Due to being the most likely route to government benches, the Progressive Conservative Party attracted unprincipled opportunists in droves. Why battle to win a seat under your own left-wing principles when you can simply swallow your principles, talk the talk and win a seat with the PC Party?

 Sandra Jansen is a prime and recent example of this sort of thing. While Jansen’s personal views align her more with the NDP than the PC Party, she knew upon entering politics that she would never (or so it would appear at that time) win a seat under the NDP banner. Jansen played the part of a PC supporter and got a seat due to her prior media profile and the efforts of party volunteers. Jansen even tabled and promoted the odious anti-gay Bill 10 under orders from Jim Prentice. While such a bill was in total contradiction to Jansen’s principles, she viewed her political career as being more important than the gay rights she purports now to support. This is exactly the callow and weak willed crap from opportunists that has soured me and many like me from the PC party for decades.  

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Another recent example of Progressive Conservative style opportunism was of course Danielle Smith and her band of fools trying to take a shortcut to government benches after being sold a bill of goods by Prentice. Prentice was of the old stock PC mindset where support is best bought rather than earned at the constituency level. Smith had discovered that trying to manage a grassroots party is thankless, exhausting and simply damn tough. Under her poor management, the party was ripping itself up with internal turmoil despite doing well in the polls. Smith did what so many PC MLAs did before her and took what she thought was an easy route to a cabinet seat. As we all know, Smith’s self serving idiocy only led her and her followers into a well earned political oblivion.  

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There is an upside to the treacherous union of Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice that repelled the Alberta electorate so much that they accidentally lashed out by electing the NDP. The actions of Smith and Prentice stripped the PC party down to a shell of it’s former self. Most of the opportunists have fled as they saw little personal benefit in taking part in an indebted, disgraced and moribund party (aside from opportunists like Jansen who managed to keep her seat). Those remaining in the party are idealists whether right of center or left. These are people who know that there is a lot of tough and thankless slogging ahead of them yet they are going ahead anyway. These are the kind of people who build movements of principle.  

It is not only the sloughing off of the political parasites by the Progressive Conservative Party that has drawn me to it of course. I, like most people to the right of Che Guevara am very concerned about the catastrophe that we have in government right now. I am resigned to the fact that the Notley NDP will remain in power for a few more years and will continue to reap havoc on the Alberta economy in that time. I am terrified at the concept that somehow through constant right of center battles, that Notley will manage to gain a second term and put Alberta’s industries deeply into the economic graveyard for generations.  

I suspect that Notley will continue to crater in the polls as Albertans en-masse realize (as with every other NDP province) that having socialists in power is intolerable and will cost the grandchildren of our children as they try to dig themselves out of the massive debt built by a province that hamstrung it’s own industries. I think that even if there were four parties on the right that Notley would be wiped out by a coalition of these parties as she struggles to maintain double digit support.

Despite what I think, I DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE THINGS TO CHANCE! 

The only thing that may indeed give Notley’s ghastly administration another term will be constant splintering on the right leading to more mistrust and rejection by the electorate. Mass, dejected apathy on the part of the electorate on election day could put Notley in yet again.  

Jason Kenney has provided a plan. It is a tough plan with many possible pitfalls and variables, but it is a plan that could work. I am ready to work as hard as I can to help bring that plan into fruition.

KenneyJason_CPC

I am a socially liberal libertarian sort. Why can I get behind somebody as socially conservative as Jason Kenney? I can for a couple reasons.  

While Jason Kenney is personally and unapologetically socially conservative, he is not proposing implementing any socially conservative policies and I see no reason why he would. Do you really think he would try to make gay marriage illegal again? Do you really think he could overstep provincial jurisdiction and wade into the abortion debate again? I sincerely don’t see it. One fellow I see as a political mentor is Paul Hinman. Paul is personally socially conservative but he is also deeply dedicated to individual rights. It is in that balance that libertarians and social conservatives can work together.  

Another factor is that Jason Kenney will have to run in two leadership campaigns. If the first campaign is successful, Kenney will have to run again to lead the new party vehicle. If one doesn’t like Kenney, they can and should support another leader in the next race.

