Wildrose Party 2014 AGM summary.

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

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

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

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

Danielle Smith’s keynote speech

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

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

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

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

Executive Committee Elections

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

Reverse Bearpit Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy

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

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

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

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

Constitution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Informal AGM initiatives

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

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

 

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We want your money! Not your voice!

 Well today I was happy to look in my mailbox to see a fat envelope from the Wildrose Party. I had assumed that the party had finally gotten around to mailing out notice of our upcoming Annual General Meeting in Edmonton and the constitutionally required report from the nominating committee that we all sort of expected to come in a few weeks ago.

Alas, I was disapointed to find that the letter was simply a four-page mailout with a return envelope taking shots at PC expenses and asking for more of my money as pictured below.

 Sadly this is indicative of where the attitude is with the Wildrose Party administration these days. The party is beginning to operate solely on the preservation of itself as a party while concepts of grassroots participation and communication with the membership for any purpose aside from asking for more money is falling far to the backburner.

How hard would a small insert giving details on the Annual General Meeting have been to add to that bloated envelope? It can only be assumed that the omission was purposeful.

This year’s Annual General Meeting has been a poorly communicated and bungled mess right from the very beginning as I have documented on this site in the last few months. It took repeated efforts of public pressure to get the party to simply publicly announce that there was indeed an AGM happening this year and an attempt to severely (and unconstitutionally) hinder the Executive Committee election was headed off shortly before the deadline to apply for Executive Nominations.

I have been with the Wildrose Party since it’s founding and the Alberta Alliance Party that it sprouted from and in many roles. I do understand that mailouts to the membership are expensive and resource intensive. I spent many a night volunteering as we stuffed envelopes to keep members informed of party activities and to ask for donations. When we got large enough that we had to outsource mailers, we still carefully ensured that we kept a balance between fundraising and general member communications. That balance has been totally lost.

To any members of the Wildrose Party reading this right now I ask this; when is the last time you got anything in the mail from the Wildrose Party informing of anything aside from why they need more of your money? One year? Two? I honestly can’t remember one. The party took such pride in raising nearly $3 million in 2011 yet can’t even bother to send us a newsletter or notice of something so important as an AGM?

The paramount event of the year where the members get to act like more than wallets for the party and participate directly in it’s direction and management is the Annual General Meeting. Despite this fact, the AGM and member input has been treated by the party administration almost as if it is a hindrance to be avoided. Minimal (and even less) required effort and resources have been dedicated to this AGM which is being almost grudgingly held. We can’t even get a simple mailed notice of it’s happening!

Yes, the party sent an email and did a robodial to announce the AGM. Now, we have thousands of members who do not have email (or did not share it with the party). Some emails go to spam boxes (not surprising considering most are asking for money). Many people do not listen to robodials and many who did likely did not write down the details of the AGM. What we can safely assume is that thousands of Wildrose Party members still do not know that we are having an AGM, where the AGM is or how to register for and attend it!

This is simply unacceptable on so many levels. People should bear in mind that a low AGM turnout strongly serves those who want to maintain the status-quo. Even a do-nothing Party President could still get elected if few people showed up for an AGM for example. Even if this keeping of the membership in the dark is not purposeful, it reflects either a terrible disrespect for the membership or it reflects utter incompetence.

This year members need to speak up. Since the party does not consider informing members to be an important thing, we will need to inform members on our own. Call your CA President and other members. Talk to people you know and encourage them to get out.

There was a great early-bird rate for AGM registration that has unfortunately passed. Another deadline is approaching and then the price goes up again. Let other members know about this and encourage them to get out.

When fundraising has so clearly surpassed the needs of the membership within the party, something has clearly gone terribly wrong in the party. We need to flush the Executive Committee and turn the Wildrose Party back into the member based populist movement that 10s of thousands of us got together to form.

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Put faith in the wisdom of the membership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wildrose Party Provincial Executive Election information.

In looking at my blog statistics, I had noted that I am getting a lot of traffic from people searching for information on the next Wildrose Party Annual General Meeting. It having been over 14 months since the last one that is understandable.  As can be seen in the picture below, my blog ranks at the top of such searches as unfortunately it is providing more information on the 2012 Wildrose AGM than the Wildrose Party site which at current contains absolutely no information on this year’s AGM nor any information on how a person would go about running for an executive position with the party.

