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Monday, January 18, 2010

danielle smith's free-ride.

Since stepping into her new role as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith has taken on more of a celebrity role than that of the leader of a party with 3 seats in a 83 seat Legislative Assembly. Ms. Smith is impressively politically savvy, and judging by the attention she has been receiving from the media, you would have a hard time believing that she is not the elected leader of Alberta's Official Opposition.

Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle SmithLet's Make it Happen
Little of the incredible media attention received by Ms. Smith has focused on her party's policy or even her political stances. I do not believe that I have read any reporter or columnist seriously dig into Ms. Smith's only past-experience as an elected official on the Calgary Board of Education which began in 1998 and ended when the Minister of Learning dissolved the board in 1999 (which I covered in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). The by-election victory in Calgary-Glenmore, the floor-crossings of PC MLAs Heather Forsyth and Rob Anderson, and rise in the polls are convincing (and exciting) political coups in the context of an otherwise boring political environment. At least in the short-term, Ms. Smith has definitely changed the game.

Ms. Smith has faced some criticism for her confusing views on climate change and her former Chief of Staff felt the repercussions of an uneasy Twitter finger, but she has easily deflected questions about hard policy questions by telling the media to wait until her party's upcoming policy conference or hiding behind the label of libertarianism.

Premier Ed Stelmach has labelled Wildrose Alliance policies as "draconian," but in the context of his falling popularity, the Premier's reaction smacked of desperation and political spin (however accurate his comments may have been). Even the recent cabinet shuffle was framed as a reaction to the increasing popularity of Ms. Smith's party. The reaction of the Official Opposition Liberal Party was to launch of a YouTube video comparing Premier Stelmach and Ms. Smith to Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney (a strategy that top minds are still attempting to decrypt).

An American conservative blogger recently held Ms. Smith up as "a guiding northern star for the building anti-establishment movement in the GOP" and suggested that her "delivery reminds me of Sarah Palin when she’s at her best." I recognize that these are the words of one individual with a website, but it is not the first time that I have heard conservatives speak of Ms. Smith in that manner.

The Ontario media appears to have warmly embraced Ms. Smith by lobbing softball questions and accepting vague answers. During a stint as a guest panelist on CTVs Question Period, Smith was asked questions about Social Credit leader Harry Strom and almost accepted as the next leader of Alberta. Her coverage on Peter Mansbridge's One-on-One and upcoming on Rick Mercer's Report is also unprecedented for an opposition leader in Alberta.

Amidst this flurry of media attention, nearly no additional attention is paid to the actual opposition leaders elected by Albertans in the 2008 election as David Swann and Brian Mason continue to linger stalled in the polls in the unconvincing ranks of the opposition benches. I tend to believe this is symptomatic of the antipathy felt towards to traditional political parties in Alberta. This antipathy is likely why non-traditional groups like the Wildrose Alliance, Renew Alberta, and Reboot Alberta are attracting a growing number of Albertans into their ranks, while the traditional opposition parties are barricading their gates without taking stock of the decreasing value of their guarded treasures. While some people are holding out for change within the two traditional opposition parties (or simply asking them to get their acts together!), I tend to believe that it is likely too late.

With Premier Stelmach appearing politically weak and a provincial election expected in 2012, will the guardians of establishment conservatism in Alberta sit idly while their movement is fractured between the Wildrose Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party? With this scenario in mind, is it too far fetched to foresee a scenario in the not too distant future where Premier Ted Morton welcomes Danielle Smith as the Finance Minister in a government formed by the newly merged Conservative Party of Alberta?

UPDATE: David Climenhaga has written a response to this blog post listing the top 11 reasons he feels Albertans should not support the Wildrose Alliance . Climenhaga's list prompted the Alberta Altruist blog to pen a response.

33 comments:

Atypical Albertan said...

You sent some severe shivers down my spine with that last sentence.

Another excellent post Dave! See you in K-Country.

k.w.m said...

