Despite an amusing Pierre Poutine moment before it started, the Wildrose Party's one-day annual general meeting in Edmonton yesterday seems to have gone swimmingly for Leader Danielle Smith, whose key messages were transmitted uncritically by media and apparently accepted in a similar spirit by members.
Reading between the lines of the media coverage, Smith's three main points to her right-wing supporters were as follows:
1) Bozo eruptions by bad candidates, not Wildrose policies, caused the party's election loss on April 23
2) Nothing substantive in the Wildrose economic agenda needs to change, but the party may have to be sneakier about some of its members' social conservative views
3) Albertans are gullible and stupid and were easily fooled by fear-mongering Tories into not voting Wildrose
OK. I admit it. I'm not a Wildrose supporter! I wonder what gave me away?
But really, people, how else are we to interpret Smith's statements, as channeled to us by the Edmonton Journal?
It's certainly apparent that poor old Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the Lake of Fire guy, is going to be made to to wear last spring's election loss for all of eternity by the party brass.
It's said here that most Albertans would have forgiven the party the pastor's Bronze Age theological views -- after all, he seemed sincerely concerned about the fate of certain voters' eternal souls no matter how quaint his interpretation of how they were endangering them may have seemed to Albertans in this secular age -- if they hadn't so distrusted the party's economic policies, particularly on health care.
But in the Wildrose worldview, the policies are fine, the problem with them is caused by fear-mongering, smear campaigns and Tory perfidy. Well, fair enough -- Tories are pretty perfidious! It's just that nowadays here in Alberta, they're also sticking pretty close to the centre, and voters obviously liked the centre a whole lot better than the far right fringe.
Smith, at least, showed some recognition of this reality, calling for reassessment by party members of such contentious policies as "conscience rights" (code for allowing discrimination against gays and inconsistent application of reproductive rights), abolishing the Human Rights Commission (which smacked of encouraging bigotry to a lot of Albertans) and such nutty relics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's independentiste Firewall Manifesto as replacing the Mounties with an Albertan-speaking provincial police force and heaving the Canada Pension Plan over the side.
This is progress of a sort, even if it doesn't quite add up to the "fresh, innovative and forward-looking" policies Smith promised.
In addition, bozo eruptions by ill-prepared candidates will no longer be tolerated. While Smith won’t come right out and admit it was a mistake to stand by her men last April, she did note that "if the candidate created such a controversy that it's going to bring down the entire party, that it’s going to affect our ability to form government, I hope they would have the respect for their colleagues and choose to fall on their sword." And if they won't, depend upon it that an able swordsman will be found.
As for the economic agenda, the Wildrose Party will continue to be sneaky about its plans for health care -- describing the U.S.-style market system it wants to impose as "European" and emphasizing its own brand of fear-mongering about debt financing and fair taxes.
That's OK too. There are lots of voters who support such views in Alberta just as, quite obviously, there are more who prefer a more centrist approach.
As for Point 3, well, here's her argument and what she said: The whole party got smeared with Pastor Hunsperger's bozo eruption -- just as, you know, Wildrose supporters of Joan Crockatt's federal campaign in Calgary Centre are trying to get supposedly anti-Alberta comments by Liberals Justin Trudeau and David McGuinty to stick to the Liberals' popular candidate in that riding. (Psssst! This is called politics.)
“Frankly, I didn’t think Albertans would fall for it,” Ms. Smith said. “I was wrong. I thought people would understand that having a couple of candidates make controversial comments doesn’t cast a pall on all 87. I was mistaken.”
Sorry, as noted, it was Wildrose policy that caused voters, who it is said here were in a mood to punish the Tories by handing them a minority government, to stampede back to Redford when the polls made it look as if they were about to elect a far-right Wildrose majority.
Or, as Wildrose 2012 campaign manager Tom Flanagan accurately told the Globe and Mail, the strategy didn't work in part because the party hadn't expected to be as far ahead as it was by mid-campaign. "We thought our job was to scratch up to parity, not to defend a big lead."
The party wheeled out (figuratively speaking) the ancient Dr. Flanagan, who has a well-known sideline drumming neoconservative nostrums into the heads of University of Calgary students, with a more believable assessment for the crowd of what went awry on April 23.
To wit, said Flanagan, 68, while the Tories were losing their most right-wing supporters to the Wildrose, the government's pitch to those closer to the centre was working.
Plenty of folks on the left side of the political spectrum will agree with Flanagan's prescription that, "we have to liberate those left-wing voters to go back and vote where they would actually vote."
According to the Globe and Mail, Perfesser Flanagan also trotted out a suspect Abingdon Research opinion poll that supposedly shows the Wildrose Party firmly back in the hearts of Alberta voters. The word from the trenches of opinion research is that a poll replete with loaded push-questions about Daryl Katz's political donations has been making the rounds, so Redford supporters should probably wait for another survey before lining up to jump off Edmonton's High Level Bridge.
In an interesting historical aside, the Globe revealed in its mini-interview that Flanagan said he himself wrote the infamous 2001 Firewall Manifesto, which then-premier Ralph Klein wisely tossed into the recycling bin. I wonder if the other noted western separatists who signed it, men (all men) like Prime Minister Harper, disgraced B.C. political advisor Ken Boessenkool and Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, remember the drafting process the same way?
OK, about that Pierre Poutine moment. Some naughty person -- another perfidious PC, presumably -- circulated an email to party members a couple of days before the AGM reading in part, "Rob Anderson needs our help if he's going to become leader of Wildrose!" The email suggested that names candidates to support for party office to "be successful at forcing a post-AGM leadership review."
It concluded: "With your help, we will make this a reality and elect Rob Anderson as Premier in 2016!" Anderson, a Mormon bishop who is party House leader and a particular favourite of the Wildrose social conservative wing, would no doubt love to be premier, but he really has pledged his fealty to Smith.
Anyway, the fun was soon spoiled by an email from Wildrose Chief Administrative Officer Jeffery Trynchy: "Please be advised that this email is fraudulent. We are currently taking steps to determine the identity of the sender."
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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