The Wildrose Alliance may be doing well in the polls in Alberta under its new leader Danielle Smith, but until recently, the organization of the party has been struggling hard to catch up to make the party a credible force for contending the next election.
Today, a key Morton organizer jumped over to the Alliance. I met Bill Bewick when he was senior staff on the Morton for PC Leader campaign. Bewick now joins Wildrose in the legislature as a senior member of its research staff.
The departure of the former senior supporter of the now finance minister comes on the heels of another important hire by the Wildrose. Vitor Marciano was an Alberta National Councillor for the Conservative Party and was even in contention for presidency of the party late last year. Marciano has been a staunch Harper supporter and his placement at the top of the Wildrose will enable the party to bring some professional organizing muscle to the mix and this will be important for bringing more conservative Albertans into fold of the provincial party.
All of this without mention that earlier this year we saw Wildrose begin its 2010 momentum with the poaching of two MLAs from Stelmach’s caucus.
Pollsters will tell you that the electoral trend favours Wildrose. Now we’re starting to see some of the real-world pieces come together.
Liveblogging the opening panel of the Manning Centre Alberta Future conference.
Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party
Kyle Fawcett, PC Party of Alberta MLA Calgary North-Hill
Q: technological factors in Alberta’s future
Smith: we need to figure out what our policy on CO2 is. We don’t have a coherant policy. Smith explains that science of climate change is still under debate. Smith says rest of Canada doesn’t undrstand the value of oil sands for economy and energy security. Oil sands reputation repair needs to be job #1 according to the WAP leader. Smith asks audience to consider jobs created by oilsands development. “We should be celebrating the success of the oilsands”. Smith suggests we should also be investigating green energy alternatives. New producers and energy types are jockeying for position in the new electricity grid. Smith says there is no conflict with being a hydrocarbon producer and a green energy leader.
Q: if you could write the next chapter of Alberta’s future. What would it be?
Smith: we will find maturity as a province. We assert rightful jurisdiction in confederation. Now we are refered to as part of the west or as prairie province. We must be recognized as a grown up province. Perhaps we should be looking for our own provincial pension plan. We should have our own police force. We should take control over our own immigration like Quebec. We need to lead health care reform. Quebec leads it now, Alberta leads it now. WAP is not another “west want in” movement. WAP is about restoring Alberta’s leadership in Canada.
Q: what are the most important things we need to do today for Alberta’s future
Smith: we need a natural gas strategy. Change consumer behaviour. Gas prices are low, this gives us opportunity to develop this sector vs. coal. Our job in government is to establish free market to encourage entrepreneurship. We need most competitive tax structure in Canada and even North America. On democratic reform, the current government intimidates people that meet with me. Premier’s office seems to be writing down names of people getting involved with WAP. This reflects an erosion of our democracy.
Q: Alberta’s role on the national stage. Re: fed govt’s deficit, how should we deal with the feds?
Fawcett: we’re not immune to global economic trends. When the PM meets with other heads of state he must fulfill our commitments. I know that our fed ministers are treating everyone fairly including Albertans.
Smith: 65% of Alberta’s self-identify as right of centre. Best way we can influence federal decisions is to be a good role model. Lately, our provincial government has not been one. Why are we issueing Alberta bonds and going back in debt. We must balance our budget and get our spending in control first before addressing the federal government.
Fawcett: we are not running an operational deficit. We are spending money from when times were good. We don’t need to cut and slash but run on longterm wise fiscal management.
Smith: Alberta bring in 32 billion but spending 36 billion. The amount of official deficit is understated by governement.
Q: how do we increase voter turnout?
Smith: All parties, not just two right-of-centre parties will have input. Social media also allows us to connect directly with voters. This will help improve the overall dialogue and this will cause more people to turn out.
Fawcett: we haven’t even scratched the surface with techology. (Fawcett echoes Smith’s comments on social media). But not everyone will follow online. There’s still a role for traditional means: mail and townhalls. Had a senior’s forum two weeks ago and only 3 people came out. Social media cannot address all needs. We must still reach out using other means.
Manning: technology is part of getting voters to the polls but it’s not the only way. If yoy look at past visions it was core values that connected with people. You must ask, what are the core valuies that fill out your policy prescriptions. Not just a technological fix, but core values must inform policy to get more people out to the polls.
