How to remove the Notley NDP from power in Alberta!

parties

My last two postings have been dedicated to exposing Crazy George Clark’s “kudetah” movement for being the impossible dream that it is. No matter how much Clark and some of his supporters want to rail and rave about petitioning or going to the Queen with some misguided, perceived loophole in the elections act, they simply will not be unseating the legitimately and democratically elected NDP government led by Notley.

People are fearful and frustrated with the highly ideological government that Alberta accidentally elected thanks to a collective revulsion to the two right of center parties that Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice created with their gross opportunism. That has led them to seek unconventional ways to change the government and kooks like George Clark are more than happy to lead them down the garden path.

When confronted with the reality that our government will not be unseated by a petition, some of Clark’s supporters often indignantly ask “Well what are we supposed to do? Just sit around and wait for 3.5 more years??”

The answer to that is yes and no. Yes, we will have to wait 3.5 to 4.5 more years to unseat Notley. No, you do not have to nor should you just sit around and wait. In fact, if you do nothing but sit around, Notley will likely win another term.

The way to remove the Notley government from power is pretty straightforward. Notley has to lose the next election. Nothing less.

Our political system is a partisan one. Elections are not always won with the best ideas (though I wish it were so). Elections are won by parties that present those ideas in the most palatable way to the largest segment of the voting electorate. Like it or not, this means that we have to work within the partisan system. That means joining and supporting a party whether financially or with personal effort or both.

The vast majority of Albertans do not belong to political parties. That means that a tiny minority controls these parties one of which will always form government. There is nothing unfair or wrong about this. It simply means that people need to quit abdicating their role in a participatory democracy and start actually participating, even between elections.

I don’t expect a majority of Albertans to ever join political parties or participate in them. I do hope that more people do though as it really is critical to all of our well being.

One huge hurdle that people encounter when considering participating in partisan politics is simply wondering where to begin and what is involved. There really are no simple guides to getting involved or what obligations and tasks would be expected.

I joined my first political party right at the beginning of the 90s as a young, long haired guy who bought a membership from a guy named Preston Manning who was standing in a small booth at the exhibition of the Calgary Stampede promoting the Reform Party. I was thrilled with this little card that arrived in the mail but hadn’t a clue what it meant or what I could do with it. Over years attending local meetings and volunteering in campaigns I learned a great deal and have never been without one party membership or another in my wallet. I like most others went into partisan membership blindly though.

I am going to write on some of the basics of party membership in Alberta. This will be dull to those who are already familiar with party politics (and maybe dull to those who aren’t), but I would like to get a basic guide and resource out there on the interwebs for folks who may be considering getting involved with a party. This will be the closest I come to being non-biased on here.

Choose a party

This is likely the toughest step of them all. Every party of note will have a detailed web site and contact information. No party of note will hesitate to answer all of your questions quickly as they all want to grow their active membership.

Every registered party in Alberta can be found at the Elections Alberta website.

The parties vary very widely in ideology. Careful research is required but as mentioned earlier, their web presence makes it easy to get a general idea of what they stand for.

Buy a membership

How much or how little a person wants to participate in a party is totally up to the individual of course. The first step in participation is being a member.

Every party has a membership system. The cost of a membership can vary from $5 per year to $40 that I saw with one small party once. I think $10 per year is pretty much the standard these days. Most parties provide online membership sales or at least an address where a cheque could be mailed and a membership purchased.

The entitlements that come with membership vary party by party. In some parties, the leader is chosen in a one member, one vote system. That means you could vote in the next leadership election. Other parties use delegation systems but your membership will allow you to influence the delegates sent to a leaders convention through participating in local meetings. Other party members will happily explain to new members how it works. Every party has a constitution or set of bylaws that governs their operation. In those documents one can find out their limits and powers as an individual member as well.

One of the most important things that comes with a membership is the ability to participate in the selection of your local nominee for the next election. In most parties, a nomination race is held and local members can vote to select who will represent them in the next election. This is a very direct and local way to influence your local representation. Nomination races have been abused by parties and sometimes candidates are appointed by parties for reasons of either political expediency or a lack of a local organization.