I see Kenney’s current campaign as being focussed on right of center unity. It is not a campaign to make Kenney Alberta’s Premier (this time anyway). This is a campaign that is using the leadership process as a means of referendum for right of center people to vote on a unified party. 

People are already trying to distract the campaign by miring it down with questions on policy specifics. I spent three terms on the executive of the Wildrose Party as Vice President of Policy. I understand the importance of policy as well as anybody. I also understand how easily and quickly it can become a divisive minefield.

Kenney’s current run so far has not delved into specific policies nor should it. Right now we need to focus on broad principles. There will be time to battle on policies at AGMs and during nominations for years to come. We cant let ourselves get dragged into that during a leadership run based on unity.  

While always being a supporter of one member one vote systems, I see some great advantages in this race being delegate based. This race will not be won by somebody who has sold their political soul to unions as Redford did (and Jansen would love to). This race will be won by the person who can manage to win broad support constituency by constituency across the entire province. It will take ground level organization and engagement. A person with deep federal connections and the endorsement of the former Prime Minister certainly has an edge in that regard.  

A great side effect of this kind of race is that it forces the organization of the constituency associations. I suspect that many if not most of the PC CAs are essentially in total hibernation. Instead of simply selling memberships in any location, candidates now need to court support in every constituency and ensure that those constituencies are well enough organized to send a full slate of delegates to the leadership convention.  

Assuming Kenney wins the leadership (I know that is still a big assumption), he will essentially have the framework for a new party already built for him. Constituency associations will be rejuvenated and active across the entire province as the race has motivated candidates to build them and activate them. That of course is also the organizational machinery which will obliterate the NDP in a general election.  

After a Kenney win and the formation of a new party, the remaining rump will fade away. Joe Clark and other federal PC holdouts never took part in the federal merger and it didn’t matter. They and their former party simply died of atrophy. Jansen and gang will do the same with the remnants of the PC organization too.  

After a Kenney win, the pressure on Jean will be tremendous. Jean has clearly already seen some caucus division and general party unrest. It will be tough to keep members whether on the ground or in caucus from getting in with the new party if Jean remains intransigent on the issue.

If Kenney somehow loses the race, I assume that somebody like Sandra Jansen has managed to pull off a win somehow. That will unify the right as well as people flock to the one remaining right of center party in the province.

I still think highly of the Wildrose Party. I was a founding member and put in countless hours and resources over the years in hopes of bringing that party into government. There are some fantastic people in the party on all levels from simple members up to MLAs. Jean is a good and dedicated person as well. The bottom line though is that the Wildrose Party is spinning it’s wheels. While general support numbers are good and fundraising is strong, the growth is mostly flat lined. The party is remaining strong only because Notley is terrible rather than people being engaged and excited with the Wildrose. As many have said before, people want something to vote for rather than against. The Wildrose just cant seem to bring itself into that generally inspiring position.  

Kenney’s move is a gamble. Many things may happen that will derail the effort. Still, Kenney is offering the best long term plan that I have seen yet and I will do what I can to aid in it’s success. Notley is dependent on the right remaining in shambles and we just cant afford to keep letting her win this way.  

I need to get a Progressive Conservative t-shirt now.

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Wildrose Party 2014 AGM summary.

Every party has ups and downs and challenges and turnovers. This year has been a challenging one for the party and we had many things to try and figure out going into our AGM this year. While we were disappointed in not winning the general election in 2012, we still saw progress in that we had certainly grown and had gone from a handful of seats to a respectable opposition party in the legislature. This year’s test was in the four by-elections held last month and our showing was simply disappointing. To be blunt, if we couldn’t win at least one seat in those by-elections in light of the years of profound mismanagement by our governing party, we really have no hope in hell of forming government in 18 more months in a general election. The losses led to some kneejerk responses from party leadership and some heavy internal party squabbling as the party loyal tried to grasp what had just happened and why. Tensions that had been quietly building before the by-elections began to openly erupt as we saw a caucus member sent on his way and we saw all sorts of social media eruptions from both inside and outside the party.