Great posting Dave, scary but true, they are both the same, it came out when the WAP changed policy to allow the floor crosser's to join, to become another P.C party that will become the opposition then the monopoly will really begin, enabling total power to the P.C totalitarians.

Anonymous said...

Check out the following video. Starting at 24:34 Christopher Hitchens gives his take on "Libertarianism". In summary, he suggests it is more of a needed character attribute than a fleshed out political ideology. Danielle won't be able to hide her party's ravenously social conservative nature behind the shield of Libertarianism for much longer. Such deflections certainly won't hold up through an election campaign.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Jl2iPPUtI

Anonymous said...

I still have a Kim Campbell campaign t-shirt and am willing to have the logo changed to Danielle's name.

Why would you think though, that Danielle is incapable of leading a party, while Ted Morton is? The tradition is that you hide your wing-nuts behind a moderate leader, no?

Princess said...

K.W.M

The Wildrose Alliance did not change policy to accept floor crossers. You are misinformed.

The Garbage Man Can said...

Getting a little desperate Dave? It must be hard to see Reboot, Renew and Recycle fail.

Jeff said...

I'd never even thought of the parties joining forces as their federal counterparts did! Scary...

Also, thanks for the link.

About that...I think the machinery and household names of the traditional Liberal and NDP parties need to act but likely do need to leave that stuff behind to join forces in something (re)new.

Andrew McIntyre said...

Danielle's relationship with the Calgary media is the only place I could expand on.

Aside from spending 6 years on the Calgary Herald editorial board herself, Danielle's husband, David Maretta, is the managing editor of Global TV in Calgary. Is the likelihood of a hard hitting objective-but-critical piece in any way influence by "Hey, be careful! That's the boss' wife" ?

Markham Hislop wrote an interesting op-ed on David's party membership vs. journalistic integrity that more people - especially all the koolaid drinkers - should read.

http://www.calgarybeacon.com/2009/10/danielle-smith-disappoints-on-politics-vs-journalism-issue/

Urban Spork said...

People are still pretending Renew and Reboot are going some where? How cute!

Seriously, don't we all acknowledge both movements are dead? Join the Dippers or the Grits already. What a waste of time these other projects are.

Feynman and Coulter's Love Child said...

Could it be the reason nobody cares about Swann/Mason is that they, like Stelmach, are simply two boring and unintelligent leaders who bring nothing to the table? Without the party machine capable of drawing in support, a party has to turn to its leader to impress or inspire. With no fresh ideas and no charisma its a lost cause: picture Hinman in the leadership debate without the policy arguments, and that's where the old-school party bosses are sitting.

Anonymous said...

You talk about Danielle Smith reminding you of Sarah Palin. Check this out, it's pretty good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHIM-pemv4A

R. G. Harvie said...

While, as you might expect from a PC'er, I might borrow a phrase and say, "reports of our demise were highly exagerrated".. this is a great post.

There are no shortage of media-types happy to pillory Ed Stelmach and the PC Party.. and with good cause, they are the people in charge, are on the top of the totem pole.. nonetheless, the total absense of any critical discussion of Danielle Smith's qualifications (or lack thereof) or her party's policy (or lack thereof) is a glaring example of a media having lost its way.

Rather than provide fodder and facts which may impact public opinion, the media today is more inclined to read public opinion and then report in a manner which seeks to appeal to the public and, hence, sell more advertising.

Anonymous said...

The navel gazers of Reboot/Renew/Regurgitate comparing themselves to the WRA and its recent gains are like a kid with a Yugo looking at a Jag and still maintaining pride of ownership.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I think you're almost there. The media has accepted a narrative of the long-standing governing party being wiped out from an upstart party to the right. It's not entirely true, but that's close enough for most reporters who are adhering to this narrative and writing their stories to fit it.

I'm not a PC supporter, but can we see some critical coverage of this supposed heir apparent? Her refusal to disclose her donors, and the floor crossers declining to submit to byelections just smacks of more of the same we've had for the last few decades.

Anonymous said...

