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Monday, January 25, 2010

does policy matter?

Last week's posts "Danielle Smith's Free-ride" and "PC Policy Veep defects to the Wildrose Alliance" generated a lot of heated discussion and responses from at least three other bloggers either supporting (Alberta Altruist and Brian Dell) or criticizing (David Climenhaga) the policy positions of the Wildrose Alliance. These posts and the debate that followed in the comment sections has led me to ask the question: how much does party policy really matter?

The defection of Progressive Conservative Party Vice-President Policy and Resolution Shayne Saskiw to the Wildrose Alliance has raised questions about how much influence do PC Party members have on the actual policy that a government implements? According to Saskiw, not much.

"I was able to give their opinions on policy to the government, but the government was not acting on their advice."
This is not a surprise, nor a new criticism of how responsive governments are to ordinary citizens - engaged or otherwise. Does anyone remember Premier Ed Stelmach campaigning on the PC Party platform of dissolving the regional health authorities and centralizing control into the largest employer in the province? It was not mentioned in the "Change that Works for Albertans" (PDF) document, nor do know of any PC candidates who campaigned on this policy position. Perhaps after nearly 40 years in government, the upper echelons of power at the Legislature feel that the election process is simply a formality. Perhaps the PC Party interpreted the 52% support they received in the election that recorded the lowest voter turnout in Alberta history equal a blank check mandate?

It would be wrong to suggest that policy does not matter, because it does. It is important to recognize that in many cases, the majority of challenges that a government will deal with during a term in office will be reactive. In these cases, it is important to recognize leadership and which elected official or officials will offer the kind of leadership that will be best suited to dealing with reactive situations. For example, mainstream business and economic forecasters were predicting smooth sailing ahead during the 2008 election when politicians were practically promising a jet-pack for every citizen. In 2010, the economic outlook is quite a bit more modest (though we are fairing better than our American neighbors).

During my time working with the Liberal Party until 2007, I remember it being normal for policies to be generated from the Official Opposition Caucus offices, rather than the party policy committees. Perhaps this is one of the problems with the traditional political parties in Alberta. They do consult with stakeholders and rely on well-educated researchers and analyst, but in the end, new policies became more about marketing and messaging instead of listening and generating a party membership driven policy apparatus.

This leads me back to Ms. Smith and a statement she made about Wildrose Alliance policy:
"Our party does not take a position on divisive social issues. We prefer to focus on those areas where we agree."
This statement reflects a smart (and so far successful) strategy of positioning the Wildrose Alliance as the moderate conservative/conservatively moderate anti-establishment party in Alberta politics. I have been told that many of Ms. Smith's financial backers in Calgary's oil and gas sector would like to turn the page on the more hard social conservative views that the party has advocated in the past. Refusing to talk about divisive social issues is a smart political tactic, given the positions that her party has taken in the past.

During the 2004 election, the Alliance led by Randy Thorsteinson called for province-wide votes on abortion and same-sex marriage. There have also been questions about the influence that conservative members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have had on the development of Alliance policies.

This said, an elected official's personal or religious views on social issues do not necessarily result in major government policy changes. During the 2001 election, Vegreville-Viking MLA Ed Stelmach responded to a questionnaire from LifeSiteNews in which he declared his opposition to abortion under any circumstances (his response to the 2004 election questionnaire is not published online). This was his position nine years ago and may continue to be his position today, but since becoming Premier three years ago, Stelmach has hardly been a champion in the fight against allowing women the choice to access abortions. Like Premier Stelmach's, it would be extremely difficult for Ms. Smith's party to enter a divisive debate on social issues and continue to hold their current mainstream support in the polls.

Tempering the more extreme elements in her party is going to be one of Ms. Smith's largest challenges. In 2009, nearly 2,000 Wildrose Alliance members voted for social conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm. What happens if these "grassroots" dispute Ms. Smith's position? Is Ms. Smith willing to cut them loose in order to avoid the damage of being labeled as the "scary conservative party?" If it reaches the point where push comes to shove, maybe policy will matter.


Anonymous said...