While all of that negativity is not pleasant to see, there is a silver lining in that it made the powers that be in the upper levels of the party more receptive to listening and changing than they have been in quite awhile and it was reflected at the AGM. The AGM itself was a success in the exchanging of ideas and communications between the members and the managers. Time will now tell if whether the communications were taken to heart. It is promising though seeing a broad questionnaire included in every package for attendees (though not promoted well) and the reverse bear-pit was excellent.

For the first time since the founding of the party I was unavailable for the Friday portion of the AGM. I am of a mind that AGMs should shift to a Saturday/Sunday format but I do understand that some folks would take exception to that and it really isn’t a huge deal. It does make it tougher for folks employed full time to attend the whole meeting. From what I heard the hospitality suites were quite lively as usual and while I did miss participating in them, it was nice not being hung over for the Saturday portion of the AGM. I did watch Danielle Smith’s keynote speech live from home. The full text of that speech can be found here.

One thing that struck me right away was the choice of Tim Dyck and Cheryl Phaff to MC the AGM. Both of them are long term grassroots members who hold volunteer positions in the party. This helped demonstrate a recognition that some members are becoming uncomfortable with a perception that paid staff are calling all shots within the party. While the party needs managerial reform in a real way, the little symbols like this go a long way too.

Danielle Smith’s keynote speech

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There were mixed reviews on Danielle’s speech. I think overall it was pretty good but one of the key points was poorly communicated in it. When Danielle began to speak on how media was not covering our positive initiatives well, I slapped my head. There are few things worse to watch than political types blaming the media for their own failures and if nothing else it tends to piss off an already fickle element in the media which will make coverage even more unfavorable. In expanding further, we could see that Danielle was segueing into encouraging us to communicating more directly on the ground with people rather than trying to rely on media. It was pointed out how press events where we were exposing a scandal with the PC party would be jammed with reporters while when we put out a positive release with a policy plan we can’t find a reporter to save our lives. This is not so much a shot at the media (though some interpreted it as such) as it is just facing and pointing out the reality in conventional media. Positive policy statements while productive are dull while scandals sell newspapers and bring in viewers. Media are bound by having to report on what is broadly viewed as interesting which is understandable. This has led to the consequence that the Wildrose only ever gets broad public coverage when a negative event is happening however and that gives folks the impression that we are chronically negative.

What I am interpreting here is that Danielle Smith was not so much trying to attack or blame media as she was trying to encourage us to spread our positive messages ourselves and at a ground level. This will entail developing our constituency presences (something that has been sorely lacking) and speaking to people at the doors and on the streets. This also means being more positive and proactive on social media whether through blogs, twitter, facebook or any of the other platforms. We need to fix our ground game and modern communications give us great opportunities to do so if we would properly utilize them. It will be in direct communications with Albertans that we will win their support rather than expecting conventional media to do that job for us. One positive experience at a doorstep will have more influence on a voter than 100 positive editorials. We need to get out there and create those positive experiences.

That whole interpretation of mine though took some thinking and reading into the speech. I am not sure if the keynote speech was the best place to try and communicate that kind of initiative and it left things open for people to portray it as a petty attack on media. Many on social media took to mocking Danielle’s light reference to appointing “fun police” as well. It was a simple pair of words used while making the very good point that politics and ground level organizing can be fun if we want to make it so. It is actually important that we do so. It is much easier to draw volunteers out when it will be a fun event rather than seeing it as a task or obligation. The Alberta Party demonstrated this excellently as they promoted their Calgary Elbow campaign. They were upbeat and held fun gatherings throughout the campaign. They drew positive and repeat volunteers which led to them having a respectable showing in Elbow despite having 2% support throughout the rest of the province. The ground game is critical and having some fun is key in building it. The other point again learned through this speech though is that we need to communicate directly as simply implying in a speech that we should have fun ended up being mocked and belittled by folks.

