Do party policies matter? Yes and no.

We are in a pretty unusual political time in Alberta as the leadership race for the United Conservative Party leadership race develops. We have a brand new spanking entity that is well poised to form the next government of Alberta, yet they do not yet have a single official policy or principle.

A large poll has indicated the vast majority of Albertans would still choose this new party that has no leader and no policies over the Notley NDP if an election were held today. This of course has sent the NDP into abject terror and desperation as they try their hardest to attack the character of the interim leader of the party and even their nascent board of directors in trying to paint them as extreme on the most slim of evidence.

An odd outcome of having no policies has meant that the NDP has no simple target to fire at with the new party that has surpassed them in provincial popularity. The party can’t use a lack of policies to their advantage forever of course. Eventually an AGM will be held where members can choose their official policy and principle set. Until then though, it appears that Albertans are already pretty happy with where they sit politically.

The lack of policies has put the leadership contenders into awkward positions as well. True grassroots conservative principles generally tend to support having member driven policy rather than a top down method where policy is imposed by the leadership. Leadership contenders have the tricky balancing act of trying to define themselves with policy while not crossing the line and stepping on member’s jurisdiction. It is members, not hysteric, indignant NDP supporters on social media who will be choosing the next leader and candidates would be well served to remember that.

Jason Kenney has taken an odd strategy in refusing to take specific policy stances and insisting that he will wait until members define those policies. Doug Schweitzer has taken some very specific economic policy stands and Brian Jean is sort of sitting between the two. Time will tell which approach may be the most successful.

Getting back to the subject at hand, just how important are member driven policies? As a person who served on the provincial executive as VP of Policy with the Wildrose Party for multiple terms I have to admit that they are not nearly as important as we like to think they are.

It is critical that members drive the policy engine in general. Members need not only to feel that their input matters in party direction, they need to see it. In having members build, debate upon and select policies the party can ensure that its actions reflect the majority of the membership.

All the above being said, the leadership of the party and the caucus are not bound by the party membership in any way nor should they be.

There is an ironic contradiction in the principle of conservative member driven policy. Grassroots style ideology always stands in strong support of free voting by MLAs in the legislature. At the same time, many feel that MLAs must act in accordance with the member driven policies. What happens if an MLAs constituents want the member to vote in the legislature in a way that contradicts the policies of the membership? The leader can’t or shouldn’t whip the member to vote one way or the other. That contradicts the principle of free votes as well.

What happens if a piece of legislation hits the floor of the legislature where there is no party policy to guide the reaction of the MLAs and leadership? What happens if issues hit the news that demand that the party take a stance but again there is no specific policy on the books to deal with it?

The party and it’s caucus can’t sit handcuffed on issues while awaiting member input on every issue. This is where leadership takes place and a stance is taken. This may happen with membership consultation, or with caucus consultation or perhaps with none if time does not present itself.

Here is something that members don’t want to hear but its true. Sometimes the membership despite their best intentions simply comes up with some really shitty policies that simply will never be broadly accepted by the electorate. This is a risk with member driven policy as people with specific agendas can at times be very well spoken and very well organized in getting a policy through. Remember, one doesn’t need to sway the entire membership in order to get a policy through. A person needs only to convince the majority of the members attending an AGM and if it is getting near coffee break time, the members will often vote to accept damn near anything in order to get a break from what can be tedious policy discussions.

So what is the point of member driven policies if the party won’t always act upon them?

Policies need to be viewed from something of a higher level. The policies and principles as a whole reflect the direction and flavor of the party and while they will never cover every possible event or instance, they will give a good indication of where the party will move on those issues when they arise. The members truly are the boss and the policy set will draw people to seek nominations who share those sorts of principles. The policy set will always be there to remind the leadership just where the members want to go even if they cant follow it to the letter.

Policy development can be a minefield. It is very unlikely that any specific policy that comes from members will win an election but it is very damned possible that a stinker of a policy could lose an election. Members have to balance ideals with realism when choosing policies and that is a difficult task for any of us.