You're right about policy coming more and more from caucuses instead of parties Dave. But at least one party is attempting to combat that.

The Alberta Liberal Party will be debating a new member driven policy process at the next AGM that attempts to encompass the need of caucuses to think quick with the reality of membership being in the drivers seat. Most impressively, it will actually bind the party to the policy positions of the party, rather than them just being vague suggestions. You can read the proposal here:

Read the proposal

Nice Words, But... said...

The only policy the Liberals are interested in passing is a new NEP.

Unknown said...

Can we please all get over the NEP and move on. That was the federal government and most of the people involved are either dead or retired. If indeed it was the NEP that allegedly reeked havoc on Alberta's economy and didn't have anything to do with the US under President Regan deciding to open access to their oil reserves. If Alberta had a diversified economy we wouldn't be at the mercy of the whims of the energy market.

Brett Wilson's pants dragon said...

The ballot question in the next election will be: Do you want Alberta to be controlled by rich guys running big oil companies?

If the answer is yes, there will be a Wildrose government.

Miyata said...

Dave, are public servants allowed to work on policy for the province?

Urban Spork said...

Interesting that within an hour you tweeted about whether or not Prime Minister Harper dyes his hair, and mused about whether or not policy matters.

Based on that alone I would guess that no, no it does not.

Tim Osborne said...

I think the context of her "not taking a position on diversive social issues" response is important. It was in response to a question that I asked during her Edmonton Journal live chat:

"Your website states that WAP would 'Recognize that all Albertans have equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.' With that in mind, do you support equal rights for sexual minorities (including marriage)?

I'm not sure how a party can claim to support equal rights for all Albertans, but not have that include sexual minorities. You either support equal rights or you don't.

From a political perspective, I understand why her answer might be considered "smart." Personally though, I find it rather disappointing.

daveberta said...

Urban Spork - to be fair, the twitter post wasn't a policy question, but an actual question. I noticed the hair colour change on CBC tonight, not that it really matters.

Tim: I agree. It is disappointing.

jerrymacgp said...

"The Alberta Liberal Party will be debating a new member driven policy process … it will actually bind the party to the policy positions of the party, rather than them just being vague suggestions". Sounds a lot like the long-standing practice of the NDP, both at the provincial and federal levels. In the NDP, the grassroots membership of the party set party policy. Every Convention held is a policy convention. This leads to a genuine bottom-up approach to political policy development that is rare in this country.

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...


Just a thought.

I'm currently reading an excellent book called, "Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists", by Susan Neiman.

And once you get beyond the obvious hatred of the Bush government, the point of the book is this:

It is not so much "policy" as what a party "stands for" that matters. Voters are motivated by ideals more than specific policy.

Consider it this way. Would you give up your freedom and dignity for a life of wealthy and physical comfort?"

This is why the Liberals are failing, and why the WRA is popular (and I'm strongly opposed to the WRA). It's because, really, the Liberals stand for nothing.

And the closest party to having an "ideal" is the WRA.

The Conservatives and the Liberals currently are parties who are struggling to provide a "brand" or an "ideal" to the public identifying what they stand for.

If you doubt me, remember those posters with one word, "Hope"?

Berry Farmer said...

What a timely thread... with great comments.

Policy matters to those who join. Brand is more important to those who don't join but vote (or consider voting). Once the joiners join and start building, the brand becomes noticeable.

The total avoidance of divisive issues is a great strategy. Danielle Smith is using it to great affect. Not addressing what she knows will divide her party membership is simply good politics. An in-party fight would despoil the brand image that is being built of an alternative party with ethics and integrity.

Building good policy is vital if the goal of any party is good governance... but without an image and brand that can capture the imagination and mood of voters who don't look deeply into policy, no policy has a chance to make it to the floor of any assembly.

To that end, the WAP is so far doing an excellent job of packaging. It just seems to me that among all its new members there is a huge gulf of perception as to where the party ought to move. Once those debates are let loose, I wonder if the brand will not also take a hit or two.


Anonymous said...

