Wildrose blooms - Macleans.ca

Wildrose blooms

Colby Cosh: Danielle Smith is no Sarah Palin. For one thing, she might win.


Wildrose bloomsSo what’s Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith reading these days when she’s not busy haunting the nightmares of Alberta Progressive Conservatives? Does she curl up with one of her favourite libertarian ur-texts—Atlas Shrugged, maybe, or Friedrich von Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge in Society”? It turns out she’s enjoying a timely Christmas gift that has the attention of politicians everywhere: The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe’s memoir of the strategies behind Barack Obama’s leap from Chicago state politics to the presidency.

There are probably not many people left in Alberta who will still chuckle at this choice of reading material. In the province’s March 2008 election, the right-wing Alliance got seven per cent of the vote and no seats. Today, with the 38-year-old Smith as leader, it sits atop the polls as the governing Progressive Conservatives come unglued. This week, two PC MLAs from the Calgary area, convinced that Ed Stelmach’s leadership portends political annihilation, crossed the floor to sit with the Alliance’s Paul Hinman, who stole a Calgary PC seat in a September by-election.

Her remarkable ascent has some commentators talking about Smith as “Canada’s Sarah Palin.” It’s a clumsy (and, yes, sexist) metaphor. Smith’s electoral experience is even more meagre than Palin’s was in 2008, amounting to part of a term as a Calgary Board of Education trustee. But Smith is in no danger of not being able to tell you what magazines and newspapers she reads. And she is a creature of principle, not instinct. As leader of a party starting nearly from zero, her problem won’t be fighting against her own brain trust, but building one.

The Wildrose Alliance leadership race last October was an important test for the fledgling office-seeker. Her opponent in the contest, Calgary chiropractor Mark Dyrholm, was no mere punching bag. He is affiliated with Calgary’s controversial Craig Chandler and his eccentric evangelical-political marketing machine, which wields real influence in southern Alberta. Dyrholm positioned himself as the Reaganite, pro-life contender in a struggle against Smith, a conventional libertarian who stubbornly deflects family values questions.

Smith and the Alliance have been accused of not having a platform, but one notices that their agenda is considerably richer in conservative red meat than the PC government’s. She is a strong believer in prices as signals, with government as a funder of essential services rather than a front-line provider. A Smith-designed health care system, for instance, would look much like today’s but feature less central planning and more dollars following patients—a model that has worked well for Alberta’s choice-friendly education system.

The Alliance platform features other ideas that have been kicking around Alberta for two decades—right-to-work legislation, provincial withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan, a stronger Heritage Fund. It’s particularly curious that the direct-democracy agenda has been passed over for years in the spiritual home of the Triple-E Senate. A campaigning Alliance can smack the PCs around with items such as MLA recall and free votes in the assembly, and Smith, for her part, is especially keen on fixed election dates. “Politics will continue to be dominated by lifers,” she tells Maclean’s, “until we can attract smart people from outside. New candidates from the private sector are already facing risks in setting aside their own careers for the duration of a campaign, and more time to plan their affairs would help.”

Smith did what she needed to do in the leadership tilt, thumping Dyrholm by a margin of more than three to one and reaching out to his base. Dyrholm is expected to run for the party in the next election, and he is currently co-chairing a Wildrose “pay and perks” panel studying legislator compensation. The other chairman is Link Byfield, crown prince of Alberta’s famous family of right-wing publishers and activists. He declared early for Smith and issued a manifesto about the need for social conservatives and libertarians to unite in defence of small government against the “progressive” zeitgeist. Byfieldian sound bite: “The orderly reduction of state power is the shared priority of all conservatives.”
The formula appears to be working. On Nov. 5, Environics had the Alliance (28 per cent) barely trailing the PCs in decided-voter share (34 per cent). A bombshell Angus Reid poll released Dec. 13 put them ahead 39 per cent to 25 per cent. Still, almost nobody literally believes that the Alliance would sweep to a majority if an election were held today, and Smith herself has been reining in rampant expectations.

“I have no intention of discouraging the perception that we will be ready to form an alternative government,” she says, “but we have an immense amount of work ahead of us in creating a full set of constituency associations to go with a full slate of candidates. I’m going to be realistic.” When Smith won the leadership, 15 Alberta ridings of the existing 83 had Wildrose associations. The figure is already up to 40.

From outside Alberta, Smith’s early-December statement that “I believe the science [of climate change] is not settled” may have looked like a foul-up. If it was, it was a carefully premeditated one. For better or worse, Albertans are naturally quick to see massive transfers of oil wealth where others just see good environmental policy. Smith’s climate skepticism comes with the caveat that “the world is plainly in a transition away from high-carbon fuels and consumers want green energy options”; she supports tax incentives for alternative energy research, more responsive electricity pricing (another venue for her Hayekian prices-are-signals streak), and tax incentives for energy efficiency.