It was for the reason headlined by this blog post that I cancelled my subscription to the Calgary Herald at the beginning of this month. [A week and a half later, they filed for bankruptcy - guess I hit them in the pocketbook. Go figure]

Even giving full seat credit to the opportunistic floor-crossers, the Alberta Liberals still have three times the number of members in the Assembly than the WAP, and the media barely give them a spot in the paper for comment on issues of the day. By comparison, a person reading the news without electoral knowledge of the province would think the WAP are the Official Opposition by the amount of free space they get.

Ridiculous.

What's left of Rick Bell's brain said...

That's right! Go ahead! Blame the media! You elitist, latte-sipping, book-reading, opera-watching, Holt-Renfrew-shopping whiners.

Anonymous said...

Danielle Smith is supported by the same kind of people that will one day elect President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

And like him, she'll win resounding electoral victories thanks to these highly intelligent voters.

Stating the obvious said...

Mr. Harvie,

Rather then being here complaining, shouldn't you be out trying to win the Hearts and Minds of the constituents of Lethbridge-East *snicker* *snicker* *snort *snort*

Lethbridge-East = PC Failure since 1993!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm sure the PC's were very upset about losing Lethbridge-East in the last election. I'm sure their giant majority did nothing to console their pain over that one oh-so-important seat.

R. G. Harvie said...

Responsible government requires an effective opposition.. and much as I would love to have Lethbridge East as a PC constituency, I understand to some degree the electorate voting Liberal.

Keeping in mind, as well, that Bridget Pastoor was a strong supporter and advocate of former Treasurer Dick Johnson, whom some have described as slightly right of George W. Bush.. so, it's not like we have Bob Rae as MLA for our constituency.

.. though that sort of broad discussion might seem a little complex for someone supporting the WRA.

(..and I love "anonymous" posters.. wouldn't it be more appropriate to refer to them as "gutless"? The words of someone refusing to identify themselves are just so much wasted space.)

Boris said...

A) Is it Danielle Smith's fault that the media are giving her a free ride?
B) Were the WRAP prospects better or worse than the Alberta Liberal's leading up to their leadership race and why didn't the Liberals attract their own version?
C) Was it in SEE or Vue which had the political cartoon basically saying that the only reason she's popular is her chest? Stay classy weekly press.

Alvin Finkel said...

While the Liberals and the NDP get little press because of corporate control of the media, they have done little to attract coverage. Both parties, especially the NDP, are good as attack dogs. But they are cagey on the issue that could mark them out from the two right-wing parties: fiscal policy. They reason that while people do not want program cuts, they do not want to pay more taxes to maintain programs. Even if their tax programs would mainly hit the wealthy, the reasoning is that they will be labelled as tax increasers and become toast.

But, as Dave suggests, these parties are becoming toast with their milquetoast behaviour. They need to have a clear, overall agenda and plan, including a very clear fiscal policy, and they need to form a coalition for the next election so that they are offering something new as well.

David Swann, who has been relatively open to the Democratic Renewal Project (drp.ca), but is not a member, went part way with our non-compete strategy by suggesting via the Toronto Star on December 24 that the Liberals and NDP agree not to run against each other in seats which they currently hold. That's an anemic beginning. But it's not enough. Certainly, if these 2 parties do not do something positive very soon, they are doomed to another wipe-out in 2012.

Renew seems stillborn, ideologically vacuous, and poised to take only marginal Liberal and Tory votes, all to better serve the cause of a WCC sweep in 2012.

Alvin Finkel,
co-chair,
Democratic Renewal Project
drp.ca

jerrymacgp said...

The Libs & the NDP both know that any mention of increasing taxes is political suicide in Alberta. Of course no responsible government can afford to keep spending on services and programmes without collecting revenues to pay for them, but Alberta voters are not responsible.They keep praying for another oil boom, and keep pissing it away every time. They want to have a champagne government on a beer budget.

Boris said...

Mr. Finkel, if you actually believe that the AB Libs and the NDP don't get media coverage because of evil corporate control, well you might as well be done as a reasonable political voice.