Smith: people come to Alberta because of leadership in policy. Alberta Advantage was about economic growth, best delivery of services.
Q: what kind of story do you find most resonates with Albertans
Smith: my grandfather came from the Ukraine. I was surprised to see that a story of my hard working immigrant grandfather resonated more in urban areas than rural. Alberta is a place where immigrants can realize their entrepreneurial dream. We need a governement that believes in individuals to govern themselves.
Fawcett: I hear stories of people born and raised in Alberta. I hear that they’re very proud to have achieved success in the province. To persue your own vision and dreams without govt standing in the way and then helpimg your own individuals. We must have equality of opportunity for Albertans to achieve their own vision, and for those that can’t we need to give them a hand up. Story is about achieving individual success and taking that to help your community.
Smith: I think it used to be that way. Now people are looking elsewhere. People aren’t looking to PC Party to respect property rights and democracy. This is why other parties are seeing new interest from Albertans.
Fawcett: we can’t govern off of public opinion polls. We’ve earned an outstanding mandate from the people. How can it be said that we’ve lost the support of Albertans?
Q: what would you say to someone that hasn’t wanted to get involved with either of your parties?
Fawcett: if you’re upset, get involved. Find your passion and get involved where you can make the best change.
Smith: in leadership race, I was surprised by new people who were never involved in politics, getting involved. We kept selling memberships after leadership race was over. This doesn’t usually happen. People are now seeing that we can do better. If not to replace government but to elect an effective opposition to ask uncomfortable questions to the government.
Q: oilsands. How do we improve alberta’s position ethically, economically, internationally with respect to the oilsands?
Smith: some Canadians feel that Canada’s reputation is damaged and that oilsands blight is not their fault. Ottawa wants to make oilsands reputation management a national priority. This is a mistake. Oilsands are a national jewel. Oilsands are not well understood by many Canadians. Immense amount of tech being developed to improve efficiency of oil extraction from oilsands. Why aren’t we talking about this? We should be talking about how we’re improve environmental sustainability of oilsands.
Fawcett: we hope Danielle and her caucus will support the premier when he sells the oilsands internationally. Buisiness also has a role in getting the story out. I hope Danielle is not advocating for cuts in the ministry of the environment. We can talk about natual gas all we want but we cannot put all of our eggs in one basket. Albertans should not be ashamed for taking the lead on economic development and environmental sustainability of oilsands. Technological innovation may well take us to bring our emissions on par with other extraction methods.
Smith: Carbon capture and storage will be a massive sinkhole for government spending. We don’t seem talk about reductions in CO2, we only talk about reducing rate of growth. Simple measures will bring us the furthest: consumer action on home reno, auto efficiency choices.
Q: what do we do about selling our “dirty oil” as some in the US put it?
Smith: one solution on talking about emissions with US may come from honest discussion about US decommissioning coal plants.
Q: what makes an Albertan? What makes us the same and what makes us different?
Smith: “every fiscal issue has a social dimension.” Albertans more disposed to looking to community issues to solve public policy problem. Some think that paying taxes will solve problems. We’re seeing that paying taxes do not provide services. Education and health are suffering because more people are looking to government to solve their problems.
Fawcett: agree with Danielle that solutions come from communities but definition of community has changed. Consider urban condo dweller. Is there community there as we have traditionally defined it?
Smith: we must consider outputs vs outcomes. Government focuses on outputs. We need to focus on outcomes. Found agreement with NDP activist on community involvement. Community connections are vital. Community doesn’t break down in urban environment, it is actually more important. Social media allows us to connect but we must still meet each other eye to eye.
Q: what is the role of society? What is the role of government? What does the “good life” mean?
Fawcett: the society that we want is the one that strikes the right balance. Where would we be without government involvement in the oilsands? Not that we should encourage more government encroachment, but we need to be more strategic. We need to be having more conversations like we’re having here this weekend? Where do we want Alberta to be in 20 years? We need find the vision and implementation strategy moving forward. This comes from individuals and collective society.
Smith: we must acknowledge that we’re a young province. We have every right to look at our next century as optimistically as we saw the last. You can avoid making public policy missteps by looking to the governments to increase liberty and freedom. Libertarians and social conservatives believe that governement has gotten to big for its own good. Stong families and communities are foundation of society. We cannot look to government to solve each problem. Must invest in infrastructure to increase economic growth. Our first objectives as MLAs is to “do no harm”