Hopefully the maiden set of UCP policies is concise yet broad. Prescriptive little policies that try to address every issue on the planet serve little purpose and only add to policy bloat. It is usually easier to add policies than it is to get rid of them and having an encyclopedia of policies only gives opponents ammunition to shoot at you with while leaving you crippled in your potential responses.

The Wildrose Party always kept their policies front and center while it was a long running joke about whether a policy book for the Progressive Conservative Party even existed as they always kept it so well hidden. With the marriage of these two groups lets hope we find a happy medium.

Policies are important but we cant let the specifics become a hill to die on. Albertans are already ready to accept the UCP even without specific policies. We need to fill that void but to remember that broad principles will do the trick. We cant ignore policies nor can we put too much emphasis on them. We will only get one kick at the cat with our founding meeting.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wildrose 2015 AGM policy & constitutional proposals

It is no secret that I am a hard core political wonk nor is it a secret that I am a strong supporter of the Wildrose Party and have served within the party in multiple capacities. While a guy like me sees every AGM as being critical and important, some are more important than others. Due to the recent general election and the incredible disruption and internal change within the party, the 2015 AGM will be one of the most critical and formative ones that we have held in a long time. It is too bad in a bout of paranoia that the party powers that be have banned the media from the AGM!

The Wildrose Party has always prided itself in it’s transparent and open policy formulations. We used to eviscerate the Progressive Conservative Party for their hiding behind closed doors at their AGM. In doing the same thing we have unfortunately become hypocrites which is never a thing to be proud of. Rather than try to hide from or fight with the media, the party should work harder to avoid giving them fodder to chew on. Last August I wrote at length on the conservative tendency towards paranoia when it comes to the media. The media and political parties both need each other. Accept it and work with things with that understanding.

I will be attending the AGM of course. I haven’t missed one in a decade and I wont now. I will be live tweeting from there and I will be writing a full review of what I saw as I have every year for the last few years. I intend to be constructive but rest assured, I will never hesitate to be critical when it is warranted.

A party’s policy set is both important and unimportant in a way. Policies are really just a large set of the guiding principles that have been built by the membership over the course of AGMs. They often get way too specific and are very often prone to bloat as it is often easier to keep adding policies rather than clean up the old ones. The tone and direction of the party are reflected in the policy set which makes them very important. The leader and caucus are however not bound to rigidly follow the policy set nor should they be which reduces the importance of the set when it comes to actual legislation. Local representation and free votes will be lost if all MLAs are suddenly bound to unthinkingly follow a policy set that may not represent changing circumstances or local needs.

Our party constitution has a number of proposals going into this AGM as well and these while often dry, are essential to the efficient and democratic management of the party.

The policy and constitutional proposals were ranked by participating constituency associations and will be presented to the membership at the AGM based on those rankings. It is impossible for the membership to review every possible proposal (some are simply not worth examining) so while imperfect, the ranking system is a good one to help us prioritize and reflect the will of the members.

I will now dig into the dry but important proposals one by one in the order they will be going to the floor. I will be adding my highly biased opinion on them and will be encouraging votes to that effect from the floor of the AGM tomorrow. I only took the top 20 or so as not all of them will be making it to the floor. This post is rambling and long enough as it is.



Ranked policy proposals Wildrose AGM 2015

21. … encourage competition and choice in the delivery of health care, keeping the focus on achieving greater efficiency and better health outcomes for patients.

This proposal ranked right at the top of the policies which is fantastic to see. Unions and other lobby groups have managed to turn our health care system into an utter sacred cow making politicians fear any form of change aside from pouring in more money.

Despite massive increases in health care spending in past decades, our waiting times and outcome are simply not improving. We have to look outside of the box in order to get the best possible health care for our buck. Every universal health system in the world that is surpassing us in outcomes for lest cost per patient (and there are dozens of them) allows a degree of private provision of services. We need to stop people from simplistically shutting down health debate when they imply that only the Canadian and American systems exist and that there is no room to change. Europe is loaded with better systems and we would be fools to keep ourselves from studying and emulating them.

The left will predictably go haywire at such proposals. Let them. We need to start the rationed discussion and as more people die on waiting lists, the public will become more receptive to changes. This policy is a great place to begin and we have 3-4 years to work on how to present that to the electorate.

