Breaking down the by-election.

Jason Kenney’s win in the Calgary Lougheed by-election hardly came as a shock to anybody. The seat was a safe conservative one and Kenney’s campaign abilities are renowned.

Still, some were hoping to see some cracks and weaknesses in the Kenney steamroller which has powered through four of the five steps Jason listed in his plan to take back Alberta. Those with such hopes were bitterly disappointed last night as the results flew in (credit to Elections Alberta by the way for the speedy results with the new system).

Some of what gave the anti-Kenney folks in Alberta some hope was based on the disastrous fall legislative session. While traditionally in Alberta it is the government that is eager to end a session and go into the holidays in order to lick their wounds, this time it was the UCP scrambling for the exit. The UCP lurched from one legislative trap to another during the session and the official opposition seemed to spend more time on the defensive in question period than the government did. Icing on the cake was a pair of issues that emerged just last week with Jason Nixon and Derek Fildebrandt getting into the soup. Despite all that, hopes of cracks emerging in the Kenney armor were dashed last night as he posted a near record victory in Lougheed with 71.5% support.

With the next general election scheduled for the spring of 2019 (I think Notley will push it to 2020), any number of political happenings and changes could happen between now and then. It would be dangerous to assume that the mood among the electorate will remain as it was last night when they resoundingly rejected Phillip van der Merwe of the NDP. That said, we can still read a lot into the snapshot that the election last night provided.

THE WINNERS:

 United Conservative Party

The only party that can declare last night as a win is the United Conservative Party.

This was the first electoral test for the newly merged UCP. Some had speculated (hoped) that the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party would not translate into an automatic combined vote. Not only did the new UCP retain the combined vote from the two parties, they increased it by nearly 9%! This is huge in what it signifies and anybody trying to dismiss this is either delusional or simply spreading BS. Kenney not only kept the traditional conservative support, he increased it.

This was a hard fought campaign and nearly 72% of the constituency voted for the UCP. The campaign of fear and smear led by the Notley NDP not only failed dismally but has been defused. The NDP are many things but stupid is typically not one of them. If they continue to try to label all supporters of the UCP as being extreme and bigoted as they have been, they will be gravely insulting upwards of 3/4 of voters in suburban Calgary constituencies and likely even a higher number of people in rural constituencies.

The NDP will have to try and up their fiscal management record rather than throwing shit like aggrieved monkeys if they are to have any hope of staying in government in the next election. That means they have to play on Kenney’s turf and it is doubtful that they are capable of it.

THE LOSERS:

THE NDP

Governing parties traditionally have a tough time in by-elections. That said, despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Jason Kenney in the by-election the NDP support utterly collapsed.

The Notley NDP chose to run a strong candidate with Phillip van der Merwe who is a respected local doctor. This was a strategic choice as well since van der Merwe is openly gay. The NDP hoped to keep the campaign focused on social issues and perhaps draw out some extreme reactions against their candidate in hopes of playing victims.

It simply didn’t work.

Despite weeks of hard campaigning and constant hyperbole about Kenney and his supporters, the NDP support dropped by nearly half to finish with a sad 16.79%.

While nobody rational expected the NDP to win this race, this was still a huge blow to the party.

While this doesn’t guarantee a loss for the NDP in the next general election, when combined with two other by-election losses it makes it pretty clear that Albertans do indeed see the NDP as an accidental government in need of replacement.

The Green Party

The Greens are considered something of a moderate middle or acceptable left of center alternative in BC and many other jurisdictions. In Alberta, they don’t even register on the political radar.

Green Party leader Romy Tittel gathered a scant 60 votes in total for 0.55% support. This is nothing less than crushing for anybody who had any hope that the Greens were going to fill any kind of electoral void.

The Alberta Liberal Party

David Khan worked hard to gather what he could from the soft left. He was hoping that disenfranchised red tories from the PC party and perhaps some less than hard left supporters from the NDP would come his way. With the increase to the UCP vote, it looks unlikely that he pulled any traditional PC supporters. Khan may have drawn some from the NDP though and he did increase the Liberal vote share by 4.5% from the last election. Momentum is important and he gained some ground in trying to position his party as an alternative.