I continue to be bemused by the notion, reflected in Dave's post, that "social conservatism" is a characterization to be avoided like the plague in Alberta politics. I personally think a strong majority of Albertans are "social conservatives", as that term has come to be defined in Canadian political discourse, i.e. a "social conservative" is someone who: (a) takes no pride in the fact that, unique among western democracies, Canada has an unlimited abortion license granted by Trudeau era SCC judges and (b) continues to regard "marriage" as being a opposite sex institution, despite years of judicial browbeating that such a view is twisted and poisonous (as I'm sure comments to this post will soon reinforce).

Accordingly, whereas I think the WRA would actually increase their popularity were they to adopt policy positions on social issues that appeal to the majority of Albertans that are "social conservatives", I also appreciate that the current WRA approach of prioritizing other issues is perhaps the more pragmatic approach at this time. There will be ample time to implement the hidden agenda that progressives are weeping and gnashing and grinding their teeth over once electoral success is achieved.

Neal said...

I'd like to respond to Jerrymacgp. With all due respect, my time in the provincial NDP showed that what you are saying is not true. They have long had an established "policy committee" that decides party policy in between conventions and caucuses. The membership of that committee is appointed, in secret no less, rather than voted upon and they seemingly reverse grassroots direction at a whim.

I know this may seem surprising, as you will find nothing about a policy committee in the constitution (or at least it wasn't there at the time), but like so much in today's Alberta NDP, what it says on the paper and what really happens are vastly different things.

Eloheim said...

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of your post is the involvement of the Mormon church in the Wildrose Alliance. There was a really good interview on QR770 with Donn Lovett (link on his blog). He also pointed out that we should be concerned about the Mormon influence there.

One lady phoned in to absolutely refute that Mormon teachings are EVER brought to the political arena. Of course, reality proves otherwise. The Mormon church and its followers were instrumental in the Prop8 vote to ban same-sex marriage in California. They boast about it on several websites. If anyone is foolish enough to think they AREN'T interested in a theocratic government....think again.

Anonymous said...

That youtube video is worth it's weight in gold. "The 1/3 of the spirit children who remained neutral were cursed to be born with black skin". I guess that explains why blacks weren't allowed into the Mormon priesthood until 1978.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Actually, I would prefer Albertans in general have more influence over government policy and could care less whether the opinions card-carrying party members who bother to show up at policy conventions carry any weight.

Merlin Durken said...

Wildrose Alliance is the saccharin substitute for the Christian Heritage Party in drag with an extreme makeover. They want to rebuild the province the way they would like.

Ted Byfield said once that the 'clarity of conservatism' was at war with the evil of Liberalism. I think you can count that as a powerful force in the polarization of politics and vilification of anything not sanctioned from a church basement in Alberta. How are these people any different from the jihadists they want to eliminate from the face of the planet? They are crazy people. Crazy fanatics, and just as ugly as any other fanatic anywhere.

Mormonism and Social Credit in the deep south of the province are synonymous. They are conchies to the last man they say, but how is politics not war?

Lots of them have false closets where they hide their firearms, waiting for the day 'the system' fails when, bellies full of canned tuna from their hoarded two-year supply, they come out in groups to hunt you down in case you were planning to come over steal their grub and women (and steal whatever you had on hand in the bargain).

Remember when you're voting for the lesser of two evils, you're still choosing evil.

As Dr. Eugene Chadbourne once said in song, "How do we protect ourselves from leaders who are neurologically impaired?"

Merlin Durken said...

And no, to finally answer the question, policy doesn't really matter. It's the colour of the jerseys. More of a cool hunting phenom than one involving rational choices.

B.B. Kingly said...

I would never vote for the Wildrose Alliance in a million years. The party is ideological, obssessed with creating division, and the evidence is pretty clear it has become a political front for a small number of greedy Calgary oilmen to stage a well financed coup. And Danielle Smith is essentially a comparatively sane version of Ezra Levant.