Get involved with your local constituency association

In our system, constituency associations are semi-independent, organizational units that are essentially the hub for local election preparation. The associations are guided by their own bylaws which are typically set by the central party. The size and organization of constituency associations can vary from literally nothing to managing thousands of members with dozens of local directors. Larger parties will have contact information for each constituency. Smaller parties may require contacting the central party to find out who your local organizers are if indeed there are any in a formal association.

Assuming a constituency association is active, they will be holding an annual general meeting at some time or another. This is a great time to get involved as the general membership is open to attend and one can see as well as participate in the governance of their association. The first thing one should ask upon joining is when the next meeting is. Many associations hold other events as often as monthly or quarterly that are open to members as well.

A constituency association is often essentially a micro version of the central party organization. There will be a President and a number of other Vice President or directors roles. This depends on the bylaws set out by the party. These roles are usually filled at general meetings and are directly elected by the members of the constituency association. Even the largest parties often have trouble filling these roles and it is often pretty easy to get into a formal role within the association. These are great opportunities to get into the nuts and bolts of the local operation and to get a line on party activities an communications.

The prime role of constituency associations is to prepare to win the local seat for the party. This involves fundraising, local promotion and the selection of a local candidate. The foundation for a campaign team in an election will usually come from the constituency association as well. If one wants to get involved in campaigning (one of the more fun roles in politics), the constituency association is the best place to start learning and perhaps seeking a role in the upcoming campaign.

Depending on the party structure, sometimes only delegates can attend the annual general meeting of the main party. These delegates are usually selected by the constituency board and they will be responsible for representing your constituency when policy is proposed at party general meetings and can vote when the party executive is selected at the general meeting. Some parties allow all members to attend the annual general meeting and allow all to vote on these things.

Constituency associations are usually tasked with finding candidates for the coming election and with managing the nomination race for that role. Nomination races can be some of the most divisive and haywire activities within a party. Emotions can run high and factions can break out that can harm the constituency locally or even the party as a whole. When I served terms on the provincial executive with my provincial party, nothing gave me more grey hairs than the efforts to put out fires lit by rough and tumble nomination meetings. I can think of a few provincial constituency associations that are still a mess today due to ugly nomination meetings over six years ago. As with most things though, the more the merrier. If constituency associations have a lot of dedicated, rational and working members, the nomination meetings can be kept civil. It takes a lot of work.

Central party involvement

The degree of involvement with the central party that an individual can have depends on the constitution and bylaws of the party. The party operations are governed by the provincial executive. Caucus is usually somewhat independent of party governance (or should be) but should be guided by the general principles and policies of the party. The leader’s office is often something of an entity in itself as well.

The party executive is made up of a President, a Treasurer, a Secretary and then a number of other director/Vice President roles depending on the party constitution. In some parties these roles are directly elected by the members at an annual general meeting while others select their executive committee through a delegate system. Some parties will allow any member in good standing to run for an executive position while others have a different process to get nominated for those positions. It will take consultation with your local representative and reading the party constitution in order to learn the process.

The party executive oversees the constituency associations and manages the general operations of the party. Fundraising, communications and management of the membership of the party falls under the role of the executive. Setting up for an annual general meeting and the management of the policy proposals comes through the party executive as well. If one aspires to get directly involved with party management, getting a role on the provincial executive is the way to go. It is thankless and often frustrating but those roles are critical and can be exciting at times.

The roles one can take on within a party are myriad and the dedication of time and resources that an individual can put in is nearly infinite. While having a larger active membership can make party management and movement cumbersome and complex at times, it remains a better way to help ensure good policy and governance from that party.

If a person wants to make an impact in the next provincial election beyond casting a vote, joining and participating in a party is the best route to doing that. I know there are independent candidates and other types of groups that work to influence the electorate and they certainly serve a role too. Reality dictates that only organized parties will take power in an election and becoming a member in one of those parties is the important first step in having an influence on them.

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Put faith in the wisdom of the membership.