All the same, I suspect that the Liberals hoped to at least beat the NDP and score higher than 9.3%

The Alberta Party

The Alberta Party had a chance to represent themselves in the by-election but instead sat it out as they remained embroiled with internal turmoil. A loss with a good effort would still have looked better than their complete absence. The party’s lame excuse for not entering was that they needed to focus on the leadership race that they triggered when they pressured Greg Clark from the role. When it is considered that they haven’t drawn any contenders for that race to date, their excuse looks a tad hollow.

The Redford era Progressive Conservative strategists who flooded into the Alberta Party after the creation of the UCP have proven themselves to be the unprincipled, party destroyers that we all thought they were.

It will be at least another election cycle or two before the Alberta Party registers on the electoral horizon if ever.

Randy Thorsteinson’s Reform Party

Randy Thorsteinson was the leader of the Social Credit Party in Alberta in the 1990s. Randy later founded the Alberta Alliance Party which changed to the Wildrose Alliance and has evolved/merged into the UCP of today.

Thorsteinson is smart, works hard and is a very successful businessman. He puts his money where his mouth is as he backstops these political ventures with his own cash. This led to some very big problems with the Wildrose Party in the past that I will have to write about one of these days

The problem with Thorsteinson is that he is incapable of acting as a team player. He has to run the show and will invariably take his ball (money) and go home if he has anything less than total control of a party.

Randy’s latest creation is the Alberta Reform Party through which he ran his daughter Lauren Thorsteinson in the Calgary Lougheed by-election. Despite a well funded campaign with plenty of expensive signs and literature, Lauren finished with a lackluster 137 votes for a 1.26% showing.

The run did bring back memories of the 2007 Calgary by-election where Jane Greydanus (now Jane Morgan & yes she is my wife), ran under the Alberta Alliance banner. Randy Thorsteinson was the party president at that time and he pumped a lot of resources into the campaign. Jane finished with 456 votes for 4% which hardly threatened the powers that be but it was an important step (among so many) in our building of that movement that led to the UCP of today.

Randy has his personal, unabashedly social conservative party to play with and it will never become anything more than that.

The independents

Marilyn Burns has always specialized in representing the sour grapes in the conservative movement. She has jumped in and out of multiple provincial political parties only to organize bitter campaigns against them from the outside looking in. A common syndrome in alternative parties.

Since the UCP merger, Burns and a few other chronic malcontents have been trying to form the “Alberta Advantage Party”. By most accounts they won’t manage to get registered as a party and will likely fade away soon.

The “Alberta Advantage” bunch did combine their brainpower and resources to field a candidate as an independent. His name was Wayne Leslie and he gathered a whopping 42 votes for .39% of the vote. Truly insignificant.

Last and definitely least was Crazy Larry Heather who has run in countless elections on his platform of intolerant religious fervor and general insanity.

While clearly being touched by the gods, Larry doesn’t appear to have their support. Heather garnered a whopping 22 votes for 0.2% of the vote. That number was likely people who made errors with the voting machine.

This by-election was an excellent way to cap off a year for the UCP. After a chain of victories followed by a weak legislative session, the party is off to a bright and strong start for 2018.

Jason Kenney has been in campaign mode for over 18 months with one race after another. Kenney can now finally focus on leading and managing the UCP so that it truly can be turned into the government in waiting that Albertans want. With Kenney’s formidable work ethic and organizational skills focused on the party rather than outside campaigns, I expect that we will see a much stronger and better prepared UCP going into the next legislative session.

Another factor that made things difficult for the UCP in the fall session was a lack of legislative budget due to the last leader of the opposition having pissed it away in hopes of retaining his position. The clock is reset and this fiscal handicap will not be in play for the unified UCP in 2018. With a full research and support team in the legislature I expect we will see a stronger presence as bills are properly vetted and amendments created. Committee work should improve too.

2018 is looking like a good year for the UCP and Alberta.

 

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Let this one go.

I get it. I know. Bill 24 is a crass action on the part of the Notley government to create a wedge issue and to distract from her horrific fiscal management in Alberta. I understand that Notley is using children as a tool to try and preserve her inept government’s power in Alberta. Bill 24 is a solution looking for a problem.   GSAs have been here for years now and there has been no crisis of children being “outed” by schools. Bill 24 is modeled to label even people who have rational concerns about the wording has being terrible bigots even when its terribly unfair.