I feel I may as well continue to provide information to the inquiring membership as somebody has to and a very important deadline is sneaking up on us. I understand that while the date and location of the AGM was confirmed back in July through a tweet from Danielle Smith, that the party headquarters may be a bit too busy to provide such information on the party website. I mean hey, at times I find it can take me an entire hour to compose a blog posting.

Below the picture I will provide information on the location and time of this year’s AGM, information on how to get on a ballot for an executive position and some general information on what the provincial executive committee is all about.

OK, at this point we know that the next Wildrose Party Annual General meeting will be held on November 23-24 at what I think Danielle meant as the Mayfield Inn. There is a Mayfair Hotel in Edmonton but it is apparently rather run down and has asbestos problems. I am pretty sure that the former is correct and will try to confirm that. I have no idea what the cost of attendance will be at this time but a person can now at least plan for that time and make travel/accommodation bookings if required.

Due to the window being closed (120 days notice required), the membership will not be able to change any policies or parts of the constitution at this AGM. Aside from being a gathering of the membership (good in itself), the only solid things that will (must) be covered will be the presentation of the party financials to the membership and the election of the next Provincial Executive Committee.

Now here is the important part as some parties appear to be dawdling in getting notice of the AGM to the membership: According to clause 7.2 of the Wildrose Party Constitution, nominations for the Executive Committee can not be made any later than 65 days before the AGM.

That deadline means that anybody considering pursuing a position on the Executive Committee must get in contact with the nominating committee (which was presumably formed a couple weeks ago) prior to September 19 which is not very long from now at all.

With the deadline being only a little more than a couple weeks away and no information on how or where one can contact the nominating committee, it does become something of a pain. I strongly suggest that people go to the Wildrose Party contact page and make an inquiry (copy and save it) as to how to get in touch with the committee soon if they are seeking positions.

To be eligible to run for a position on the Executive Committee a person needs only to be a member in good standing with the party who is not employed by the party, the provincial legislature, parliament or employed by any other party. No applying member needs to fill out extended applications nor be subjected to interviews or any form of vetting aside from being a member in good standing who is seeking an executive position. Our constitution is actually very grassroots when followed.

Redford has been proving in her vindictive actions against constituencies that elected Wildrose members and in the massive deficit being posted by the government that nothing indeed is changing with the Progressive Party of Alberta. The need for the Wildrose Party to turn itself into a proper government in waiting while in opposition is as acute as it ever has been. Having a strong and actually functional provincial executive committee that is dedicated to maintaining the grassroots principles that the Wildrose Party was founded upon is critical.

In order to get a good executive committee we need as many good members as possible to apply for and compete for those positions. Unfortunately some elements in our party do not feel that way thus the incredibly secretive nature of the process when the party should actually be openly inviting and seeking member participation on the board.

Between elections, the way that the membership controls the direction and principles of the party as a whole is in their selection of a provincial executive committee at AGMs. A functional committee should be holding regular meetings, communicating clearly with the membership and managing the important and broad affairs of the party. A functional committee will work cooperatively with the leadership and caucus of the party while still ensuring that neither of those sections of the party encroaches on party operations (as they have in the past). The provincial executive should only answer to and feel accountable to the membership and should only feel obligation to serve that element of the party.

I have served on the Wildrose provincial executive in multiple capacities. It can be somewhat time consuming and thankless but it is a rewarding task for those of us dedicated to the party. A person does not need to set their life aside for these volunteer positions. Formal monthly meetings and some committee work do not have to take too much time. It is the content and dedication that is important.

The Wildrose Party needs good, dedicated members to compete for the positions on our executive committee at this coming AGM. I strongly encourage people to consider running for board positions or to recruit and encourage other good candidates to run for those positions. It is critical for our party and time is running short.

The Party Constitution describes the board roles here in section 7. All of those roles need good people and as I have pointed out in past blog postings, that last board was for the most part dysfunctional to near uselessness. I do hope we do not repeat that sort of endeavor this time.

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