But if the best smear the anonymous PC/Public Affairs Bureau/Tom Olsen wankocracy can come up with is: "Watch out for the evil Mormon conspiracy," then all hope is lost. The Wildrose Alliance will win the next election, and it will win because the wankocracy -- with all the money and government resources at their disposal -- thinks Albertans are as inept and retarded as they are.

Mormon candidates ran for the PCs, Liberals, WAP and Greens in 2008 election. Their faith isn`t my cup of tea, but they have a long and noble history of helping the neediest people in the crapiest places in the world, and ask for nothing in return. Do we really want to get into the shortcomings of the Roman Catholic Church or the Pentecostal Christian sects preferred by Stockwell Day?

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

Nice effort B.B.Kingly.

So, now you are suggesting the Alberta Government's response to the WRA is an attack on their faith? A good part of my PC Board for my local constituency is Mormon, and I'm pretty sure their faith isn't an issue in my constituency or anywhere else that matters in the PC Party.

So, I'm left to surmise that, firstly, YOU, B.B., are either a Liberal or NDP supporter, using the crudest form of deception to try and equate what some dingbat says here with the PC Party.

Now, if you had made even half an effort to examine who exactly was attacking another person's faith, well, you would have perhaps clicked on the link to the one non-anonymous poster, Merlin Durken, who actually made the post.

Then, you would be led to his sad little blog, "Exploitation Retainer Services".

And there you would read his bizarre plan to combat capitalism and consumerism by "feeding corporate capitalists everywhere a little of their own medicine."


Hardly some advocate of the PC Party, clearly.

One would, safely, suggest he is probably a supporter of the Liberal Party or more likely yet, the NDP Party.


If you're going to slam a political party based upon the rantings of their unhinged supporters, at least use what modicum of intellect you have to figure out who said what, and then, you would no doubt, be attacking the NDP Party of Alberta.

I guess so much for "tollerance" coming from the left side of the political spectrum.

Unknown said...

As soon as I read this I knew it would turn into a series of rants on the evils of mormonism.

It's easy to equate mormonism with conservatism because mormon culture tends to support issues regarded as socially conservative.

But we forget that, throughout Alberta's history, mormons have been associated with parties like the Liberals, UFA, CCF, etc. Mormons, like those of other religions, hold a variety of political beliefs.

In response, R.G. said...

Your defense of faith is admirable. However, there is no constitutional defense against criticizing organized religion. When Paul Hinman brought his Book of Mormon into the legislature, to be used at his swearing in, he made his faith a matter of public record. Please explain to me why he needs to advertise his brand of personal faith. Isn't his faith between him and his god?

You delicately but deliberately forget to mention the propensity for the Mormon church to be active in politics. If you search the web you will see a top 100 most influential Mormons, published by Mormons. Most are politicians.

It is incumbent upon us all to examine the beliefs and political activities of organized religion. The Mormon church has been known for its polygamist ideals. In fact, Utah was FORCED to ban polygamy before they were allowed into the union.

Their church was officially racist until 1978 (they have never apologized). Was Tom Russert being a (whatever number of nasty names you used) by asking Mitt Romney about his churches' official racist policy?

When they ADVERTISE the fact that they are Mormon, we have to ask questions about what this could mean.

Are you really suggesting that the precepts of organized religion are not up for debate? That's truly scary my friend!

Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert G. Harvie, Q.C. said...

Really R.G., you gutsy anonymous poster you. If you're going to stand up and attack someone's personal faith, at least have the cajones to actually let us know the identity of the bigot.

I'm sure you're one of those disingenuous Liberals who talk out of both sides of their mouths, who say, for example:

"Jean Chretien's personal beliefs on abortion are irrelevant, because HE separates his personal faith from his duties as a politician."


Oh, it's so important to us to be worried about Stock Day and Stephen Harper - even though they also have never taken any steps to demonstrate his faith either as a component of his job as a politician.

Oh. I. See.

And I'm sure you are also very concerned over Conservative MLA Moe Amery, because *gasp* he's one of those Muslims.. and we know how dangerous their views are as well.



Welcome to Alberta, land of the intolerant.. at least on the so-called "progressive" side of the spectrum.

