Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith

That’s it? Trust us? Trust us?

That, according to the mainstream media, was the substance of Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith’s message to Albertans at the start of the oddly named party’s annual convention in Calgary Friday night.

Smith told her far-right party’s faithful that she knows “simply telling you to trust me … is not enough. …

“Trust is earned by the actions we take,” she said, according to the Calgary Herald. “Trust comes from doing what is right even when it is inconvenient. I’m asking every Albertan listening tonight to give me and (the candidates) up on this stage a chance to earn your trust.”

That may not seem like much of a message for a new party taking on a 40-year political dynasty with deep pockets, plenty of bench strength and a significant chance of reinventing itself as something both comforting and new. But, I guess, under the circumstances, it’s about all the new improved Wildrose (with reduced Alliance content) Party has to go on.

My guess is that most of the members of the strategic braintrust behind the Wildrose Alliance didn’t even want to think about the elephant in the room at their convention Friday and yesterday, which was the fact that since Progressive Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach announced his departure so many Wildrose supporters have either returned to the PCs or have reverted to behaviour that is normal in Alberta, having a foot in both camps.

The reality is that many Wildrose supporters were there because they didn’t like Stelmach, not because they didn’t like the Tories or because they loved the Wildrose Alliance. This assertion is difficult for anyone to prove right or wrong just now, but it rings with a pure harmonic chime.

Consider the case of Hal Walker, a long-time PC activist, Ralph Klein confidante and mover and shaker in the Calgary business community, who noisily switched to the Wildrose Alliance in April 2010 and before long was serving as the party’s president.

Now, while triumphant references to his defection linger on the Wildrose website, Walker has stepped aside as president of the party. It is easy to speculate that with Stelmach gone, Walker feels his work is done.

Remember, Walker was once part of Tory leadership candidate Alison Redford’s constituency association, and he may not be as enthusiastic about campaigning against Redford, or any of the other potential Tory leaders with whom he has a history, as he was about facing off against Stelmach.

At any rate, if indeed Walker has lost interest in steering the Wildrose Alliance through the shoals of the next election, lots of other former Tories who made the switch and are now drifting back toward the Conservatives may feel the same way.

Anyway, the main purpose of a convention like this is getting the party’s true believers fired up in case there’s an election sooner than expected, and at the same time not doing anything too outrageous that might scare off middle-of-the-road Alberta voters. You know, like voting to promote private hospitals or to scrap the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Middle-of-the-road voters are the very folks who in significant numbers are already considering a return to the comfortable old Conservatives now that the singularly inept Stelmach is on his way out the door. I recognize that this is going to be a controversial statement, seeing as the Wildrose Alliance has been touting a dubious poll that says something else. We will just have to wait until someone does a serious poll of Albertans’ true voting intentions to settle this argument.

Meanwhile, before we go any further, I have a little confession to make. I’m relying mainly on what the mainstream media has to say about this event, supplemented by a little reading between the lines. I would have loved to have been there, truly, but the deal is that if I’d gone, the dogs would have been dead of thirst by the time I got home. I might sacrifice the goldfish for the Wildrose Alliance, but not Man’s Best Friends!

Where was I? Oh yes, the Wildrose Alliance. …

Without much actual news to report — it would have been news, after all, if Smith hadn’t delivered a rip-roaring partisan speech to her supporters — the political commentators are reduced to sorting through the tealeaves for auguries of what may come.

Thus, a few vague thoughts present themselves from the media coverage of this event:

–    Smith and her strategists seem to be focusing in on Gary Mar as the person to beat among the Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidates vying to replace Premier Stelmach. According to the Calgary Herald, at any rate, she made Mar the principal target of her attack on the Tories. But then, Mar is the front-runner just now. This strategy, though, may prove to be wishful thinking, as Wildrosers have also identified Mar as the best candidate to run against from their vantage point. Either Redford or Ted Morton, both strong candidates, might present challenges the Wildrose Alliance is less well placed to meet.

–    The Wildrose Alliance appears to be is rethinking its past strategy of relying on Liberal or NDP victories in Edmonton to reduce the number of Conservative seats. The factors that drive this change are likely the apparent ongoing collapse of the Alberta Liberal Party and the probable return to strength of the post-Stelmach Conservatives. If so, this is probably a vain hope. Ultimately, the collapse of the Liberals in Edmonton is going to benefit the Conservatives and no one else. Think about it, where else are traditional Liberal voters who think the New Democrats are too far to the left and the Wildrose Alliance too right-wing going to go?

–    The ties between the Wildrose Alliance and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s neo-Con government in Ottawa remain strong. Count on it, Ryan Hastman, former PMO operative and Alberta’s only unsuccessful Conservative candidate in the most recent federal election, would not have joined the Wildrose ranks last week without the blessing of his bosses on the Rideau.

–    The biggest threat to the Wildrose Alliance’s long-term survival remains former finance minister and publicly paid far-right college ideologue Ted Morton, who as the Journal recently reported continues to campaign effectively but quietly in the background. Don’t forget, Morton is a guy with a long list of supporters from his last leadership campaign, so he presents a serious threat in the Tory leadership vote’s first ballot. If he triumphs, he poses an existential threat to the Wildrose Alliance, because his strategy (to court right-wing activists) and his plan (to re-unite the right under an unprogressive Conservative banner) are both essentially the same as Smith’s. The only real difference: the leader.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary. Don’t forget to donate to rabble!

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...