Well, it has been an interesting few weeks. There had been an effort on the part of an element of the Wildrose Party to bypass the party constitution and limit who may or may not run for positions on the provincial executive committee. With inquiries, investigation and finally exposure, this misguided procedure was rescinded and we again have a constitutionally sound process in place for members to pursue positions on the executive committee.

While nobody will directly admit to having drafted the initial offending application document, one justification often trotted out has been “We need to filter out people who may do damage to the party”. That is a good intent indeed but good intent still does not allow us to bypass our constitution.

It is worth discussion and examining though if we do need a layer of vetting candidates seeking spots on the executive committee. Should the process be changed at all though, the party constitution will have to be amended at another general meeting with appropriate notice having been given. It is tough to amend the constitution (and it should be). An amendment to the party constitution needs 75% support at a general meeting so the amendment had better be well drafted if it is going to be accepted by the membership.

Now where do we begin with setting bars for who may or may not run for an executive committee position in the party?

Some people quickly say that a criminal record should be enough to bar somebody from seeking a position on the provincial executive. OK, to begin with we will need a much longer application process in order for a newly empowered nominating committee to do a criminal background check on every potential nominee. Now when we are speaking of criminal records, is it really fair to decline somebody based on any conviction over every period of time? If a person was caught with 1/2 a joint in their pocket in 1983 should they be banned for life from running for positions in the party? A bar brawl in 1975? Attempted murder in 1999? I don’t think simply setting the bar at a person having had a criminal record will cut it.

If one is going to put weight on the type of record and the time since the conviction, we will need a document the size of an encyclopedia set in order to lay out the guidelines. If we ban all with any record though, does one honestly think that if we had a regional zone director who had been charged with possessing a joint in the 1980s would cause a scandal bringing the party into disrepute? It gets tough.

What about disallowing somebody for behavior unbecoming. That bar would open a huge can of worms as a committee, a potential nominee and their supporters try to fight that out. What could that behaviour be? What about my stunt in Olympic Plaza last year? Would my having done that preclude me from running for a position (don’t worry I am still not seeking one)? Would participation in other types of protests block applicants? Would having been critical of some elements or actions of the party be reason enough to bar a person from running? Setting such a subjective bar could really make for a mess.

Let’s  get to everybody’s favorite example in this though. Most can agree that Alan Hunsperger and his infamous “Lake of Fire” blog posting seriously derailed our campaign last spring. What some people are forgetting though is that Hunsperger passed through a candidate selection process that went through a committee that was empowered to disallow his candidacy based on all of the above bars I spoke of. The reason Hunsperger slipped through the cracks is that like our current Party President, he was acclaimed in his position and never had to endure the scrutiny of the membership in a race for his position.

Had there been a contested race for the nomination in Hunsperger’s constituency, you can bet that a challenging candidate would have deeply researched his opponent and found things such as questionable blog postings. If the other candidate does not check that deeply, members deciding who to vote for in the nomination will still look into things. Most party members want to make an informed choice. There is no guarantee of course that a nomination would have exposed these things, but we know for sure that a strongly empowered nominating committee seemed to have missed them.

We may need to set some bars somewhere but it has to be understood that this is no easy task and can be terribly risky in making room for some less than democratic minded groups to mess with board elections.

One of the pivotal points in the Wildrose Party history was the merger of the Alberta Alliance Party and the Wildrose group to form the party that we have today. At the new organization’s first general meeting where a new provincial executive was to be elected, a group of questionable merit tried to get a slate elected to the executive committee. As can be seen in the outcome though, the gathered membership rejected every single person on that slate! The membership can be trusted to make wise decisions when given the opportunity.

What the Wildrose Party needs to do to ensure good people fill roles of authority within the party is to open up the process further as opposed to narrowing the scope of applicants. The more people we see contesting executive committee positions, the more likely that the membership will select good representatives. Unlike this year, we need to announce earlier when meetings are coming and seek out people to run for spots. We need campaigns where prospective board members have to convince party members of their merit and what they can bring to the management of the party.

