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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Smith Wins Wildrose Leadership: Now What?

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with over 100 Wildrose Alliance Party members yesterday at their Leadership Convention in Edmonton. I was asked by the WAP Executive Director to do a presentation on social media, a subject that stirs my political passions. As an unrepentant Red Tory I wondered if the WAP (and I) knew what we were getting into but it was a very enjoyable event for me and the feedback on Twitter and face-to-face makes me believe the feeling was mutual.


The leadership campaign of Danielle Smith took over 75% of the membership support, a very conclusive result for sure. Congratulations are in order and I have to admire any citizen, regardless of stripe, who offers their time and talent as a political candidate in the service of the greater public good. The media was all over this party leadership, partly because of the strong showing in the Calgary Glenmore by election and the dismal third place shellacking the Stelmach PC’s endured.

The December 2008 Alberta Liberal leadership got minimal media coverage by comparison but the times were very different then. The melting Alberta economy was in full flight as the recession cum depression and commodity price collapse dominated the headlines. The WAP did not have the same media headline competition and in fact became the political story for a month or so before the leadership convention.

The leadership campaign voter and party membership numbers from both of these contests are underwhelming. In both the Liberal and WAP contest only about 71% of the members bothered to show up to vote. Does that mean 30% of those Albertans who paid for the party membership did so just to get the party membership seller off their back? Likely!

The Liberals only sold 6258 party membership for their leadership contest and 4599 of them bothered to vote. The WAP sold just over 11,600 party memberships and 8296 of them bothered to vote. The new leader of the WAP, Danielle Smith took over 75% of the voter turnout with 6295 ballots. One needs to put 6300 party supporters in perspective. Consider that in the 2008 Alberta election 37 winners in individual constituencies had more supporters than Smith did based on the entire province.

The WAP today is a long way from any reality as an alternative to the power of the Progressive Conservative support. The WAP knows that but the next election is 3 years away, coincidentally the same time Premier Stelmach recently predicted in his TV fireside speech that provincial surpluses would return.

One other very interesting implication from the WAP leadership was the party’s reluctance and tactical maneuvering to avoid disclosing the vote results. The pre-count concession by the very socially conservative candidate Mark Dyrholm was used as an excuse to avoid disclosing the vote results. They eventually unenthusiastically released the count. In fact as I write this, almost 24 hours later, the vote count is still not on the WAP website, just linked to the blog post of the Executive Director.

For the record, Smith got 6295 votes and Dyrholm got 1905 votes. This is a dramatic rejection of the anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, patriarchal, family-values political agenda of the far right base of the party mergers that became the Wildrose Alliance. Interestingly Dyrholm in a province-wide leadership campaign got fewer votes than Craig Chandler did in his third place finish the 2008 election in Calgary Egmont. OUCH!

This leadership rejection result will not sit well with the traditionalist base of the new WAP and I can’t see them going away quietly. Appeasement of socially conservative political agenda will be one of Smith’s first and toughest challenges as the WAP goes about the Province the hammer out a policy platform. There is already a WAP platform on their website that induced over 11000 Albertans to join up. What does Smith want to see changed, why and to what?

So now the WAP is a new party, with a new seat and a new leader. I think we need some hardnosed political perspective on the implications of this new party. I encourage every Albertan who is concerned about the future of this province to read the WAP policy platform and to reflect upon how it aligns with their values. If you agree, get on board with the WAP. If you disagree, you have a more complex set of political participation questions to consider. 

What if the PC's send Premier Stelmach a harsh political message at the November 7th party leadership review?  That will that trigger more dramatic consequences for Alberta than what happened at the WAP leadership tussle yesterday.  Time for Albertans to get ready for any one of a range of possible scenarios coming out of that crucial vote.  What the PC party says to Premier Stelmach then will promise to have a serious impact on all of us right now.  That political conversation will be happening mostly on Twitter at #PCAGM so sign up and tune in.