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Friday, September 11, 2009

danielle smith could be a game changer in alberta politics.

Last night, I ventured into the world of right-wing partisan politics in Alberta and attended the Wildrose Alliance leadership forum. As someone who doesn't share this party's politics, and would have a very difficult time voting for its candidates in an election, I have found myself surprisingly curious about that party's potential.

Wildrose Alliance Leadership ForumWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Around 180 people were in attendance, and like most political party events, the majority of them appeared to be in the +60 grey-haired category. In the crowd, I noticed former Edmonton-Sherwood Park Conservative MP Ken Epp and former Alberta Greens leader Joe Anglin. I spoke with Anglin before he left the forum and he told me that while he wasn't going to join the Wildrose Alliance, as he felt they were too socially conservative for him, he continues to be open to work with all the parties. Anglin is gearing up for a fall fight against Bill 50, which is the sister of Bill 19 that passed earlier this year. Anglin's Lavesta Area Group of landowners are the most recent group to reach out to voters before the September 14 by-election in Calgary-Glenmore.

At some points during the forum I felt like I had walked into a Conservative Party of Canada rally. Mark Dyrholm took a stance that he would cut political party funding for the Bloc Quebecois, and both he and Jeff Willerton took regular shots at Pierre Trudeau, the NEP, Liberal Peter Lougheed, Liberal Don Getty, and the "Ed Stelmach Progressives."

Wildrose Alliance Leadership Forum - Mark DyrholmWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

A strong pro-life social conservative and former PC organizer, Dyrholm strikes me as the kind of person who would excel as an organizer for the right-wing party, but as leader would not increase its appeal much beyond its already loyal base. He was well-spoken, but offered little beyond the expected Liberal-baiting and attacks on the Human Rights Commission and court challenges program. While it is difficult to tell how much support each of the candidates has among the party faithful, Dyrholm's preaching spoke directly to the base of the now defunct Reform Party.

Jeff Willerton was easily the most entertaining and off the map of the three candidates. Describing "the slimy Liberal tentacles" of "the rotten octopus of the Liberal Party of Canada," Willerton took the position that if elected Premier he would hold a province-wide referendum on separation within six months of each time the Liberals form government in Ottawa. He was adamant that he wasn't a separatist, but was convinced that this would send a message to the Liberals (I'm still unclear on what kind of message that would be).

Wildrose Alliance Leadership Forum - Danielle SmithWildrose Alliance Leadership Forum

Danielle Smith largely steered clear of the expected right-wing sophism, and offered a more nuanced and articulate vision of where she would lead the Wildrose Alliance. While she appears to have mastered the art of talking points, she spoke passionately of building a big tent conservative party, the need to look beyond out borders to fix the problems with health care and poverty, and her values as a libertarian and fiscal conservative. Not surprisingly, Smith was recently endorsed by her ideological companion Ezra Levant. She has received a lot of media attention since entering the contest, but I wonder if her message is connecting with the Wildrose Alliance base.

It will depend on the results of the leadership contest on October 17, but I believe that as the leader of the Wildrose Alliance, Danielle Smith could be a game changer in Alberta politics. For over 20 years, electoral politics in Alberta has been stuck in a rut where the Liberal and NDP opposition have focused their resources on 15 to 20 ridings and have left the PCs uncontested in 40 to 60 ridings, ensuring majority governments and mediocre governance. I find it highly unlikely that the Wildrose Alliance under any leader would form government in 2012, but if a young, savvy, articulate, and well-spoken leader like Smith can succeed in moderating the traditional social conservatism of that party's members, she could turn the electoral map on its head by dislodging the democratically unhealthy logjam with which Albertans have become apathetically accustomed.


Anonymous said...

Did you get the impression that the party under Smith would not adopt social conservative policies, and would therefore appeal to mainstream Albertans?

daveberta said...

I got the impression that Smith was the only of the three who understood that appealing to more mainstream Albertans was the way to make the Wildrose Alliance more relevant.

Derrick Jacobson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Derrick Jacobson said...