38. … Conduct a thorough review of the regulations regarding electricity generation, transmission and delivery with a view towards introducing reforms to make these segments more transparent, more competitive and more efficiently regulated and administered than they currently are.

The never ending discussions on electricity deregulation. It has been fodder for rage, conspiracy theories and political ire for nearly two decades now. It is clear that consumers are not winning and it is clear that the deregulation scheme was poorly applied. While returning to full government control of electrical services is likely a poor idea, we do need to study how we can fix the mess that we made in getting government out  (somewhat). This is a good policy.

9. … prohibit spending announcements by the provincial Government during a by election period.

Notley began her legislative term with a hypocritical about face on this issue now that these announcements serve her own needs. This is a good policy. Hypocrisy always costs credibility as I spoke to in the preamble to this post.

22. … take concrete steps to eliminate the fundamental imbalance between Government revenues and expenditures through spending reductions and efficiencies.

This is fluff and bloat. It sounds nice but adds little.  Our policies in general reflect an inclination to reducing government expenditures and eliminating deficits. We can start demonstrating efficiencies in leading through example and not adding this to our policy set.

Change from:

11. … protect parent’s right to choose what school their child attends whether it be public, separate, public charter, private or homeschooling.

To:

11. … Recognize that parents are the primary decision-makers for their children and their children’s education, and protect parent’s right to choose the education their child receives whether it be through public, separate, public charter, private school or homeschooling.*

I am not sure where the proponent of this one is going but have some suspicions. I think our current policy suffices.

 

59. … Investigate the feasibility and manner in which the current Workers Compensation Board (WCB) system can be opened-up to become a transparent and competitive system with the cost and service benefits such a system could deliver in the provision of this vitally important protection of Alberta’s workers.

One thing I have consistently seen over the years in provincial politics is a near universal discontent in how our WCB is administered. I have been fortunate in never needing it and cant speak directly from experience. I don’t know if privatization is the solution here or not but it certainly is worth examination as the status-quo is not cutting it.

11. … Amend the Post-Secondary Learning Act to allow every student to choose whether or not he/she wishes to become a dues-paying member of a student association, in each year of enrollment at a post-secondary education institute.

Could almost call this “right to learn” legislation. Student’s unions are becoming increasingly expensive. The unions are often spending the funds on political initiatives rather than protecting the rights of their students (a good parallel to labor unions). Nothing provides accountability better than giving the membership choice. A great policy.

59. … gradually move public sector employee pension away from defined-benefit plans and towards defined-contribution plans.

This is a great policy and we need to work in this direction. That said, it will have to be done carefully as beneficiaries of the defined benefit plans will fight tooth and nail to keep it despite it being unsustainable. Our unfunded pension obligations on all levels of government are terrifying and we need to change this trend. The word “gradually” in the policy is a good addition.

Change from:

  1. …grant public, separate, and public charter schools more flexibility to offer specialized programs in the trades, arts, music, physical education and business while ensuring all students learn the core aspects of the standard curriculum.

To:

1. …grant public, separate, public charter schools, private schools and homeschooling more flexibility to offer or access specialized programs in the trades, arts, music, physical education and business while ensuring all students learn the core fundamental aspects of the core subjects.

No. Just making a mess here. Take it to the school boards.

26. … Investigate the creation of a Seniors and Disabled Care Allowance program that would give seniors and the disabled Albertans who require assistance for their day to day living the funding and thus the freedom to choose how they wish access that assistance.

People are healthier and happiest when at home. Initiatives that may aid in keeping people at home rather than in hospitals are important. This is worth looking into.

11. … Amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to add postsecondary student associations with mandatory membership to Section 1(j) of the Act.

I think having voluntary membership will be good enough. Transparent unions will draw members.

38. … Conduct a thorough review of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and its regulation with a view towards introducing reforms to make it more efficient and responsive to the needs of both the industry and Albertans as well as linking its funding the activity level of the industry itself.

A review may be a good idea. It is a messy area. We have to be careful to ensure not causing further instability in the industry. I will determine my vote after hearing discussion from the floor.

