Most years when I do these AGM reviews, there are some interesting bombshells or critical items on the agenda to report on. This year’s AGM while important and productive was not terribly exciting to be honest. That is fine of course. Better to be a bit dull than scandalous. This also demonstrated why there was so little to fear in letting the media into the convention to cover it. Discussion was rational and reasoned and I really see little trouble that could have surfaced from direct reporting.
This year’s venue was at the Coast Plaza conference center in Calgary and entry was a reasonable $140 per person for the weekend. The sound and video systems were modest and effective. The room was adequate and the lunch was pretty good. I know that these things may seem petty to report on but they are indicative of party attitude and direction. In the 2011 AGM we used the Telus Convention Center and provided giant screens, a lightshow and a sound system worthy of a rock concert. That AGM charged $250 per person and had a dismal turnout leading to a $90,000 loss for the party. It was a celebration of Danielle Smith’s vanity at the time and we really should have been paying attention to the trend at the time. Policy was barely discussed while we were treated to a video story of the leader’s political life. In looking back at that, I am more than happy to see an AGM focussed on the nuts and bolts of the party as it should be.
Brian Jean’s speech on the Friday was well received and many people thought it was one of the best that they had seen from him. Despite that though, his support level of 78% in the leadership review made it clear that he is not as solidly supported as a leader as many party leaders have been. As a party coming from an election with an expansion of our caucus and essentially being rescued from being considered dead by many, most would have expected a review somewhere in the 90% range. I think in some senses that this is a good thing. A weak but far from devastating review number could help keep Jean modest. Danielle Smith got 90% numbers and look where that led. She lost all touch with the sentiment of the party at the membership level which in part led to her idiotic and treacherous floor crossing. Brian Jean knows he has work to do in winning the membership at large and I assume he will do so. We have some years before the next election to work on this.
On Saturday morning there was a sit down Q&A on the stage with Brian Jean. To be honest, the whole thing felt contrived and Jean answered predominantly softball questions to an increasingly bored room. Such Q&A sessions are just the sort of thing that help a leader in connecting with the membership but they have to be genuine. Unless there is a microphone on the floor allowing members to pitch questions directly to the leader, it simply looks like a production. It’s dull and makes one wonder if the leader can handle tough questions without warning. At the end Jean joked that it felt like an appearance on Dr. Phil. A good joke in a sense but it sort of rang too true. It was not what many of us wanted to sit through as members at such a gathering. I know Jean isn’t a fire and brimstone sort of orator and that is OK. He has to be able to manage uncontrolled communication situations though and this puffball sit-in did not instill any confidence that he is able to do so.
Policy discussions went efficiently with some healthy but limited debate. Extended debate on policies has to happen before AGMs as there simply are not enough hours in the day to split hairs on amendments and such. While some members will always express annoyance that there was not enough time for debate at the microphones, they were more than welcome to participate in policy vetting with their CAs or to take part on the policy committee that put in huge hours putting the policy and constitutional packages together. Hats off to VP Policy Tim Dyck and the members of the committee for putting all that together.
One policy that I thought could be contentious was the very first one calling for more competition in the provision of health care. The policy actually passed quite overwhelmingly and it was good to see that the party retains the courage to take on some of the tougher but essential policy stances in health.
A proposal under Education to change wording to include homeschooling and use terms such as “fundamental” rather than core failed 126 to 114. The proponents were very vocal though and quite visibly pissed at the failure of the resolution. Homeschooling and separate education options are clearly hot button issues for some that we will have to watch closely.
A proposal to make membership in student unions optional passed easily. Entrenched left-wing student union members have predictably gone haywire on social media due to this but it really hasn’t worked many other folks up. Expansion of individual choice is always a good thing.
There had been an interesting proposal calling for the striking of a committee to try and reduce our bloated policy set to 25 key policies and present them to the members next year. I found it an intriguing concept as I had taken part in a similar exercise with the party some years ago when we greatly reduced policy bloat with a large, omnibus style policy proposal. Folks felt 25 was simply too few and the proposal failed. We should keep looking for ways to streamline the policy set though.
The two different resolutions to try and prevent floor crossing failed pretty resoundingly. There were a number of points made in discussion on it. A constitutional resolution to try and prevent crossings was quashed too. The bottom line is that the system is built to allow crossings and we need to work with it as it is. If the party is well led, crossings should be rare and not huge issues. I think the ability of the MLAs to cross helps keep the leader honest. This does not mean that the members are welcoming further floor crossing but that they apply rational thought to the policies.
The constitutional proposal that would try to bind MLAs to voting within the bounds of party policy was soundly and rightly defeated.
Most of the other constitutional proposals were housekeeping issues that passed or nitpicking issues that failed. There were a few that tried to contain executive powers and add term limits and such. There is a residual distrust among the members of the central party governance and that was reflected in those proposals. The members at the AGM did express that they didn’t want to see any radical changes at this time.
One resolution passed which calls for Executive Committee members to stand for election for their positions at the first possible opportunity should they have been appointed to the positions. This addresses the issue that some EC members had been appointed to multi-year terms while never having been elected directly by the members. The EC needs the ability to appoint for vacancies and members need the ability to select so this found a good balance.
There is a group of chronic, malcontents within the party (I am sure that every party has them). I swear that these people buy memberships simply to bitch about every move of the party. I am sure as hell vocally critique the party often though I hope and try to make it productive. I put in my share of time volunteering for the party and doing what I can to make it better. These malcontents whom I refer to rarely are seen when it comes to getting down to work. While some are still howling that the Executive Committee is rigged/corrupted/baseless etc. I didn’t see any of them put their names forward to run for positions. I have taken many shots at the EC but have always understood that it remains an open process that any member can run for. Many of this year’s EC positions were acclaimed because nobody else put their names forward. It really can’t be that bad if there is no lineups to replace current members. This was pointed out to me by one of our MLAs at the AGM. It is a very good point and worth repeating.
To sum it up, this won’t be an AGM that will be remembered for generations. It was not a game changer and it didn’t make many headlines (banned press contributed to that). It was a good gathering that served it’s purpose and I did leave the AGM feeling optimistic about how the party is doing.
The members have it together for now. It’s time to see what our caucus can and will do in the year to come. I look forward to it.