Great Review Dave,
Think Jeff may be the underdog? His
describing "the slimy Liberal tentacles" of "the rotten octopus of the Liberal Party of Canada," is good for a laugh, but really has nothing to do with what he is running for.
I have tried to talk nice about Jeff, but he lacks direction in what he is trying to accomplish. A website with a slogan of Willerton for Premier is putting the cart before the horse. First you have to win the leadership (not too likely), second you have to win a seat (a chance, but not likely for him), and then you have to win over the Alberta electorate (impossible for him).
The best leader in the world would have a difficult time bringing the WRA to power by 2012, but to have a multi party democracy is a day I look forward to.

daveberta said...

I also forgot to mention that Naheed Nenshi's 'labels debate' was mentioned no less than 4 times by Smith and Dyrholm throughout the debate.

Justin said...

Well said Dave.

Wildrose Alliance supporters have a clear choice to make:

- They can select Dyrholm and remain 100% committed to the Conservative/Republican worldview that he articulates very well (likely restricting their potential electoral success to a handful of seats in a best-case scenario)
- They can select Smith and give up a little bit of ground on their values (Smith is pro-choice, for example) but likely increase their potential to make a significant mark on Alberta's political landscape.

If I wanted this party to succeed, I'd support Smith.

Brian Dell said...

Re Dyrholm being "strong pro-life", his own words were "RADICALLY pro-life".

Willerton's referendum proposal provoked an interested mix of gasps, head shaking, and scattered applause.

eh said...

I get the impression that Jeff Willteron is an absolute loon.

Anonymous said...

All of these people are completely irrelevant. Especially Smith who is way too ideological for politics and has already sold out to the oil industry.

Anonymous said...

Re Mark Dyrholm: How are Alberta provincial politics and party funding for the Bloc Quebecois in any way related? Stating that he would cut their funding makes absolutely no sense.

Craig B. Chandler said...

A few things of note.

Many of you do not seem to know the difference between a nomination and an election. One plays to a certain base in a nomination. Harper remembered that in the race against Belinda Stronach (the media darling in that race).

Brian you are taking the word "radically" out of context. He simply advocates a fundamental change in the current practice. An end to taxpayer funded abortion is radical. Allowing free votes and fixed election dates is also radical. You get the point.

As for Marks comments about funding the Bloc? All Mark did was give an example of special interest group funding. He is very familiar with the jurisdictional powers of each government as I am sure the other candidates are as well. He said he would eliminate interest group funding in Alberta.

All Brian Dell has done is attack and misconstrue because he knows Mark was good.

I am not sure why the Smith supporters have not focused on why they think she did well?

The answer is very obvious to us.

We hope each candidate performs well in each debate because that just makes our party look even better.

I will be addressing the attacks by Brian Dell on my Chandler Radio Network website in the next day or so.

Unknown said...

Danielle Smith solidified her position as front-runner at the debate. Dyrholm is intelligent, but lacks the charisma to capture the imagination of the voting public. The two times he tried attacking Smith each failed to garner a positive response from the crowd, and felt uncomfortably out of place in an otherwise positive and friendly debate.

Brian Dell said...

"One plays to a certain base in a nomination."

For what it is worth, I tried to raise the matter of positioning with Danielle, and she would have none of it, stating that she is not going to try and present a changing front. I had to admit she was right and I was wrong.

"Allowing free votes and fixed election dates is also radical."

Too radical for the federal Tories, yes. They shamelessly ignored a designated fixed election date. This is the same group in whose reflected glory you hope to lie. You know why the WAP is so hot amongst bloggers right now? Because it is movement conservatism. The current manifestation of the federal Tories does NOT enthuse movement conservatives. If it did, you would not see people like Andrew Coyne (or myself) so unhappy with them.

Jae/Jennie said...

Thank you so much for this, Dave. I'm fascinated, too.

Anonymous said...


If you really want to make your party look good, why don't you post the video of the debate somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Great, this is exactly what Alberta needs. The party that says: "hey, the Conservatives weren't right wing enough--but we are!"

The only good that can come out of this party is vote-splitting on the right side of the political spectrum.

Anonymous said...

We need to prop these guys up and make them a force. It's our best bet at getting any kind of Liberal or NDP presence in the Legislature.

About Smith: as if those cranks would elect a woman as their leader. The impotence that drives their ideology rules her out.