The Policy and Constitution Committee strike a Member Approved Policy Restructuring Committee with the goal of subdividing the Member Approved Policy Document into two categories: a) No more than 25 overarching policies fundamental to the Party’s philosophy and priorities for future campaigning and enactment, if elected, as the next Government of Alberta

b) The remainder of the existing policies to be streamlined, and consolidated where possible into a more manageable number.

This Member Approved Policy Restructuring Committee will be tasked with consulting members and returning to the 2016 AGM with a Member Approved Policy document restructured as above for approval by the membership. This restructured document will be submitted on the deadline date for policy submissions according to the following timelines:

1) Approval of this resolution at the 2015 AGM

2) If passed, formulation of the Member Approved Policy Restructuring Committee.

3) Review at 2016 Policy Forums for CA members and other highly motivated members

4) Distribution of Restructuring Committee recommendations to CAs and solicitation of CA feedback/comments by August 2016

5) Restructuring Committee iterates the recommended document as it deems appropriate for submission to the membership at the AGM.

6) Voting by membership on the restructured document at 2016 AGM.

This is potentially great or a potential nightmare. I love the concept but question the viability. I say let’s give it a crack! If the committee doesn’t produce an acceptable product in 2016 the members can and will reject it.

16. … take control of the administration, application and interpretation of the Firearms Act with the goal of reducing paperwork and legal hurdles for gun owners in Alberta. The government should also appoint our own Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) and limit what the CFO can do on an arbitrary basis.

Todd Brown has done a great deal of work on this. This option is within provincial jurisdiction and gets some federal meddling out of our hair. I say yes.

 

26. … direct provincial health care dollars towards high quality palliative care.

No. Not saying we don’t need high quality palliative care but we don’t need a fluff policy like this pointing out that we do.

 

4. … Create an Equalization Reform Task Force to investigate the issues surrounding the

Federal Equalization Program with the objective of developing a new equalization

formula that correctly accounts for both provincial revenues and spending and thus is

fair for all Canadians and in doing so strengthens the confederation.

No. Take these issues to your MP.

17. … Allow private enterprise to compete against government essential services and receive the same grants as those provided by government monopolies.

No. I agree with the principle but this is just too vague.

9. … Pass legislation preventing MLAs from crossing directly from one caucus to another; MLAs must sit at least six months as an independent in order to consult with constituents before being eligible to join another caucus.

Absolutely not. Floor crossing is a part of the system we are in. Good leadership prevents floor crossing.

Danielle Smith and her band of fools all found themselves politically unemployed due to floor crossing. That is one of the best ways to prevent it.

The ability to cross the floor keeps party leaders in check.

9. … Pass legislation preventing MLAs from crossing from one caucus to another; MLAs must sit as independents or resign and run in a by-election even if that means their constituency is unrepresented for up to 7 months.

No. See above comments on floor crossing.

Constitutional proposals

Due to years of terrible internal leadership, a culture of mistrust has been fostered within the party between members, the leader’s office and the provincial executive. Central party meddling in nominations was brutal. In some years the provincial executive was neutered and communications were dismal.

This has led many proposals trying to limit caucus power and to strengthen the EC. The party is supposed to be run by the members and this battle is ongoing. The constitution is where all that happens.

8.3 The Leader shall be elected by the members of the Party using a preferential ballot, and must receive a majority. To be entitled to vote in a Leadership Vote a member must have been a member in good standing of the Party for the fourteen (14) days (change to) thirty (30) days immediately prior to the date of the vote.*

This one is sort of tough. Leadership races are good party builders as candidates cross the province and sell memberships. That being said, last minute members can make a mess of a race and I is tough to process them all. Just look at how Redford rented herself to unions in order to win. All in all, I like this proposal and say yes.

Change from:

“Do you want a Leadership Vote to be called?”

To:

“Do you approve of the current Leader?” with the voting options being “Yes” and “No.”

Yes. The earlier way made people vote in the negative while meaning a positive. Lets keep it simple.

Change from:

Nominations shall close seventy (70) days in advance of the Annual General Meeting.”

To:

Nominations shall close thirty-five (35) days in advance of the Annual General Meeting.

Yes. We need more Executive Committee candidates and I know damn well some central party managers want to limit that.

