Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wake Up and Smell the Wildroses

For the last couple of weeks, the news cycle has been in love with Alberta's Wildrose Party. They're branding themselves as "conservative alternative" in what is easily Canada's most conservative province; the Alberta PCs have been in power continuously since 1971, but with the way the polls are turning, it doesn't look like they're going to get the chance to finally knock Ontario's Big Blue Machine off its pedestal. Over a very short while, Wildrose has gone from tilting at windmills to demolishing those windmills; the latest polls suggest that Wildrose is poised to secure a comfortable majority come April 23rd.

For my part, it's a bit refreshing to write about an election that, for once, doesn't directly affect me - still, I wouldn't be surprised if it did in the end. When I first heard of Wildrose, it was in the context of them eventually growing into a federal conservative alternative and once more splitting the right, the way it was back in the 1990s, bringing some balance back to elections. After all, if Harper could no longer count on Albertans voting Tory blue en masse, he might just have to work for a living.

Fact is, though, I don't know much of anything about Wildrose except that they're Alberta's conservative alternative and that Danielle Smith wants to give a fifth of all oil and gas royalty surpluses to the Albertan people. Still, even if there's no chance that Wildrose ever challenges the Conservatives federally, Alberta is still British Columbia's rowdy next-door neighbor, and the Rocky Mountains only block so much of the noise. Aside from a few offhand references here and there to how the party has something of a libertarian bent, the media hasn't been too helpful in explaining what Wildrose is actually about. So I went to their website to get it straight from the source... and what was the very first thing I saw?

"Wildrose is under attack!"

Oh, Alberta... oh, boy.

Fortunately it has not got so bad yet that they've needed to activate Calgary's hidden city walls. They up the defensive value of any military units in the city by three times when attacked by land units!

There's such difference in tone between Wildrose's video about the Alberta Accountability Act, in which Smith calmly lays out her plan to increase government transparency, accountability, and roll back recent 30% pay raises for cabinet ministers, and the description for that video that it's mental whiplash. "The same people that caused the Liberal Party of Canada to be in power for 13 uninterrupted years now have Wildrose in their crosshairs." Who are they talking about here? Presumably we're supposed to assume that some shadowy, backroom cabal of big-government, ivory tower manipulators have been influencing federal elections, and now they've come to Alberta. The fact that Wildrose is willing to resort to tactics such as this at this stage in the game... for me, at least, it doesn't reflect particularly well on them.

Look, Wildrose - I get that you're a new party, I get that you're eager to put your stamp on the province, I get that for a new party with no government experience things can get a little dicey. But is it really necessary to start building up the siege mentality at this stage of the game?

As for what else they're about - it's no surprise going to the "Energy" section of an Albertan political party's platform and being greeted with a big, sharp picture of an oil derrick. While Wildrose says it wants to "encourage" a shift from coal to natural gas for electricity - at least natural gas isn't as bad as coal - its "Environment" section is rather uncomplicated to my eyes, and beyond that, I can't really square any active efforts at environmental stewardship with the royalty surplus handouts. Once something like that comes into play, and the average Albertan has a personal financial stake in the success of the province's extraction industries, how likely do you think it is that there'll be any rollback?

Though I wish Wildrose well in cleaning out the deadwood of Alberta's government - a party that's been in power for four decades has long since passed its sell-by date - I'll freely admit that I don't really understand Alberta politics. It's just as well, then, that I don't have to live there.

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