Pretty much from the get-go, but especially since the election of Danielle Smith as leader last October, Alberta's Wildrose Alliance got a free pass form the province's mainstream media on the policies desired by the party's hard-right core supporters and their likely impact on its true electoral platform.
The leaders of the Alliance have shrewdly played to this journalistic deficiency, sidestepping most policy questions by putting them off until the party's annual general meeting June 25 and 26 in Red Deer, which will serve as a policy convention. For its part, the media’s motto seems to have been, "Don't ask, don't tell."
Both groups appear to have concluded it's in their interests to portray the party as moderate and centrist, populist at worst. The appeal of this from the Wildrose leadership's perspective is obvious: if they appear too right wing, they may spook Alberta voters, who are conservative in every sense.
From the media's point of view, it is most likely simply that this makes for a better horserace story. But it is not beyond the pale that some powerful people in Canada's media would very much like to see a government somewhere in this country at least as far to the right as Mike Harris's disastrous 1995-2002 Conservative regime in Ontario.
Alberta's political cognoscenti have generated lots of sound and fury, but very little of significance, speculating about where Smith and the party's movers and shakers really stand on social and economic conservative issues.
With the AGM nearing, however, we can start to make out the outlines of where the Wildrose leadership really wants to go.
Yesterday, the Alliance released a 172-page resolutions package for the Red Deer AGM. What is supported by the party policy committee, what is opposed, what was introduced by the party's Legislative caucus and what is left without comment, presumably for the members to decide without guidance, tell an interesting story of what the Wildrose leadership likely really thinks is important -- and what they think it's important to stay the heck away from.
It seems safe to conclude that, as many of us suspected, they are mostly market fundamentalists on economic issues. However, they seem much cooler on the social conservative hot buttons of their core supporters, many of whom were Wildrose members long before Smith and the Fraser Institute apparatchiks and Calgary oilmen she brought with her joined the cause.
So, for example, without quite ruling them out, the party seems to be gently easing itself away from such guaranteed polling-booth disasters as the call to replace the RCMP with a provincial police force and to dump the Canada Pension Plan. Both these policies had their origins in the sovereignist 2001 "Firewall Letter" to then premier Ralph Klein signed by such influential Alberta independentistes as Stephen Harper.
The Wildrose base will be sorely disappointed with their leaders' retreat from the strong anti-choice position favoured by so many of original supporters. So a resolution calling for an end to the use of public money for "the deliberate and intentional termination of pregnancies" was "strongly opposed" by the policy committee. The committee remarked in its notes that this is likely unconstitutional and, moreover, "inconsistent with the beliefs of most pro-lifers who recognize that there are occasions when some terminations of pregnancy are acceptable especially to protect the life of the mother." (They do?)
And the committee was unsympathetic to the base's nuttiest political notions, for example, a call for province-wide elections for premier.
On the other hand, when it comes to market fundamentalist nostrums, while their language is circumspect, the Wildrose leaders were mostly true to their far-right principles -- although they tippy-toed around the touchy issue of health care.
On social services, for example, the policy committee strongly supported the notion such services "be provided by community organizations rather than government wherever possible."
The party also remains strong for charter schools, a particular bee in Smith's ideological bonnet, with the Legislative caucus proposing a carefully worded resolution that "a Wildrose government will support a stable and predictable per-pupil operational and infrastructure maintenance funding model (including appropriate special needs funding) that follows the student." (Emphasis added.)
On unions, the party seems to be standing by its likely unconstitutional desire for so-called "right-to-work" legislation, which is designed to make it impossible for unions to effectively represent members, and to call for a ban on strikes by teachers. Its legislative caucus ambiguously calls for a review of labour laws "to ensure fairness for all Alberta workers whether employed in union or non-union settings."
Looking ahead, they even slyly anticipate consolidation of rural support, opposing the idea of electoral districts with approximately the same population.
As the Wildrose leadership no doubt intended, this is a little like reading tealeaves. Resolutions without recommendations are all over the ideological map. Still, the outlines are clear enough: a policy package that gets the party's financial backers where they want to go, doesn't unduly frighten the voting public and keeps the loony right base happy enough they won't run off and found another party.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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