By the way, Dave, great job on the Twittering Ted Morton! It is you, right?

Anonymous said...

Alvin, you need to have a drink or bong hit sometime and mellow out. Lady J can do wonders for your particular brands of psychoses. And please visit a salon and get your hair STRAIGHTENED!

Speaking of stillborn and vacuous, it takes one to know one.

Keep on truckin Mister Finkle

Alvin Finkel said...

I agree with Jerrymacgp that Alberta voters, on the whole, have demonstrated that they are not responsible. They want magic: far lower taxes than what other Canadians pay, and yet as good or better public services as what other Canadians get, all without deficits at any point. We do pay far lower taxes than other Canadians and surprise, surprise, our services are poorer than those in several other provinces that are not as rich as we are.

But if opposition parties all have to cater to that magical thinking, then political change in the sense of a change in policies is not possible in Alberta. All that is possible is a change in the label of the crew who claim to govern us. A charade of choice and democracy.

I don't think that the people who lead the Liberals or the NDP actually believe in that magical thinking. But if they are unable to come up with a vision that is clearly differentiated from that of the Tories and the Wild Rosers,and make it public in some detail, then I guess they are, as Dave suggests, yesterday's news and don't deserve anyone's support.

Alvin Finkel (note that it is el, not le, "Anonymous," you masked insult machine and poor speller. You obviously know me from somewhere since you mention that I am a curly-top. Asking me to straighten my hair is just plain anti-Semitic).

Pete said...

Interesting post. I hope Coyne and Wells can get some policy answers from Smith tomorrow in their conversation on CPAC. If Smith turns out to be a Palin clone and we vote her in, I will leave the province. I am still not convinced though that the WRA is not a flash in the pan. When the economy gets back on track globally and provincially will the emotion still be there for Smith? Time will tell.

Darren said...

We're not unaccustomed to the puffball treatment of some politicians. Ignatieff got away without answering real questions after Dion announced his resignation and he became the leader-in-waiting. Obama also had an easy ride from the media leading up to the presidential election and even afterward.
I suspect Smith will continue to get the kid glove treatment until it becomes important to answer real questions. Because, right, now, it's not really. We're not in an election cycle, there's no need for hard answers now because no one has to make a choice yet.
I wouldn't read anything into it right now.

What's left of Rick Bell's brain said...

Pfft. You whining, intellectual, angry, Proust-reading, communist girlymen. Albertans like our Mavericks, and that's why we stand behind our little Dani. Ed used to be one of us before he went all soft in the head with all his book-learning bureaucrats. Now go back to picking the granola crumbs out of your beard, professor.

Anonymous said...

The surest sign that the national media is giving Danielle an easy time is the constant reference to her good looks (see Macleans, National Post, Don Braid, etc). Not only is this a questionable approach to reporting (who cares how a politician looks either way?) but in her case it's clearly wrong. She's a very ordinary looking female. She is neither hot nor horrific, but many media outlets would have you believe otherwise, strange as that is.

Anonymous said...

And yesterday Hehr was on the news talking about how he agreed with the wild ones (on pdd but the message is out there). Liberals and the Wild Rose unite...

Scott said...

I think your article is spot on Dave. The media has, for better or (likely) worse, taken on the role of vetting modern political leaders. It is therefore extremely frustrating when they abdicate this role in favour of vacuous coverage of a candidates peripheral attributes instead of carefully reviewing their policies (or at least opinions on the issues). This is ever more true when the candidate in question has a thin (to non-existent) legislative record.

The similarities to the coverage of the '08 election are striking. Hopefully, this time the coverage will change before voters head to the polls.

Anonymous said...

What Swann's brilliant bunch of political tall foreheads haven't come up with a way to weasel the 'brilliant' Doctor into the national media? I am shocked. This is after all a clan of elitists that couldn't order from a menu without dumbfounding a waitress with their all too important questions about where the salmon is from or if the coffee is fair trade. Get a grip Dave the Liberals are dead in the water.