What I took from Danielle Smith’s speech was that some humbling has occurred and that she recognizes that we need to build up our member and community presence rather than centralize party control and rely on press releases to get the word out as we had been. Perhaps I am reading too much with optimism from this speech but this is what I gathered from it. It was not the most inspiring, fiery and profound oration to hit a convention floor by any means but it had positive messaging and some ideas that we need to follow through on.

Executive Committee Elections

On Saturday morning we began with one executive candidate speech for the only contested position at this AGM. It turned out that the opponent of the person giving the speech dropped out on Saturday turning the race into an acclamation. That meant there was not a single vote on executive positions. We had recently adopted changes extending terms and staggering their expiries. I think that still has merit but in light of having no members able to vote on EC members this year and many on the EC having been appointed rather than run for their positions, I think something backfired. We need to work on before the next AGM. The member selection of EC members is critical and we need to hold regular races for this. The races add a little competitive zing to the convention which we lacked this year as well.

Reverse Bearpit Session

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This was a refreshing, gutsy and innovative move by the party. A panel of a few elements of the party sat up and asked questions directly of the membership on a number of issues and solicited their concerns. This was purely unvarnished interaction with a full media presence. There was no effort to control messaging here. There was only an honest exercise to get feedback from concerned members.

Sitting on the panel were Danielle Smith, Dave Yager (Party President/Interim Executive Director), Jeff Callaway (VP Fundraising), Kathy MacDonald (Calgary Foothills by-election candidate), Rod Fox (MLA Lacombe Ponoka) and Brian Tiessen (Wildrose nominee Sherwood Park). The panel was modelled to cover the subjects being asked of the membership which were: issues, by-elections, operations and caucus.

On issues members came forward to the microphone and were pretty predictable in saying what motivates them. Healthcare, education and a repeated call to reduce government came in loud and clear. While perhaps unsurprising, a reinforcement being presented to party leadership on how reduction of the size and scope of government is considered a core principle by the active membership is a good thing.

On by-elections we heard stronger concerns. Some members reported a sense of poor organization in the campaigns that they volunteered on and that they were not well utilized as volunteers. One resounding message was that nobody liked the campaign slogan of “send them a message”. It is good to note that the members rejected that theme as well as the electorate. It is too bad this was recognized after the by-elections rather than before but in openly discussing this we can better avoid repeating mistakes. Members (and voters) felt that we simply were too negative in the campaign.

On operations things became more heated. Discontent on the party of the membership with party operations has been growing and I think it was a good idea to let them speak (and vent) on this. Many members wanted a bloodletting on the staff level of the party. It was confirmed that William Mcbeath is no longer in charge of political operations and that Vitor Marciano has been reduced to an advisory role and helping Danielle Smith write speeches. Personally, I think Vitor has been somewhat unfairly tarred by some within the party as the root of problems. Marciano was as key to the growth of the Wildrose to a higher level in these last few years as Danielle Smith has been but the details of that are fodder for a post another time. While Vitor has done some good, it perhaps was time that somebody else moved in. Marciano’s style did chafe with many in the membership and they expressed this.

In operations, multiple members spoke up on how terrible communications with the central party has been. Stories of repeated requests for documents, records or even simply advice languishing in party voicemail were related to the panel by frustrated members. It seemed no small coincidence that communications seemed at their worst when Constituency Association members tried to get nomination information.

Outside of communications, nominations were a huge elephant in the room. Multiple frustrated members again came to the microphone and spoke up on issues of party interference in their nomination processes and utter lack of communication on it. The response from the panel was unfortunately utterly disappointing on this one. When asked direct questions on nominations Danielle sidetracked into a speech about how a committee of MLAs is being formed to seek and recruit new nominees. That had utterly nothing to do with the question on party interference in nominations, in fact it implies that they want to take the recruitment process even further out of the hands of constituents. The party’s record on nominations so far has been abhorrent with nearly half of all nominations done over 90% of nominees were either acclaimed or appointed. Further nominations have now been deferred until January and I do hope that is because the party wants to repair the currently broken process. While the response on the spot was disappointing, I do hope the panel was at least listening and plans to come up with something better. The nomination mess is undercutting CAs and general volunteer morale in a terrible way and will bite the party’s ass hard if nothing changes.