Unknown said...

What does it hurt if he chose to swear on the Book of Mormon? Is it an issue if someone chooses to swear on any other holy book?
And no other church or religious group is politically active? No political Catholics? No political Presbyterians? No political Muslims? No political Sikhs? The LDS church encourages its members to become involved in politics and they do.
I’m not denying that polygamy was a part of the Mormon Church’s history. The first Mormons came to Alberta because they hoped the Canadian government would be more permissive of polygamy than the US government had been. Polygamy continued until the 1930’s in some cases – those who continued the practice after that point were formally excommunicated.
And yes, the church did have discriminatory policies against black people until the ‘70’s. But they discontinued them.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t question – but experience teaches that people don’t act rationally when the topic of religion comes up. Many people hear the word ‘mormon’ and instantly their knee jerks. They decide before they even look that they’re opposed to it.
It’s easy to blame the Mormons for right wing policies in the WRA, but to do so is to deny the affect that right wing atheists, evangelicals, etc. also have.

Anonymous said...

I'm not attacking their faith. History is! Do you deny any of the facts I've posted are accurate?

Oh, and if you have something to do with the PC party, I'm kinda glad it's doomed.

Unknown said...

See, this is what I mean. Shout 'Mormon' and people lose thier heads.

And no, I have nothing to do with the PCs. My political credentials come from elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I take issue with an earlier poster reffering to, and I losely quote "Mormons do great work around the world and ask for nothing in return."

That's simply not true. They have agressive missionaries who seek to spread their faith, most often to those they have just helped.

In doesn't invalidate the work they do, but let's not pretend nothing is asked for in return. All religions are in constant recruitment mode. I think it has something to do with the fact that all religions know that thinking people will one day cast their nonsense aside (again, this applies to all religions). The only way to defeat the self doubt inside the practicing member is for that member to convert every last soul to their beliefs. I'm sure the self doubt would be quieter in a world where everyone agreed on the same brand of nonsense. Thankfully that will never be the case.

On a seperate note, if Danielle Smith refuses to flesh out her party in terms of policy then I think debates like these (Mormon conspiracy!) will only continue to dog her and her squad. She and her party have had a lot of successes so far. Now they need to take it to the next level and start showing Albertans the Wild Rose vision for governance.

daveberta said...

Hey all,

Thanks for the comments and interesting discussion. I have had to delete a couple of comments in this post for obvious reasons. Please keep it clean.



Anonymous said...

Who are the bigots?

Unknown said...

and your statements aren't bigoted?

just because the church leadership takes this position doesn't mean averyone agress with it. do all catholics agree with their church's position on birth control and abortion? Many do, but many don't.

to be fair, many mormons do hold political beliefs unpalatable to the left (though experience teaches that many individuals on the left are as backward as many on the right). But to attack an entire group indicates prejudice, smallmindedness, and ignorance.

Anonymous said...

This does raise interesting questions. I don't know alot about religion but how can you belong to a church and not accept or agree with the leadetrship? If you do not agree with the leadership does it mean that you don't belong to the church? or should be thrown out of it. Is a church member complicit with its leaders wishes simply by belonging?

I'm not taking sides here but I dont know where the disconnect is.....when is someone part of something or not.

Unknown said...

well... as i've always understood it, the mormon church takes the view that everyone should act according to thier own conscience. most people do tend to follow the church leadership, but the leadership isn't homogenous either - they hold a variety of viewpoints as well.

look at it this way - is a person still a Conservative if they agree with most of the Conservative party's positions, but not all? I'd say yes.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, that is NOT the view of the mormon church. Their view is very clearly that where the church has an official position, everyone should follow it. Period. Even if it conflicts with their conscience. In such cases, people are counseled that they're misguided. In some cases, they're even kicked out for obeying their "conscience". (The Catholic church, for all its issues, is more pluralistic or less disciplinarian.) Never mind that the mormon church's official position quietly changes, usually with no clear rationale, and never with any admission that the old policy was wrong or an apology for now adopting a policy that they previously kicked people out for publicly advocating. The Mormons' positions on the origin of aboriginal peoples is particularly heinous - in my humble view. Righteousness = whiteness.

