Having been a loyal activist/candidate/executive member of the Wildrose Party (previously Alberta Alliance) since 2005, I can’t count the number of times that I have heard commentators declaring the movement dead. The party was declared dead when we lost our sole seat in the 2008 general election. The party was declared dead when it won 17 seats in the 2012 election despite that being an incredible showing for a new party. The party was declared dead when it won no seats in four by-elections in the fall of 2014 despite being a very strong second in one race and being respectable in the others. Countless folks declared the party dead when Danielle Smith tried to destroy it in a still unthinkable act of political treachery in her floor crossing.
Why isn’t this party dead???? With so many learned pundits and strategists so confidently declaring the Wildrose Party as a dead entity it is astounding that the party has not curled up and gone away isn’t it?
The answer is simple. The Wildrose Party is not dead because it is held up by true grassroots support. Not the pandering bullshit term of “grassroots” that damn near every party tosses out there when campaigning. The Wildrose Party is truly held up by thousands of dedicated members who are keeping the movement together despite the best efforts of opponents of the party both within and outside of it.
To top down parties such as the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP, the very concept of a real grassroots movement is foreign to them. Their lack of recognition of this could very well be their downfall as seen in last night’s by-election in Calgary Foothills.
I have always known that the declarations of the Wildrose Party’s death were misplaced as I have taken part in building that foundation upon which the party rests. I travelled the province to some of those town hall meetings where only 5 people showed up and some would say that was a sign of mortal illness. What happened at those meeting though is that we would interact with and train those 5 people. We set the seed and those folks went out and made it grow. Through little meetings, flyer drops, door knocking and countless phone calls the movement grew constituency by constituency. These are members who feel like they are a part of the party. They feel a sense of ownership as they participated in building the party and it’s policies. These are people that will not be shaken loose in their support no matter what some fools at the senior levels of the party may do.
Danielle Smith and her caucus never really understood who put them in office or if they did, they lost sight of that. When Smith and her band of opportunistic fools crossed the floor, they really thought that the party would crumble behind them. Danielle (and many commentators) thought that she was the party. Smith and the commentators clearly could not have been more wrong. Smith’s treachery didn’t kill the grassroots, it ignited it.
The foundation of the party moved on. We got back to work. we raised funds, we held meetings and we sought a new leader. Never for a second did we think we were dead. We were hurt, and many were dejected but giving up was never a consideration.
Grassroots means that the movement remains in the bad times. I remember on the night of the 4 by election losses being at a gathering of hundreds of supporters. While disappointed, we stayed together for the night and consoled each other. Compare that with Jim Prentice on election night who despite being Premier (up to that point), could not gather more than a dozen or so for his concession tantrum. The PC support was shallow and fickle and it showed.
Getting to today, that true grassroots foundation proved it’s power yet again. The by election in Calgary Foothills was critical to the party and province on many levels. Why couldn’t Notley win that seat despite holding the reins of power, having a well known candidate and literally bussing in countless union monkeys to knock on doors for her? Why did 74% of the electorate in Foothills reject the NDP? The reason is that the voters in Foothills are among the most democratically abused in Alberta. They were abandoned by Len Webber when he left to chase the brass ring of a federal seat. They were next abandoned by Jim Prentice who in one of the most cynical temper tantrums in Alberta history quit is job before the votes were even counted. The voters in Foothills wanted to see principles and real grassroots representation. That feeling can’t be transmitted in a mountain of flyers or a bus load of Teamsters. The feeling of grassroots support can only be generated by a candidate surrounded by supporters hitting doors who are genuine grassroots supporters of that movement. The enthusiasm is palpable and the vibe at the door can’t be faked.
Today the Wildrose Party sits on a foundation that is stronger than ever.
Aside from wrongly declaring the Wildrose Party dead, pundits have also been pushing three other untruths that last night’s by-election out of the water.
Some said that the Wildrose was incapable of winning an urban seat (despite having some in the past). They are clearly dead wrong.
Some said that the Wildrose must merge with the remnants of the PC party in order to win seats. They are clearly dead wrong.
Some said that the Calgary electorate genuinely wanted an NDP government and that they didn’t select Notley in a desperate protest vote in order to send a message to the corrupted PC party. They are clearly dead wrong.
Now with the Wildrose stronger than ever and in a clear position of being the government in waiting, the next challenge will approach. The opportunists from the dying PC party will be slithering over and trying to entrench themselves with the Wildrose and they must be stopped. There are and were many great folks supporting the PC party but make no mistake, that party was crammed with self-serving weasels who only supported that party with hopes of gaining power and nothing else. Those weasels will be seeking a new home and the Wildrose is poised to be the next government in Alberta. The self-serving will be drawn to the party like flies to shit and if they are not contained, those ever important grassroots will indeed finally be eroded.
I would hope and assume that the tiny but vocal movement encouraging the Wildrose Party to consider merging with the indebted and disgraced Progressive Conservative rump will finally fade away. This bunch was really just based on a handful of suddenly unemployed PC MLAs who were desperately seeking a way to get seats again (see weasel references above).
The Wildrose has utterly no need to embrace the debt and baggage of the PC Party. The worst thing that the Wildrose could gain from the PC party is their cynical power by any means attitude. It would truly bring us full circle into being the party that we were formed to replace.
As the Idiotic 11 discovered after having crossed the floor, the grassroots are not to be messed with. All 11 rightly lost their jobs and are politically finished.
The Wildrose still has a lot of work and some dangerous waters to navigate before getting another crack at a general election. If the grassroots foundation is respected though, it can be relatively smooth sailing. There can be no stronger base for a movement.