Change period from 90 days to,

6.9.4. a Nominating Committee (if necessary), which must be created not less than one hundred twenty (120) days prior to the Annual General Meeting of the Party

As well as adding on eligibility to serve on committee:

nor are Staff or Caucus members.

8.9 In preparation for a Leadership Vote, the Executive Committee shall appoint a Leadership Rules Committee, the members of which must be members in good standing of the Party and voting members of which may not be members of the Executive Committee.

8.9.1 The Leadership Rules Committee shall establish the rules, procedures and mechanisms according to which the Leadership Vote shall be conducted (“Leadership Selection Rules and Procedures”). These must not be inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, but may provide for appropriate telephonic and computer technology for voting.

8.9.2. The Leadership Rules Committee will be the final authority on disputes related to the Leadership Vote and its process, but for certain offences set out in the Leadership Selection Rules and Procedures which shall be subject to an appeal to the Provincial Candidate Selection Committee.

A big YES!. We need more time to draw in good EC members and we need to get the staff and caucus members the hell out of  the process. This is the turf of the membership.

Lists of Constituency Association Officers’ names, titles, email addresses, phone numbers, and the Constituency Association they represent shall, at least once per calendar quarter, be sent in electronic form by the Party to all Officers of recognized Constituency Associations who have executed the ‘CA Board Member Code of Conduct & Confidentiality Undertaking’ appended to the Wildrose Constituency Association Bylaws.

Yes and no. The central party tries to limit communications between constituency associations. This would stop that. That being said, sharing phone numbers is too much. There are some folks out there who I don’t want to hear from. Email addresses should suffice. We are at a point where folks in senior positions on CA boards should all have email.

7.17 Approved minutes of the Executive Committee meetings shall be provided simultaneously to Executive Committee members and Presidents of recognized Constituency Associations upon written request.

The party loathes providing the minutes from EC meetings despite being constitutionally bound to do so. We need to streamline this. There is nothing to hide right?

2.1 The object of Wildrose is to provide open, honest and effective government for thepeople of Alberta.

7.2. Subject to this article, the officers shall be elected by secret ballot at the Annual General Meeting of the Party for a maximum two-year term. A term automatically ends at the AGM after the member has served six (6) years on the Executive Committee or if the member has been appointed by the Executive Committee. A member may not seek election for more than one position on Executive Committee at a time. Their term of office shall commence at the close of the Annual General Meeting at which they were elected and shall conclude at the close of the Annual General Meeting where their successors are elected.

7.2.1. The terms of the President, the Vice-President-Fundraising, the Secretary, and one Provincial Director from each of the five (5) regional zones, shall be elected in conclude in odd numbered years.

7.2.2. The terms of the Vice-President-Membership, the Vice-President-Policy, the Vice- President-Communications, the Treasurer and one Provincial Director from each regional zone, shall be elected in conclude in even numbered years.

7.2.3. Provincial Directors shall be elected by members in good standing of the Party  from the regional zone in which the Director resides.

7.2.4. The Executive Committee may, with the approval of two-thirds of its members  present, and voting by secret ballot, appoint members to fill the term of office of any vacancy on the Executive Committee, provided that the person is a member in good standing and, in the case of a vacancy in a Provincial Directors position, that the person appointed shall reside in the regional zone that has the vacancy.

9.7. In accordance with the Principles and Policies of the Party, Caucus members are entitled to free votes in the Legislature, with the exception of the budget, votes of nonconfidence, and Wildrose policy and principles

11.4. The rules shall provide that any Wildrose candidate must enter into a standard contract with the Party which commits the candidate to paying the Party $100,000 in liquidated damages should the candidate be elected as a Wildrose Member of the Legislative Assembly and subsequently leave the Wildrose caucus to join another party’s caucus.

This edit gets a little messy but it is important.  The vast majority of EC members right now were appointed rather than elected. Despite two year terms,  the members should be able to vote at the first possible opportunity. The extended terms and attrition have unfortunately led to an undemocratic EC even if some of the appointees are excellently qualified.

That should cover it for now. Should be an interesting weekend.

 

 

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

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

smith2014

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

bearpit

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.

ballot

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

motion501

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.

thorsteinson

 

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

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?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,