The fact that you can find a few outlying (or confused?) mormons on the left, and that they've obsessively tried to rebrand themselves as mainstream, doesn't undo the fact that generally they're very right wing with some goofy theological/historical tenets, and that the mormon church has (both openly and more secretly) supported right wing causes. The mormon church's (or even individual mormons') involvement with or influence in the WRA is a legitimate issue for public debate.

avenging angel said...

Clearly you can't be bothered to perform unbiased research into this matter. If you insist on believing Mormons are as sinister as you suggest, there is nothing that will convince you otherwise.

Suggesting the Mormon Church is directing the Wild Rose Party is like suggesting the Masons and Jews are in league to control the world's banks - it's bigotted and ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Avenging Angel,
Can you read? Come on. Knee-jerk defensiveness doesn't get us anywhere. On my reading, there's nothing bigoted or ignorant there; if you disagree with the claims, dispute them, don't call names. The so-called sinister claims made all strike me as demonstrably true.

Nobody suggested the Mormon Church is directing the WRA. At least the previous poster didn't. The suggestion is simply that nature and extent of Mormons' connection with the new party is a legitimate issue for public debate. I agree, particularly since that church has a demonstrated penchant for theocracy, and holds some...uh..."interesting" views.

Anonymous said...

I love how Stuart thinks he can just say the Mormon church "discontinued" discriminatory practices against blacks. That's true, but hardly puts the issue to rest. The racism remains. They've never changed the underlying theological position about why blacks were discriminated against in the first place, and they've never said it was wrong to have discriminated. It's more like "ok, this is really bad PR...we better stop....nothing to see here folks, everyone please move on."

Unknown said...

But it seems like you're assuming Mormons themselves are racist and I've never seen any evidence of that being true.

I don't defend the mormon church excluding blacks from church offices, but revisiting the issues won't fix the problem - sort of a you-can't-undo-the-past thing.

And I will point out that there is a fairly healthy debate among some groups of mormons (although admittedly not in official church circles) about many of the theological positions held by the church (ie. no female priests, positions on homosexuality, etc.).

The mormon church as it exists today retains a lot of its nineteenth century character. But I'd suggest that many Mormons want to change that. Check out sites like or look up the sunstone magazine and you'll see some of this debate for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, you're missing the point. The point isn't simply the fact of exluding blacks. The point is their offensive theological rationale for doing so - which they've never backed away from...for to do so would be to open up cans of worms about whether their so-called prophets are full of it. It's not in the past, it's current. Same goes for their indefensible views about Aboriginals.
I would submit that if you believe that the origin of non-white races has anything to do with sin or god's disfavour you are, by definition, a racist. It doesn't really matter if the church now deigns to admit blacks to the priesthood, or is trying to quietly finesse the absurd views about the origin of Aboriginal peoples. It doesn't take long to find quotes and clips of mormon leaders saying outrageously racist things. And certainly lots of mormons, like lots of non-mormons, do hold lots of subtle and not-so-subtle racist views.

If you concede the mormon doctrine and practice is deeply influenced by the times, then the prophetic claims of leaders should be subject to debate and dissent should be more welcome than it is.

Finally, your Sunstone folks and little web-communities of more progressive or thoughtful mormons are very, very marginal to the main, corporate church. And the boundaries of acceptable "dissent" are pretty broadly known. Cross them and you'll get excommunicated. You sound like a fairly reasonable person. Get out while you still can.

Unknown said...

the rationale for excluding blacks was not a part of the original theology of the mormon church - it came during the time of Brigham Young; much of what Young preached has been abandoned with time.

There is a trend that the church follows the lead of the living president over what has been preached by previous leaders. I don't know of an official policy of supremacy of one president over another, but that seem to be the practice.

Why do you belittle the existence of groups who ARE debating issues within the church? They may be small, but they have to start somewhere. I choose to believe they show that mormons have the potential to exist in a progressive society, even if they do face some major challenges.