I get it!

All the above being said, we have to let this one go. Bill 24 was created for purely political purposes for the advantage of the NDP party and its working like a charm!

Alberta’s unemployment rate remains mired in the shitter. Our deficits and growing debt are nothing less than appalling. We have become a pariah as far as international investment is concerned as we watch an increasing number of multinational companies divest themselves from this socialist run government that tried and failed to tax us into getting outward bound pipelines. It will take generations to fix the damned mess the NDP are creating.

Are we hearing anything about the above issues right now though?

No!

The news is dominated by what is really actually a minor social issue and policy. The legislature sits precious few days as it is and the debate is all focused on Bill 24 while so many other issues are withering away on the wayside and out of the public eye. This just isn’t worth it.

Tension is growing within the United Conservative Party caucus over this too. We are a newly created party and need to form solid bonds within the leadership, membership and caucus. This is pretty damned tough to do when the legislative session is immersed in this hornet’s nest of a bill.

I used the picture of Notley laughing because that is exactly what she is doing today. The NDP had been on the ropes for months. The reek of fear and desperation from them was palpable in every hysteric tweet and news release. The UCP was taking Alberta by storm and the future of the NDP looked pretty damned bleak. The only possible out for Notley was for the UCP to mire itself in a no-win social issue. Well, the UCP jumped right into that issue in the first week of the first session of the legislature that they came to as a new party and Notley is giggling herself to sleep over it.

We need to pick our battles and this hill simply isn’t worth dying on.

Attempted amendments came today and they were of course shot down. That effort showed at least a little cooperativeness and bending by the UCP. Better late than never.

We know that the NDP will not grant the UCP a victory so small as an amendment changing the placement of a comma within the legislation. Send out a few more good proposals and then let it go guys.

Vote for the damned bill and get on with important business.

I know that Notley will find some other social issue to dump in front of the legislature in the next session. This tactic won’t stop simply because the UCP capitulated on this one. That said, if Bill 24 is the toughest social legislation that Notley could find to toss in front of the nascent UCP, I don’t think we need to worry much. She will have to really stretch for the next one and the electorate will tire of her constant pulling of the social issue fire alarm.

The UCP needs to dominate the agenda in the next couple years and they will never be able to do so if they are constantly bogged down in these kinds of issues.

If (and this is a big if) Bill 24 somehow is found to cause damage in the next couple years, the UCP can address it when they have a majority government in a couple years. If they insist on jumping in neck deep every time Notley tosses a social issue at them though, we won’t see an end to the accidental Notley Regime and by the time the next general election rolls around the great grandchildren of our grandchildren will be in debt. Its just not worth it.

Let this one go.

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I’m voting for Jason Kenney

While always leaning towards supporting Jason Kenney for leader of the United Conservative Party race, I honestly came into this whole thing as undecided. I was open to seeing who else was going to enter the race and what they were going to offer. There has been a vigorous race with a good selection of views among the candidates.

I watched multiple debates and attended the Red Deer one in person. I have read the releases from the candidates (seems like one hits my inbox every 20 minutes or so) and have  watched how they campaign on social media and on the road. I have concluded that Jason Kenney is indeed the best person to lead the United Conservative Party into the next general election in Alberta.

The most important thing to me in choosing a leader is their general ideology. One can’t select a leader based on policy specifics or they will find that eventually they can’t support anybody. There are countless issues and political responses out there. One has to choose the person who appears to best represent them when responding to issues. Kenney has consistently held conservative values and represented them while in office. While I am not totally with him socially, his respect for grassroots policy generation and action makes me comfortable in supporting him.

Some have tried to be critical of Kenney in that he won’t put out a specific policy platform. How could Kenney support grassroots policies while dictating them in the leadership? Were Kenney to document a specific set of policies right now and some policies later conflicted with what the members selected at an AGM, we would see confusion and division being sown by the usual suspects. When asked directly whether through his constant live Facebook appearances, many townhall meetings or in interviews, Kenney has never hesitated to give his own view on specific issues. He wisely won’t bind the party to those views as he respects the membership. The only way somebody could claim that they don’t know where Kenney stands on issues is if they never made an effort to listen to him.