While the provincial executive committee is very important and empowered within the party, it also has to be considered that it is not a terribly public role. Can you name 5 members of the PC party executive off hand? Can you name 5 Wildrose Party executive members? Aside from inside wonks, most people at large don’t pay close attention to people in these roles. It does not make headline news if one of a party’s executive members turns out to have a criminal record or has done something weird in their past. It is not like provincial election candidates with the public scrutiny and fallout if there are issues.

We must take care to get the best people we can managing our party. If given the chance, the collected membership will pick the best nearly every time. Let’s make sure the membership always retains that choice and be extremely careful should we chose to walk down the road in examining limitations to participation in any role in the party.

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Good news and bad news.

The good news is that the Wildrose Party finally openly announced the location and time of the 2012 AGM.

Information may be found here and there is a great early-bird rate that I strongly suggest people take advantage of.

The bad news is that the powers that be seem to still have utterly no understanding of what is a grassroots based party or even what the constitutional obligations are as a party. The “application” form for executive nominations in the party is almost offensive in it’s tone and nature and in my view is in total conflict with the very constitution of the party.

I guess it is time to walk down the constitutional road and explain to some party staffers just how it bloody works.

Here is a link to the party constitution. I strongly recommend that it be read and even more strongly recommmend that it be abided by.

The constitution of a party is critical and while dry the importance of the constitution simply can’t be understated. The constitution is what ensures that the party exists to serve the members and Albertans as opposed to the self-interest of small groups. That is why self-interested small groups constantly try to whittle away at member-empowering constitutions by the way.

To begin with the constitution clearly states where the authority of the party lies in section 5.1:

“5.1 The governance of the Party shall reflect the following principles:

5.1.1 Authority within the Party resides in its members.

5.1.2 The Leader and Executive Committee are accountable to members of the Party and the Caucus.

5.1.3 The Caucus is accountable to the Party and to their constituents.”

 Now it is clearly established that authority within the party resides in it’s members.

The way the members can exercise that authority is through the direct nomination and election of the Executive Committee of the party. That is why AGMs are so important and it is why top-down sorts put off AGMs as much as possible.

The qualifications for running for an executive position within the Wildrose Party are very basic as the party has a grassroots constitution and wants to keep the positions open to as many applicants (to the membership) as possible. They are as such:

“7.2 Not less than ninety (90) days prior to any Annual General Meeting of the Party, the Executive Committee shall create the Nominating Committee, consisting of three (3) members. It shall be the duty of this committee to nominate candidates for the officer positions to be filled at the Annual General Meeting. Candidates for officer positions and all officers must be members in good standing of the Party. The Nominating Committee shall report to the Executive Committee prior to the notice of the Annual General Meeting being sent to all members, and such report shall be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting. Nominations may also be made by any member up to sixty-five (65) days prior to the date of the Annual General Meeting, and such nominations shall also be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting.”

The only limitation on running for an executive position within the Wildrose Party is that a candidate be a member in good standing with the party. Nothing more nor should there be. Aside from that it is up to the collected membership to decide who best will serve in those roles.

Now here is where the horsecrap from the party begins. On the party website is a link to an application form for executive positions.  This is a very deep and intensive application form and it demands right in the beginning that it be filled out completely. Sorry folks, the party is in no place to make such demands. As per the constitution the applicant only needs to demonstrate that they are a member in good standing of the party.

Now at the bottom of the form it demands that applicants sign off their party rights to the nominating committee (whoever they are) who may refuse the application for any reason that they may see fit. Sorry folks but that is simply horseshit on many levels.

“1. Acknowledge and agree that the AGM Nominating Committee has the authority to disallow my candidacy on any grounds it sees fit, and whose decision shall be final and binding and not further appealed or challenged.”

So candidates are expected to sign off authority to an un-named and appointed committee who may reject their application for any reason that fits their fancy. Think about that.

If this application is to be believed, authority within the party rests with an appointed committee as opposed to the membership as the constitution states.

This is utterly unacceptable and in my view possibly even actionable.

Look, I understand that grassroots politics can and will be messy. I know that some wingnuts will apply for executive positions. Trust has to be placed in the collected membership to choose the best person at the AGM!

The application form states that this information will aid the committee in vetting candidates. Lets be clear here, the committee has utterly no authority to vett candidates aside from ensuring that they are members in good standing of the party!

