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Danielle Smith self-identifies with Dickensian 'Big Society' at Alberta Wildrose Alliance bunfest

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Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith

Those who attended last night's Wildrose Alliance fundraiser in Edmonton got to hear Leader Danielle Smith passionately dismiss "'sinister-sounding' and 'meaningless' warnings that her party is full of right-wing extremists masquerading as moderates."

I take for my text this evening the report of this event in the Edmonton Journal and a few garbled text transmissions received from the floor, seeing as I was occupied at a somewhat less expensive event in southern Alberta and unable to attend. Plus, of course, I wouldn't have had an oil company or high-priced law firm prepared to fork over $300 for my plate of rubber chicken as they did for 700 or so well-heeled folks.

Smith, according to the Journal's report, "aligned her party with the 'Big Society' movement happening in the United Kingdom under Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron."

"What Prime Minister Cameron is challenging Britons to consider, and what we in the Wildrose are challenging Albertans to consider, is perhaps there is a better way to care for the most vulnerable in our society," she said.

Indeed! For those of you who missed it, what this amounts to in Cameron's not-so-Great, not-so-Just, but merely "Big" Society, is that the cost of legitimate social services will be dumped on underfunded local councils, volunteers will be expected to pick up the slack, public libraries and public transit will close down for lack of funds, and drivers will do their own wintertime road sanding.

Try that one in rural Alberta, for crying out loud!

If your son or daughter is in university, college or technical school and the Big Society is Smith's model, brace yourself because it stands for Big Tuition Increases. Stand by for triple tuition fees in the first year of a Wildrose government, presumably.

As the Globe and Mail explained it recently: "To its varied and vocal detractors, the Big Society is an ideological exercise in dismantling the welfare state, a return to Victorian disequilibrium where the many disadvantaged rely on the goodwill of the obliging few."

Since it is the product of a coalition government propped up by Britain's apparently suicidal Liberal-Democratic Party, which seems neither liberal nor democratic, it is reasonable to expect this lamely named phenomenon is not long for the United Kingdom, and thankfully so.

Now, I don't know about meaningless -- one would hope so while fearing not -- but setting up Alberta as the next testing ground for the depredations of the Big Society sure as hell sounds sinister.

Smith's point is well taken, however, that her supporters are not masquerading as moderates, if that is what she meant. After all, these people gave her Big Society Speech a rousing ovation. This sounds like the work of outright, unreconstituted, unapologetic "right-wing extremists" to me.

One is reasonably confident that this update on the Wildrose platform comes as happy news to the more moderate candidates in the race to replace Premier Ed Stelmach as Alberta Progressive Conservative leader.

Smith's self-identification with the Big Society and its ugly social and economic outcomes will provide the more progressive Progressive Conservatives a convenient and meaningful target at which to take potshots.

This group would include the still-undeclared Gary Mar -- who is showing signs of becoming the front-runner in the Conservative race, although the mainstream media is yet to pick up on this factoid.

What they have picked up on, thankfully, is that Mar is likely to run. The Calgary Herald breathlessly brought us word of this scoop -- long known to readers of Alberta Diary and other blogs -- in Tuesday's edition.

"Mar's campaign team met last weekend in Red Deer, according to sources, and are preparing to launch their bid later this month," the Herald informed us. Just so you know, the announcement will likely be on March 15.

Mar's team contains many of those who backed the unsuccessful 2006 leadership campaign of former provincial treasurer Jim Dinning. They will be determined, it seems reasonable to suppose, not to make the same mistakes again!

Meanwhile, back at Wednesday's Wildrose bunfest, Smith was introduced by the party's newest cardholder and its latest Conservative defector, former Klein-era cabinet minister Lyle Oberg.

Oberg, who like Independent MLA Raj Sherman is a physician, is best known to Albertans for his eccentric 1930s era haircut.

The defection of Oberg, who was beaten by Premier Stelmach in the 2006 Tory leadership race, is a nice one-day news hit for the Alliance, but probably not as significant as it might appear at first glance.

After all, while Oberg held important cabinet posts under Premier Ralph Klein, he was not viewed by party insiders as the most credible candidate in the 2006 leadership race, and was dropped after the first ballot.

Moreover, Oberg has close family ties to the Wildrose caucus, where his wife has worked for some time as an aide to former Conservative Guy Boutilier, now the Wildrose MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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