Ralph Klein was the right man at the right time in Alberta. Unfortunately his work was eventually undone as political complacency replaced responsibility during good economic times. One of the wisest things Klein put out there was how he would find out which way the parade was going and would get in front of it. That is what Kenney is doing now.

A trait of Klein’s that Kenney demonstrates in spades is the refusal to cower, back down and apologize whenever the hysterical left has demanded so. People were literally kicking the doors of the legislature while Klein did his great cuts. Pundits and unions went off the deep end in demanding that he back down. They said Klein was committing political suicide. Klein ignored them and won an even bigger majority in his second election. The left has fabricated a scandal a week involving Kenney and are constantly making demands that he apologize on social media. Kenney is brilliantly ignoring them and not letting himself get dragged down into their mire. That takes strength as so many counsel capitulation to the frenzied left. There is little point in addressing them and none in apologizing to them.

Kenney has been bluntly up front when questioned. In a radio interview a little while ago, a prospective supporter called in and asked Kenney how homeowners could be subsidized for home upgrades. Kenney bluntly said that they won’t because we are broke. This seems like a minor incident but when one considers that 99% of political aspirants would have given a long-winded, mealy mouthed reply in hopes of being everything to everybody, the lack of hesitation shown by Kenney in saying no was refreshing and significant. I want straight answers, not ass kissing.

Some knock Kenney as being a career politician. Yes, it is nice to see people from all sorts of career backgrounds contributing in politics. In a large caucus we get get all those voices. We are looking for a political leader, should we not want somebody with a solid base of political experience? To claim that Kenney shouldn’t lead because he is a career politician is akin to disqualifying a surgeon from head surgical position because they had spent too many years in the operating room on the way up. Political leadership is one of the most complicated trades on the planet and there is no degree program for it. Experience is an asset and Kenney has decades of it.

Kenney’s experience is an asset in that the left can’t play their usual “hidden agenda” card. With decades in Ottawa and in holding multiple senior cabinet positions in government, it is rather difficult to claim that Kenney has been holding on to some hidden insane political agenda all this time and has been waiting to release it once he is finally on the Premier’s chair. Kenney has an excellent knack for planning ahead politically but I don’t think he held back while in Ottawa in anticipation of a provincial role. If Kenney had some loony, extreme agenda it would have come out while he was in Ottawa and he would have lost his seat over a decade ago.

Kenney’s experience will aid in governing as well. The painful intricacies of a large bureaucracy need careful management. While we need to cut and to cut deeply, we need to do it with precision rather than with a chainsaw. Kenney has a solid grounding in experience to know where things can be cut and where they can’t without doing more damage than good.

With so much time in office and in so many positions of responsibility, we can be confident that Kenney can handle the pressures of the job. Albertans dodged a hell of a bullet when Danielle Smith cracked and took what she thought to be an easy out from a tough job offered by Jim Prentice. If Smith couldn’t withstand the pressures of leading the opposition, imagine how she would have done as Premier.

Aside from political ideology, a person has to ask themselves who is best placed to win the next election. Since announcing his intent to lead the PC Party and negotiate a merger Kenney has proven himself and incredibly effective leader. With relentless work and in ignoring detractors, Kenney won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in a landslide. Kenney then led us to a merger with 95% member support. Kenney is now very well placed to win the UCP leadership and upon gaining that will be our best person to win the role of Premier.

Lets make no bones about it. Last weekend’s municipal election in Calgary was a battle of the right vs. left and the left won. While it is clear that there is a huge appetite among the electorate to get rid of left wing leaders such as Naheed Nenshi, it is also clear that they electorate won’t elect just anybody to get rid of them. Voters want to vote against Notley, but they also want to ensure that they are voting for somebody as well. We can’t take anything for granted and polls have yet again proven themselves to be about as effective as a magic 8 ball. A strong and careful campaign has to be run or we can be assured of another 4 years of devastating socialist government in Alberta.