At the last AGM the committee not only vetted, it openly endorsed candidates!

I have documented at length on how the last provincial executive could barely even meet by teleconference five times in an election year. Considering that many on that board were acclaimed by the committee and endorsed by them, I would say they do a pretty piss poor job of vetting and endorsing anyway.

The purpose of the nominating committee is simply to ensure that all roles have applicants and that all are members in good standing. Nothing more!

Wildrose members! Speak up! Call the office at: 1.888.262.1888 (though while there is an army of staff they rarely answer).

Call your CA President and call Danielle Smith. Call Paul Collins if you can find him.

If we let go of control as members, than the whole exercise as a grassroots party has been pointless.

 

 

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How about a date?

In my last posting I covered how the Wildrose Party needs to earn the trust of Albertans and how the party could make great strides in that regard if they acted more openly and trustworthy with their own affairs.

That posting was inspired by the growing controversy and discussion happening around an interview that Danielle Smith had a little while ago where it appeared that Smith may be taking some liberties in statements on policy positions and policies without prior member input.

Danielle Smith’s musings in that interview led to concerns being expressed from some socially conservative members within the party as well as those who (like myself) are very committed to maintaining a member driven and controlled means of policy formulation. Danielle is indeed most entitled to her views but when speaking for the party she  is indeed obligated to speak for the party, not herself.

Now what most people have agreed upon is that there certainly will be some rousing and important discussion at the Wildrose Party’s next AGM. It has been a pivotal election year and many things have been learned. Now it is time for the Wildrose Party to gather it’s membership and to discuss as a whole how we plan to move forward as a party that is both serving in official opposition and aspiring to form government down the road.

I like to think I am generally pretty tapped into many inside sources with the party and have heard multiple rumors about where the date and the venue of the party’s next AGM ranging from October 2012-April 2013 and at locations from Red Deer to Edmonton to even Canmore for crying out loud.

The Wildrose Party website is devoid of information and nobody is officially speaking up. This should be a simple thing should it not? You schedule a meeting and you hold the damn thing. The word “annual” in the name should ease the stress of wondering how often one should hold these sorts of things.

The date and location of an Annual General Meeting is hardly any sort of proprietary secret and there is no real good reason (on the surface) that such information should be withheld from members. It has been about 14 months since the last AGM as of this posting by the way.

This made me dig yet a little more deeply. According to the constitution of the Wildrose Party, despite being named an AGM, an annual general meeting needs only to be held every two years.  Unfortunately this leads to quite a conundrum as technically the Wildrose Party is a society bound by the rules of the Alberta Societies Act which states that an Annual General Meeting is (wait for it…….) an annual obligation under section 25.  The constitution of the party is trumped by the societies act here.

Now some hair splitting may be done here and the meeting potentially can wait until the 18 month period. That does mean according to the Party Constitution that notice must be given to members 120 days before the date of the AGM if policies and constitutional changes are to be contemplated.  Now I know that I as a member have not gotten this notice nor have I heard of any other members getting it. The clock is ticking rather quickly on this one.

Another oddball clause with the Party AGMs covers the nominations for the executive. I will quote the whole thing below:

7.2 Not less than 90 days prior to any annual general meeting of the Party, the Executive Committee shall create the Nominating Committee consisting of three members. It shall be the duty of this committee to nominate candidates for the officer positions to be filled at the Annual General Meeting. Candidates for officer positions and all officers must be members in good standing of the Party. The nominating committee shall report to the Executive Committee prior to the notice of the Annual General Meeting being sent to all members and such report shall be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting. Nominations may be made by any member up to 65 days prior to the date of the annual general meeting and will be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting.

That statement is quite a mouthful. Now what is really concerning here is that one can’t be nominated past 65 days before the meeting yet the notice of the Annual General Meeting can be as little as 60 days if there is not to be policy discussion. This sort of makes it difficult for people to know if, how or when people may consider nominations for the board. This complexity is no mistake.

