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Wildrose leader can't just toss the abortion furor under the bus

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Jane Cawthorne (Writers Guild of Alberta photo)

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith can pass off reports of her party's (half) hidden abortion agenda as scare mongering, and she can try to throw the party official who apparently accidentally raised it under the bus, but there's legitimate reason to fear.

Abortion is a divisive issue that arouses passions on both sides and is therefore political dynamite for any politician who dares take a clear position. So Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan must have been laughing up his sleeve at the inability of voters, media and even pro-choice activists to connect the dots between what Wildrose was telling its social-conservative base and its pre-election silence for everyone else on the issue.

But that was then and this is now. To stick with the public transportation metaphor, the wheels came off that particular bus when Wildrose Chief Administrative Officer Jeffrey Trynchy sent a letter last Wednesday to Calgary author Jane Cawthorne in which he elucidated the party's strategy.

He told Cawthorne: "Wildrose is committed to Alberta values of free enterprise, less government, increased personal freedom and democracy. We also recognize that views about social and moral issues are diverse, and we believe that individuals ought to be able to hold, and express, their opinions. The legalities of abortion fall under federal jurisdiction. We respect that Albertans view social issues differently, which is why Wildrose would immediately introduce legislation allowing citizens to put issues like abortion to a citizen-initiated referendum. This open and democratic process allows Albertans to tell government what they believe is important. Thank you again for your email. We look forward to your support on April 23rd." (Emphasis added.)

Trynchy apparently didn't connect some dots of his own, since in addition to being a well-known writer Cawthorne is a blogger and pro-choice activist. She reprinted his letter on her blog. So to Cawthorne goes the credit for finally getting the issue of where the Wildrose Party stands on abortion out into the light of day.

Smith has been ducking and weaving ever since, but the omissions in her denials remain more significant than the inclusions, and the obfuscations more revealing than the clarifications.

As noted above, Smith started by tossing Trynchy under the metaphorical bus, at least for the moment, telling the Calgary Herald he was plain wrong, as if he were some lowly flunky sending unauthorized commentary from a Wildrose candidate’s campaign email account.

Then she started "laying smoke" like a naval destroyer in the age before radar, trying to obscure a big target from gunfire. Wildrose would never legislate against abortion, it's a federal responsibility, and referendum would have to be vetted by a judge, everyone go back to sleep, yadda-yadda.

She issued a terse news release that stated: "…Wildrose has absolutely no intentions of legislating on abortion, and that includes de-listing. Citizen initiative is and has always been an important part of the Wildrose platform. However, any initiative must first be vetted by a federally appointed judge to determine whether or not it is constitutional."

While this statement seems categorical, it fails, probably intentionally, to resolve the ambiguity of whether or not a Wildrose government would use its citizen-initiative plans to attempt to de-list funding for abortions.

The credibility of Smith's extemporizing is damaged by the fact her past strategizing on how to de-list and de-fund abortion is well known from what she wrote as a Calgary Herald columnist. Pretty well everyone in the mainstream media has now picked this up and quoted it, but it's worth repeating just the same. Eleven years ago she told the Herald's readers: "Most Canadians respect that the decision is between a woman, her doctor, and God, but I'm sure they also agree the taxpayer should not be on the hook to pay for it. If politicians have lost the courage to bring difficult matters into the public forum it makes citizens' initiatives more important than ever."

Another problem with the Wildrose narrative on this topic that may not be so well known is exactly what Trynchy's role is in the organization, and how senior Wildrose staff operates. As Cawthorne put it in her blog, Trynchy is a C-Level executive -- in other words, a decision maker.

How much of a decision maker? A Wildrose insider explains: There is no way on God’s Green Earth Smith could not have been aware of Trynchy’s letter, or at least the argument he proposed to make.

Trynchy replaced Vitor Marciano, now the Wildrose Senate candidate, in the party's Calgary office and spiritual headquarters. Party staff members answer to him and he acts as the gatekeeper, controlling access to Smith. So he is not just some kid who wandered in off the street and can’t be counted on to get it right.

The Wildrose office protocol called for all outgoing correspondence to be given to Trynchy to take to Smith for final scrutiny and approval. No doubt he made a few jottings of his own from time to time.

I can't vouch for this, of course, not being a Wildrose supporter, let alone an insider. But it sounds highly plausible to me.

So it is very unlikely that Trynchy got it "wrong," as Smith alleged, or that she didn't know what he was saying. He didn't merely miss "a couple of important points," as she said in a CTV news clip. The problem was, he mailed an accurate outline of the party’s strategy to the "wrong" person. Easy to do in the heat of a campaign when no doubt many emails are pouring in from supporters, but not exactly the kind of error Smith would like us to believe it was.

Well, we can't accuse the Wildrose Party of having a hidden agenda on this issue. All the time it's been right there, hidden in plain sight!

One thing this approach to explaining party policy clearly illustrates is that the PCs under Alison Redford are not the only arrogant conservative political party in this province that treats voters with easy contempt.

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

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