Brian Jean seems to be a decent enough fellow. He indeed stepped up to the plate when the party was in need and took on an unenviable role despite his having some terribly challenging family events. He has for the most part done an adequate job in leading. There are three things that together make me rule him out for the leadership of the UCP.

In the next election we will be running on a campaign of austerity. That is always a tough thing to sell to people and the only way to do so is to lead by example. I am invoking Klein again here. One of the first things Klein did as Premier was to cut the salaries of all MLAs including himself. While that is a drop in the budgetary bucket, it gave him credibility when he asked others to cut their own budgets. It made people believe that Klein could indeed get things done in Edmonton. Under Brian Jean’s leadership, the relatively small caucus budget was grossly mismanaged leading to what will be a terribly underfunded opposition party going into the next legislative session. By most accounts it appears that the money was pissed away on staffers whose role was not so much to work for the party but to aid in Jean’s leadership bid. Jean has never managed to give a credible explanation otherwise. How could we trust that management if and when he gets into the Premier’s chair?

Another issue I have has been Jean’s lackluster support of unity. Jean was opposed to unity until it became clear that it was unavoidable. He then became supportive. Pragmatism is a good thing and politicians are allowed to change their mind. Jean however has been claiming that he had always been a proponent of unity and I don’t care for being fed bullshit. Just admit that the political winds changed and you changed along with it. That I can respect. Don’t try to spin me though.

Brian Jean has already had a kick at the cat in a general election and we saw how he performed. Jean was in a tough spot and did an OK job but not nearly good enough. I just don’t want to take the chance again on letting him represent conservatives in what will be such an important election. I just don’t see how he will manage to galvanize the electorate in the way we will need to.

In the last general election, I managed the campaign of one of the Wildrose candidates. It was a tough go and we were having a terrible time trying to get a feel where things were going. There was a huge appetite for change at the doors that led to a giant undecided factor in the early part of the campaign. Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice’s gross political manipulations had revolted the electorate and they desperately wanted a new option. People held on for the debate in order to make up their minds and let’s be blunt, Brian Jean was nothing less than a catastrophe on the stage.

In hopes of reinvigorating our volunteers, I had rented a projection TV, bought beer and pizza and invited everybody to take a break and watch the debate live at campaign headquarters. My horror grew as Brian Jean blandly repeated his promise not to repeat taxes over and over again with a vapid facial expression that really did make one imagine that a string was being pulled in and out of his back in order to make him speak. Ian Robinson with the Sun called Jean’s performance in the debate “ghastly” and I can’t think of a better word to describe it. You don’t hear that word too often but in this case it was perfect.

Our volunteers left the debate night more dejected than ever. In the next week at the doors it became clear that our worst nightmare was coming to pass. In being repulsed by Prentice’s arrogance and weirded out by Jean’s robotic performance the undecided voters went with Notley who at least had shown some positive energy. The rest is history.

Jean has become somewhat more animated since that debate but his style still hardly sets the world on fire. I do not want to take the chance and give this man another chance in a debate against Notley. There is simply too much to lose.

Jason Kenney isn’t perfect but he is far and away the best candidate to lead the United Conservative Party into the next general election. He has the experience, the self-control, the work ethic and the common sense that we need in order to take Alberta back. I look forward to seeing Jason winning the UCP leadership at the end of the month.

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How to disunite the right.

It took so much work by so many people to pull the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservative Party together. So many folks had to set aside old gripes. People had to swallow some pride. People had to make compromises. Despite all those tall personal orders, people put their priorities straight and got the job done. We now have a United Conservative Party that is primed to unseat the Notley regime even before getting a new leader.

Our work as a party is still far from done. While we are indeed united, we still have some sensitive spots. We still have people who’s support is tentative and we still have some old wounds. That makes the United Conservative Party vulnerable from the inside and nothing challenges internal party unity more deeply than a leadership race.

What I am getting at is based on a Facebook exchange this evening.

For those unfamiliar with me or my wife’s backgrounds, we were both founders of the Wildrose Party. We have both been on the executive of the party in multiple incarnations and have both run for the party before. We have volunteered on countless campaigns and been a part of all sorts of party efforts.

