Friday, September 25, 2009

The Wild Run for the Wild Rose

I like following leadership races, maybe even more than general elections. The candidates are less well know, the dynamics are more intriguing, and the results are less predictable.

It's great when the winner of the race has a legitimate shot at one day forming government, but there's also something to be said for the characters you get when looking at fringe party races. Luckily, there's a race in Alberta with both of elements in it.

On October 17th, the Wildrose Alliance will be picking a new leader. As I said last week, these guys need to be taken seriously. Especially given the rumours up to 10 Tory MLAs are considering crossing the floor (re-tweeted by Danielle Smith, so she's not trying to downplay them). That's right, MLAs are considering leaving a party with 70 seats who have been in power for 40 years, for a party with 1 single MLA. What can I say, Alberta politics has always been a little weird.

To recap, the race is now a battle between Danielle Smith and Mark Dyrholm. This, after Jeff Willerton pulled out. Willerton is the author of "Fix Canada", a book his own website describes as so simple "a twelve year old or even a retired grease monkey like me could understand it." I don't think I'm simplifying things by saying that his solution to fixing Canada is to get rid of the Liberals. Consider his leadership website:

My objective in running for the leadership of the party is of course to promote better government provincially, but it's more than that. It's also to promote a better federal outcome by keeping the Liberals out of office - and it can be done.

I'm not a separatist, but like most Albertans I am anti-liberal, and frankly I believe we should go to the polls to reconsider our options in Confederation - each and every time a Liberal government is elected or reelected in Ottawa. We can't tell people how to vote, but if the east insists on having a Liberal government they need to know they might have it all to themselves at the end of the day. Again, my objective is not to break up Canada - it's limited government - which is impossible under a Liberal government.

When I sign my book, excerpted at and of which I have sold almost 20,000 copies in this province, my normal salutation is "Toward a better, liberal-free Canada!"

So, to recap: Willerton was running to become Premier of Alberta because he dislikes the federal Liberal Party. And he's not a separatist, but he believes Alberta should hold referendums to separate...every time a Liberal government is elected federally.

I include this about Willerton, only to emphasize the self-evident problem the Wildrose Alliance Party is going to face. Maybe it's not self-evident to a 12 year old or to readers of Fix Canada, but I think most people here will be able to figure out what that problem is.

Moving on, Willerton has thrown his considerable influence behind Mark Dyrholm. If you visit Mark's website and manage the dodge the exploding pop-up ads showing his support for Paul Hinman (for the by election which was held two weeks ago), you'll see that he starts his bio off by declaring "Mark has a solid education". Mark also has solid policies, although I could see a few of them being problematic in practice, notably his pledge to call an election if his government doesn't bring forward a balanced budget, and a promise to have all major expenditures approved by referendum.

So that brings us to media darling Danielle Smith. Despite having the blandest slogan in the history of leadership races ("Activist. Analyst. Albertan."), Smith has been able to generate a lot of buzz around her candidacy, due to her being:

a) Media savvy and well spoken
b) Not unattractive
c) Not crazy

Smith has picked up a slew of endorsements, including one from Ralph Klein's father, who she seems to have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with - up until today, the top two stories on her website over the past week and a half have dealt with Ralph's dad dumping on Stelmach.

Browsing through her policies, she's proposing to hold a referendum on whether or not to hold referendums. And although many of her ideas are decidedly libertarian and right wing, she's not afraid to say words like "environmental safeguards" or "alternative energy".

And that's the genius of Smith's candidacy - she doesn't come across looking or sounding like a scary right winger, leading many moderate conservatives to become quite fascinated with her candidacy. And even if her party isn't even remotely ready to govern, at least she sounds like someone capable of leading Alberta in the 21st Century...more so than the man currently doing just that anyways.

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  • Anonymous said...