It may be noted that no directions for the pursuit of executive positions are available on the website and I assure you not everybody reads the entire constitution of political parties. It is conceivable that a 60 day notice could be issued and nobody of course aside from those personally chosen or somehow discovered by the committee (no information on how to reach this hypothetical committee) will be able to run for executive spots.

At last year’s AGM, only one person from the prior executive ran for re-election. The rest including myself gave up on the party board and did not run again. That should ring alarm bells to many in itself. Why would none of the executive members want to run for the position again when the party was growing so strongly at the time? That issue in itself is worthy of another likely long blog posting soon as it is part of another problem within the Wildrose Party at the management level. Now this led to a pile of acclaimed and weakly contested positions for top executive positions within the party as nobody even knew how to even find the committee in charge. On top of it all; the few contested executive positions that there were actually had asterisks indicating party endorsement for certain people next to their names!! The party committee actually took sides and made endorsements for the executive positions. This is reprehensible and completely contrary to grassroots principles. Still sadly, we let it slide. Nobody wanted to rock the boat on the way to a potential election.

Now with all of the above issues, what the Wildrose Party gained in the last AGM was an executive board that was handpicked and proved itself to be ineffective and neutered. No longer did the powers that be have to contend with an uppity board as the prior one was which gave up and did not run again. Executive meetings since the last election have been rare and essentially pointless as the party executive has allowed (or been built) to marginalize itself.

We have less than four years here people and if the Wildrose Party is going to get it’s crap together it needs to start now. People have been engaged by the populist appearance and apparent principles of the party. For the most part those principles and goals exist among the membership. The main means of empowerment for the membership is the election of the party executive. This is how the members may participate and retain control of the party and policy direction even if some staffers and the odd MLA feel that the membership is a hindrance.

The constitution empowers the members of the Wildrose Party and for good reason.

In order for the members to participate though, we need a mandate and a date for a general meeting at the least.

Should it be this hard to find out when an AGM is and what will be on the agenda? It has been over a year since the last one and months have passed since the election.

If the members of the Wildrose Party can’t control the direction of the party, then the party is indeed no better than the PCs. The Wildrose will simply be another facade of populism with an autocratic reality.

The Wildrose Party has stridently demanded fixed election dates in Alberta. Pretty sad that the party can’t set even it’s own AGM dates.

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What the Wildrose Party needs to do is build trust.

People can point to all sorts of individual things in the last provincial election and blame them for the Wildrose Party’s failure to convince Albertans to elect them to government. The conscience rights policy made many people uncomfortable and Edmonton candidate Alan Hunsperger’s candid thoughts from an old blog post were outright offensive to most people upon hearing them. Any party that has 87 candidates, tens of thousands of members and hundreds of policies will have some questionable people speaking up now and then and will have some policies that simply stink. If a party has gained the trust of the electorate in general that party can withstand hiccups caused by some individuals within it and from poor policies.

With enough digging, we can rest assured that every major party has some crackpots within it’s ranks and some policies on their books that simply do not do them any favors. The PCs had a Calgary candidate who’s comments on ethnic issues paled in comparison to Leech’s awkward musings. The NDP had a candidate who was one of the main organizers of the Olympic Plaza illegal squatting last fall. The Liberals had to rush to fill candidate vacancies and it is a safe bet that a few of those names they used on ballots were less than rational. The reason that these things did not damage the other parties as they did the Wildrose Party is that Albertans know the other parties and can feel comfortable in writing off the actions of a few individuals and ignoring some outlying policies.

People in Alberta were clearly ready for change in the last election and it showed in the first three weeks of the campaign. Albertan’s can and will embrace grassroots populism as we saw with Reform throughout the 90s. Still though, the Wildrose Party was a relative unknown to the majority of Albertans and this made the popular support from the electorate very fragile. When the oddball people and policies popped up, voters got uncomfortable and retreated back to the devil they knew in the final days of the election. Polls can’t measure floating trust and comfort levels thus they completely dropped the ball in the last election.