All that being said, Jane and I are still individuals and we are not always on the exact same political page. For example, I joined the PC Party well over a year ago in order to help promote Jason Kenney’s unity plan. Jane on the other hand refused to leave the Wildrose Party. We were in different parties with different views on how to best move forward yet still comfortably shared the same bed. With the formation of the UCP we are now in the same party again.

Jane was asked to serve on the UCP Leadership Election Committee and she accepted. That is why I have been uncharacteristically quiet in this leadership race so far. While Jane is her own person, we just didn’t need to bring on the headaches and inevitable complaints that would come if I had been active on one of the leadership campaigns while she was on the committee.

Yesterday Jane decided to leave the committee. It wasn’t a bitter, sour grapes sort of thing or anything like that. Jane posted her reasoning in full here. 

Along with explaining her resignation Jane intimated that she would be choosing to openly support a leadership candidate as well and would be posting that today.

Jane’s post led to a Facebook posting by a Kenny supporter who speculated that Jane was going to endorse Brian Jean. Nothing wrong with that. All part of political discourse.

It is in the response from a couple other posters where we see the dangerous, combative attitude of some pretty fervent people who truly can cause some unity issues within the party.

Trevor Norris as a rather vocal little fellow on social media. His antics have force him to mercifully put his twitter account into private mode but alas, he still prowls on Facebook.

OK, so apparently if Jane were to endorse Brian Jean, that makes me a “fucking sellout”. How nice. I guess I am obliged to control my little woman and tell her who she may or may not endorse? Demonstrates that Norris has about as much acumen with marital relationships as he does with political ones.

I have to admit, I let this irk me and responded to him. This led to him labeling me as a some sort of hypocrite. It really doesn’t make much sense.

Norris’s buddy (with a Kenney banner on his picture no less) added his thoughts while he was at it.

Hardly the first or last time I will be called such. Certainly not reflecting well on Team Kenney at this point however.

Either way, other folks popped into the conversation and Norris put his personal skills back to work.

This is where things get concerning as it appears that Trevor Norris with his badgering and belligerent insults managed to drive a long time politically active person right out of that discussion forum.

Gina Bossert had interjected essentially calling for calm. Trevor implied that she supports the “slimeball” Jean.


 

Gina debated for a little while and dejectedly finally left.

While this may seem to be a simple single incident, I am afraid that it isn’t. These little happenings are going on in all sorts of social media platforms and at gatherings such as debates.

While the majority of supporters of the leadership candidates are passionate yet respectful in their allegiances, there are some nasty and virulent ones in the minority who are causing some real damage to the party and the campaigns that they claim to support.

I don’t blame Brian Jean, Jason Kenney or Doug Schweitzer for the actions of these people. Leadership teams and candidates are busy and sure as hell don’t have time to try and crack down on every divisive wingnut who is being an asshole on social media.

We as a party have to check ourselves. We need to call out people (as I am doing now) when they become fanatical, insulting and divisive within the party before these  people can spread more internal damage.

It is OK to be critical of leadership candidates but when you start personally attacking their supporters you are creating wounds and rifts that may never heal.

There can be nothing good in calling people idiots, hypocrites and supporters of slimeballs who are not worthy of respect just because you may feel that they are supporting the wrong candidate. How in the hell do you earn converts that way? I assure you we need them.

When the general election finally comes to Alberta, I can’t think of a better way to ensure that Notley gets re-elected than by having a party full of wingnuts who insult and berate all of the undecided or those who they think support Notley. Many people supported Notley. That is why she is unfortunately our Premier right now and if you keep tossing shit at the folks who put her there, they sure as hell won’t consider coming to the UCP. Rest assured, we need that protest vote back.

We have a lot of work to do after the leadership race. We are still essentially building a new party from scratch and we sure as hell don’t need deep caustic factions within the party which will distract us from our more important goals.

There is no better time to stomp out this divisiveness than right now. Like any illness, it will spread and be tougher to cure later. Leadership teams need to look within and try to address their problem spots before they flare into catastrophes later.

As a final note, Jane endorsed Doug Schweitzer and myself I support Jason Kenney.

Norris guessed wrong on both fronts and managed to alienate many folks for no good reason.

We can’t let folks like him divide us and drive out those party workers that we will need so dearly in the days coming ahead.

 

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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.

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