On caucus little was said by members. I take that to mean they are pretty content with that. Some folks took the microphone to go on their own pet diatribes and some did some unproductive bitching but as a whole I think the reverse bearpit went very well.

Policy

The policy discussions were well organized and went quite smoothly. The system of having constituency associations rank policy proposals worked well in filtering out the more important from the less pressing proposals. There is room to work on getting more CAs to participate in the rankings and perhaps in the numbering system but it worked as well as it could. Our constitution allows any 5 members to bring forth a policy proposal and when I was VP policy we literally had proposals in the hundreds one year. These proposals simply must be pared down as not enough time exists at any AGM to debate them all. Tim Dyck’s organization of this was as good as any I have seen to date.

Discussion was typically well controlled. Three were allowed to speak for and three against before a vote was held on any policy. Something that was interesting was how many policies came to a pretty close vote requiring counting. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing to be honest. I found myself torn on voting on a number of policies as I saw good points made on both sides. For the most part, there was little of controversy in our policy formulation.

We did manage to create some controversy for ourselves by regurgitating a failed policy proposal that wanted to try and identify each and every conceivable minority group on the planet and recognize their rights while replacing our current policy which already supports the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in full and the rights of ALL people being equally protected. This vote was not even close and members resoundingly supported the protection of rights for all as is already in our policies.

The differences are laid out here on Jane Morgan’s site. No sense reproducing all the details on this faux-controversy here. The bottom line is that some tall foreheads decided to ensure that the folks playing gotcha politics could find some sort of issue to try and paint the party as being intolerant and they gave them one. The Wildrose Party’s policies were inclusive and protected the rights of all the day before yesterday and they still do today. Rejecting foolish and divisive identity politics being enshrined in policy is not bigotry, it is common sense. It should be noted that not a single party sitting in the legislature lists all groups for protection in their policies either. The Wildrose policies on this are the same as the NDP, PCs and Liberals essentially. There is no controversy or intolerance here despite some trying to create it.

Constitution

The constitutional discussions went much like the policy ones. Pretty smoothly with good debate. The bar for constitutional change is higher than policy in that we need 75% in order to change something as opposed to 50% in policy.

Some housekeeping changes were made and some proposals were rejected. One proposal that would have reduced party interference in nominations won the support of the majority of the room but still fell short of the requisite 75%. Such is democracy. Perhaps next year.

The whole of section 9 of the party constitution was removed after some debate. The notions in section 9 were perhaps well meaning but in reality were unfeasible in the constitution. Section 9 called for party control over caucus actions. This clashes with proper government representation and simply could not remain in our constitution. The section was removed and we continue to grow up.

One proposal to enshrine our commitment to the protection for human rights for all was supported by about 98% of the room in a vote too so the party have reiterated commitment to human rights on more than one level now. It will still never be enough for some of course.

After constitution we had what I saw as a positive and standard sort of closing speech from party President David Yager.

The AGM as a whole was a success. No huge changes were made and people did not come out screaming with enthusiasm and ready to take on the world. A great deal of communication and open party introspection happened though and this is important. The Wildrose Party needs to reform itself and grow further and having frank sort of meetings like this is a step on the way there. The meeting this year definitely had a theme of listening on the part of party leadership. They listened indeed, now we will see if they truly heard us.

Informal AGM initiatives

On Friday evening a young party activist disappointed with the on again/off again leadership review idea handed out a parody “wiltedrose” ballot to members. It was not generally well received. Guess he made a point all the same and that is part of the game.

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A paper was distributed to gather more support for Rod Fox’s upcoming motion 501 on property rights.

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Most funny and sad was an initiative by supporters of Randy Thorsteinson who placed one of these under every vehicle in the parking lot calling for the formation of a Reform Party (how original) with what appears to be a very unapologetically socially conservative and anti-abortion platform. Aside from a facebook group formed a few months back, I don’t think he is really getting anywhere with this but he may at least draw a few of the less moderate away from the Wildrose. Good luck Randy.

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