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article imageOp-Ed: Will policy changes prove fruitful for Alberta's Wildrose Party?

By Karl Gotthardt     Apr 9, 2013 in Politics
Calgary - Alberta's Wildrose Party is attempting to soften its image in light of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's declining popularity. With a changing demographic in Alberta will policy changes have any effect or will it create another right of center party.
Ahead of the April 2012 election, the Wildrose Party and its leader Danielle Smith appeared to be heading for a majority government, ending a 41 year Progressive Conservative Party (PC) legacy in Alberta.
A poll conducted just prior to the election seemed to indicate that if an election were to be held on that day the right wing Wildrose Party would get 48 seats of 87, while the PCs would get 34. The polls couldn't have been further from reality.
A poll conducted by Return on Insight, which surveyed 800 Albertans on the 13th and 14th April, shows if an election were held today, the Wildrose Party could form a majority government with 48 of 87 seats in the legislature. The first column shows the result of the poll, while the second set of numbers shows a possible seat projection.
Democracy has its own way of sorting things out. When Albertans spoke on election day almost a year ago, Alison Redford was elected as the first premier of Alberta with an overwhelming majority, winning 61 of the 87 seats in the Alberta legislature, with 44.1 per cent of the popular vote.
Analysts attempting to figure out the PCs success and the defeat of the Wildrose Party, which only received 34.6 per cent of the popular vote, concluded that Danielle Smith stumbled on conscience issues and her stance on the science of climate change. Although the party had a full slate of candidates, it was obvious that proper vetting had not taken place. One candidate was openly bigoted against gays, while another said that his constituents were better served by a white candidate.
During the election, it emerged that one Wildrose candidate, a pastor, warned that gays were going to burn in a lake of fire, while another candidate said a white person would better represent his constituency.
Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of MacEwan University said voters got the sense Wildrose was ‘‘extreme,’’ even though its actual policy positions did little to bear that out.
At the first Wildrose Leader's Congress held in Calgary on April 6, the party pondered changing some of the policies that it said did not resonate with Albertans. Those policy changes are to be discussed at the second congress to be held in Edmonton this weekend and voted on at the party's annual general meeting in October.
At the meeting in Calgary the party considered dropping its opposition to human rights councils, rebates of surplus funds to Albertans, known as Danielle Dollars, conscience rights for health care workers and its policy to collect its own income tax and establish and Alberta Pension plan.
While many of these programs may have been unpopular after post election analysis, it was probably Danielle Smith's reaction to conscience issues that led to the party's election results. Danielle Smith chose not to replace the candidates that gave her bad press nor was her stance on climate change science, which she said had not been defined yet.
“What we learned after the last election is that there are a number of policies we had on the books that no longer made sense and were not fitting the needs of the times,” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said Monday.
Taking those policies off the table will move the party closer to the center, but it will create little light between the governing PCs and the Wildrose Party. Rhetoric of fiscal responsibility and sustainable development are buzz words in both parties. Removing controversial policies from its party platform will not change its image without filling in the specifics.
According to the Calgary Sun,
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk says that changing some policies and eliminating others just shows the Wildrose Party's true colours and won't help with the next general election.
“To say ‘nevermind that, this was one set of our beliefs but we have another one ready in our back pocket if you prefer this one,’” Lukaszuk said.
“It is very difficult to believe that the grassroots (of the party) would have over the period of one year reconsidered all their fundamental core values, and if they did, what were their core values to begin with?”
Lukaszuk assessment is correct. Where does Smith stand on climate change, environmental policies for oilsands development and the carbon emission tax? Apparently the stance on the environment hasn't changed, neither has the fiscal responsibility with no increase in taxes.
With the devalued Alberta crude and reduced resource revenues analysts believe that Alberta can solve its revenue woes with a provincial sales tax. This is off the table for the time being by both conservative parties. With the increased pressure on the Alberta oilsands because of environmental policies, there needs to be a greater emphasis and a plan to reduce or offset carbon emissions.
For some analysts on the right making changes to soften its policies is a futile effort and abandons policies that differentiate the party from Alison Redford's Tories. On the other hand, parties have to evolve with the changing demographics of Albertans. Can the Wildrose Party meet that challenge? Probably not.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Canadian Politics, wildrose party, Racism, social conscience issues, danielle smith
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