    The numerous endorsements (remember Jim Dinning had lots of them!) on Ms. Smith's website and this "leak" about at least 10 MLA's crossing the floor if she becomes leader are nothing more than spin by her campaign team to try and create the optics that she is the only one with enough support to become leader and that the Wildrose Alliance Party is going somewhere only if she becomes leader.

    Pretty transparent, really.

    Consider this:

    24 Ministers
    10 Parliamentary Assistants
    15 Entrenched PC's
    49 Total

    Out of the remaining 21 caucus members, which 10 do you really think are going to cross?

    Got to give her campaign team props for trying, though! LOL!!!

    Friday, September 25, 2009 7:03:00 PM

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:39 a.m.  

  • If Smith wins, she would do well to read up on what befell Mario Dumon.

    Mario, after all, was a borderline sane fellow who routinely topped the polls when it came to personal popularity. But all through his long, lean years of building the ADQ from a fringe movement to official opposition (and back to fringe movement), the problem was never really him so much as the warm bodies he had to find to stand as his party's candidate in each constituency. The talent pool was so brutal there that for at least three elections in a row they kept taking respectable pre-election polling numbers and watching them crash back to distant third over the span of the campaign -- once people went to town hall meetings and saw an inept performance from the undermedicated used tractor salesman the ADQ had nominated.

    When there finally was a lucky break provincewide to the ADQ and they won official opposition status, the ADQ backbenchers that rode the wave in were quickly revealed to be a laughingstock... this was a critical reason why the bloom came off the rose so quickly and in within eight months they basically undid eight years' worth of electoral progress.

    Now, of course, Alberta is different. No matter how bush-league politics are in Trois-Pistoles, politics in Three Hills has them beat. There is a long heritage of sending undermedicated used tractor salesmen to the Leg, and chances are the Tory backbenchers these WRA candidates are going to be going up against won't in many cases be much more impressive-looking.

    But I still think the local angle will be a drag on WRA performance. There is, even in Alberta, a line of far-rightiness and grassrootsiness that, once crossed, starts leading to diminishing returns. Danielle Smith is going to be in basically no position to keep the Chandler-grade kooks out.

    The real question is whether Stelmach will try to paint the WRA as extremists or not. If he tries to shore up his moderate cred, he risks playing into the WRA's narrative and risks losing even more of his base. The alternative is him steering the Tories into a conservative-off with this gang, which would be morbidly fascinating to watch for those of us safely out of the vicinity.

    Final thought: Why the hell is "Wildrose" spelled without a space? Is it just evidence of Link Byfield's attitude towards elitist socialist grammaticalists? (To make the whole mess worse, Dyrholm's site switches back and forth between the spaced and unspaced spellings. Very Mavericky of him.)

    By Blogger Tom, at 12:54 a.m.  

  • Well it is a catch 22. One only attracts the B team if there is no chance of winning and becoming a cabinet minister. And there is no chance of winning if running the B team.
    In truth, the 2nd statement isn't really true. The current Assembly is not the best and brightest. An uncharitable person would extend this charge right to the premier's office. And anyone who has run for provincial or federal office will tell you that the leader's campaign is what matters; the local race only makes a difference in a close contest.

    By Anonymous Brian Dell, at 11:30 a.m.  

  • In 2004 a whole bunch of PC MLA's were crossing the floor to the Alberta Alliance Party. All the AAP got was Gary Masyk - turned out he was more upset about the boundary redistribution than anything else! And, where is he now?

    I certainly see the draw to Danielle - but having a 1-seat party with an untested leader who doesn't even have her own seat, seems a bit of a stretch to have 10 MLA's crossing the floor.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:36 a.m.  

  • Parties dont need to be "ready to govern" in order to be elected to govern.

    Also See
    Rae, Bob

    By Blogger nixtuff, at 2:35 p.m.  

  • Tom - good comparison to the Mario Dumong and the would definitely be a similar situation.

    Although the ADQ came within a wisker of winning...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:41 a.m.  

  • Is the WRA a party of moderates?

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