Anonymous said...

My name is Jennifer. I just turned 18. My parents voted PC my whole life. I was a rebel and worked for the NDP on two elections. I wanted idealism and something to really believe in. And the PCs my parents voted for are what you would call corrupt. I am at university in the US now, but will be joining the Wildrose Party of Alberta for the simple reason that like so many people are saying now, Danielle Smith will change politics in Alberta. I finally understand what Libertarian means and they are completely different from the right wing PCs and from the left wing NDP but will offer freedom and intelligence with Danielle Smith to Alberta voters. Down here a lot of people hate the Republicans but love Ron Paul, and I do, too. Danielle Smith has a great chance to become the first female premier of Alberta and Canada. She deserves all our support.

Anonymous said...

Someone said only 30 people showed up to the last meeting for the Wildrose. If you ask me this is just a creation in the media and will go nowhere. Besides Stelmach is doing a good job.

Anonymous said...

What a joke, I was looking at this as a possible party to join, but there is far too much posturing and bully tactics internally. What does it matter if your pro-life or pro-choice, that has nothing to do with provincial politics. Calling others a Loon, Saying your going to trash someone on your radio network, this all sounds like a party split in 3 groups that will have no direction or potential to come out of the basement, count me out!

Anonymous said...

I just can't believe that so many Liberal and PC bloggers are suggesting the WAP elect Smith so that the party will go far. Are these folks really giving candid advice because they want the WAP to succeed and beat their parties? I wonder...

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, you make a good point about Libertarianism - freedom and intelligence. Thank you for picking up on that.
Danielle is going to win this and I will tell you why:
1. She has the contacts, friends, history and experience necessary for the party to make this breakthrough. In other words, the disaffected Tories. I do not believe Mark could attract these members in large numbers.
2. She is not idealogically driven - she is pragmatic and realizes being Leader does not mean imposing your personal beliefs on others.
3. I looked at the names of people supporting her compared to those supporting Mark. Enough said.
4. Danielle can easily be seen as the Premier (and yes, we 'cranks' would be delighted to elect this woman as leader) while Mark cannot. My impression of Mark is rigid, without humor, self-righteous and unable to read his audience and may I say - boring.
Danielle is attractively bright - she smiles genuinely as she is a happy and interested person. This makes her capable of drawing people to her, giving her a chance to win them to the cause.
Dave is right - Danielle is the only candidate understanding the road to victory lies with the mainstream. That is why a win for her is a win for the party.
My nightmare is a 'Stelmach' - Supporters of Mark and Danielle may choose Jeff as second choice to prevent the other from winning. I like Jeff. As he showed, he is charming, funny and entertaining. As Leader? Not so much.
Justin, your analysis is dead on. I know our party has a reputation of being 'far right' but that doesn't take the addition of the Wildrose into consideration. The Wildrose party brought about 450 members with them - most of whom had never been Alliance members. That has changed the whole demographic of the party.
This is why Danielle will win.

Anonymous said...

No doubt the WAP is full of a lot of looney tune right wing wingnuts.

But I strongly support Danielle Smith. The best thing to do for average Albertans who want to get rid of the corrupt PC's is to join the WAP and overcome the crazies in the party by sheer force of numbers.

The Invisible Hand said...

I just can't believe that so many Liberal and PC bloggers are suggesting the WAP elect Smith so that the party will go far. Are these folks really giving candid advice because they want the WAP to succeed and beat their parties? I wonder...

Many Liberals are rooting for the WRA, for a very straightforward reason: they want the WRA and PCs to split the right, so they can gain seats.

By the same token, I (as a WRA supporter) hope that the Liberals will improve their fortunes somewhat... so that they and the PCs will split the left. :)

Anonymous said...

Please don't worry about the ALP. They are finished, in spades, as you will no doubt see tomorrow night in Glenmore.

Robert Vollman said...

I've got just 3 things to say:

1. Jennifer makes an excellent point.

2. At this stage, WRA should stay true to their beliefs. This is not the time to choose a watered-down leader in a delusional attempt to form government.

3. For everyone that calls the WRA partisan, radical, (etc) I hope you say the same thing at NDP conventions. They're two sides of the same coin.