Unfortunately the temptation is strong to further centralize actions and decision making within a party when things like this happen. Some people feel that the nominations should be more tightly controlled by the central party and candidates gagged even further. The Wildrose Party shamelessly messed with many nominations prior to the election. That offensive meddling with constituency choice caused great strain between constituency associations and the central party. When there is mistrust between the members themselves and the central party, you can rest assured that this discomfort spreads to the electorate at campaign time.

The Wildrose needs to strengthen it’s constituency associations and empower them further rather than meddle further with their choices of candidates. Will the constituencies make some poor choices in candidates at times? Yes they sure will. We can rest assured though that the central party can pick some dogs too. If they constituencies truly choose their candidates though in an open process, it makes it clear that each candidate is simply one of 87. It is much more difficult to label the entire party based on the actions of individuals when it is clear that the individual only represents one portion. When the central party takes direct part in candidate selection, than the party indeed will wear the actions of those candidates as a whole. In building trust we need people working in communities on the ground, not further centralization.

Party policy is of course another huge issue. Rick Bell with the Calgary Sun  just reported on an interview that Danielle Smith recently did on a lesbian website called “I dig your girlfriend”.

Some quotes and attitudes that came from Danielle in that interview are somewhat disturbing. It is clear as day that the Wildrose needs to revisit and reform some of it’s policies and of course there is nothing wrong with a leader saying that. It is the tone of Smith speaking as if these policy changes are a done deal and she will essentially tell us as members what we will be choosing as a stance or policy in the future with statements like: “Now that the decision has been made I’ll leave it at that,” and then following with “I’ll indicate that to my party as well.” (in regards to the funding of elective procedures such as gender reassignment in the public health system).

Ms. Smith, I do hope that you understand that the party indicates their policy wishes to you and not the other way around. I understand that a leader has to make some tough stances on issues and can’t consult with the membership every time an issue surfaces. The tone and attitude here though suggests that some areas are simply closed to member discussion and her word is final. I do hope that I am mistaken in this.

Year after year we have seen our party AGMs focus more on video and light displays with less attention being paid to policy. At our last AGM the video screens were fantastic but only a scant few hours were dedicated to member policy discussion over the entire weekend. That AGM lost nearly $90,000 as the $250 per ticket cost discouraged grassroots members from attending something that was more akin to a rock concert than a political party deliberating on important issues such as policy. Turnout was embarrassingly dismal for a party that was seen as a growing force. Perhaps has a couple more hours been dedicated to policy discussion, the membership may have taken more time to consider whether conscience rights were a viable policy option. As it was, policy discussions were rushed through with little meditation on the part of the collected membership.

Effort has been made to centralize control within the Wildrose Party in the last few years and this has led to a growing sense of discomfort and distrust within the party membership. I saw that mistrust starkly in the campaign that I worked with as the candidate did not even want to share his polling results with the party for fear that the list would be abused for central fundraising. It is tough to build a sense of unity and optimism among a campaign team in that atmosphere and even tougher for that team to spread that to the electorate in 28 days.

Leading and managing a grassroots party is damn tough. The headaches are endless as CAs go rogue, infighting happens and mixed messages get out. Despite those challenges, the way to earn that precious trust that the party so dearly needs will be by opening up rather than introverting. We need well attended public policy meetings that are open and take time in their deliberations. We need early nominations so candidates can get to know their constituents personally in years leading to an election. We essentially need to stick to our party bylaws which clearly lay all that out anyway and speak out every time somebody wants to try and bypass the will of the members.

Leading also means standing up for the party policies when they come under fire. When a leader begins to sound like they will say or do anything for a vote and is willing to throw their founding principles to the wind, trust is lost. The Wildrose lost a great deal of trust that way in the election when the party promoted the vapid and ill-conceived royalty rebate plan. It wasn’t that voters did not like the idea of a few bucks in their pockets, it was that the policy was a clear vote-buy that was in total contradiction of a party that claims fiscal responsibility. It felt disingenous

With 17 great MLAs in opposition and a little less than four years to work on it, the Wildrose Party is very well placed to earn that much needed trust among the electorate before the next election. If the party continues to ignore and sideline the membership however, the Wildrose could turn into a flash in the pan. Alison Redford is already presenting Alberta with a top-down centralized party. Why should that be replicated?

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