It is hard to say whose side time is on, but the Alberta political schedule appears to be set in stone. Stelmach has been firm about intending to hold the next vote in March 2012 and would pay a heavy price for trying to catch the Alliance off guard with a snap election. Winning back the electorate by putting the province’s fiscal books back in the black in 2012 is the key to his strategy. In light of this week’s defections, the question may be whether he still has a caucus left by that time.


Wildrose blooms

  1. Danielle Smith is no Sarah Palin. For one thing, she might win.

    You mean like becoming the Canadian equivalent of a US governor? Or is she already looking to be Deputy PM?

    • I look forward to voting for her to be Premier of Alberta! I think Steele and Harper are so alike in political philosophy there would hardly be a point for her to be deputy PM anyhow, since Hayek seems to be the person you'd pick to symbolize either of their ideas. Maybe we should appoint Hayek as our honorary deputy PM

      • The fact that you did a freudian slip and referred to her as [Danielle] Steele (sic), grocery stored novel author instead of [Danielle] Smith , wannabe politician, speaks chapters.

        • I think people speak volumes (odd that) and go to chapters to sit and read books they are too cheap to purchase.

          • Was deliberate, volumes => chapters. Set expectations low. An old trick.

          • damm you chessmasters!

        • lol… think that was whiskey talking, not freud

    • Not sure whether that was written by Cosh or some random editor, but by my count Palin has won five out of the seven elections she's contested.

  2. Danielle Smith is also going to have to find a way to restore Alberta's Trust Fund, which was mentioned briefly in this column. While the total assets held in a number of Alberta funds amount to around $40B, the goal should ultimately be to increase the provincial savings rate so that the province can reach $100B by the middle of the next decade. Whether the PCs, or Wildrose, or even the Liberals may seize power after the next election, the concept of saving more money in the trust fund should be a number one priority.

  3. Here's a question:

    If Danielle Smith was rather Colby Smith, Andrew Smith, Paul Smith, Kenneth Smith, Scott Smith, Mitchel Smith, would we care?

    • I find libertarian principles pretty sexy when it's Stephen… so sure I find them really sexy when it's Danielle but that's just the Je ne sais quoi of her appeal – there's also a lot of I know what exactly. Stelmach has done a couple things that made pudding out of his support from both fiscal and social conservatives. I suspect that fiscally he has done a just fine job but a deficit is a big deal whether it's his fault or not. The social conservative thing is what motivates me and actually goes well beyond "just" a social conservative issue. Probably the single worst Human Rights Commission ruling as far as abrogating political rights was in Alberta – some pastor put out a pamphlet talking about the 'gay agenda' which even talked about loving gay individuals and he was ordered to "cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals." This ruling was so out there that a gay rights organization protested, making the argument that disregarding the rights of one person ultimately threatens everyone's rights. And Stelmach, so far from doing nothing about it, actually strongly defended the ruling.

      Smith is tailor made for the political situation in Alberta – obviously very very appealing to fiscal conservatives just when there's a big deficit, as a libertarian quite appealing to people uncomfortable with social conservativism and yet also the answer to social conservatives feeling of being marginalized and drawn to the safety of a person they can count on not to do any social engineering. That's the I know what exactly and while yes I agree that her first name matters let me make a really Je ne sais quoi argument – the real political value of that in Alberta right now is that there would be a significant inclination to give Stelmach a lot more benefit of the doubt in terms of representative fairness as the first Edmonton Premier in a long time which her gender not only takes away but pulls in her favour since people think of women as having been unrepresented in a similar way.

    • Nope, we wouldn't care. I've seen this movie before and it's called Barack Obama: PC chilled idiots supporting a candidate based on their race or gender. Cosh is far from the only "libertarian" (a libertarian is a Marxist who thinks calling for legal pot, a tax cut, and exceedingly trivial stuff like the right to drink whole milk, while ignoring massive incursions on liberty such as employment equity, makes him some kinda freedom fighter) who is ga-ga over Smith, and quite obviously and exclusively because of her gender.

      Reminds me of how the Bolsheviks sent a female plenipotentiary to negotiate Brest-Litovsk just to piss everybody off. That brings up another point: a lot of leftists support what they support merely to piss off right wingers.

      • "a libertarian is a Marxist who thinks calling for legal pot, a tax cut, and exceedingly trivial stuff like the right to drink whole milk, while ignoring massive incursions on liberty such as employment equity, makes him some kinda freedom fighter)"

        A libertarian is a Marxist? Reductio ad absurdum FTW?

        In fact, many libertarians object (hehe) to employment equity. They maintain that discrimination is a competitive disadvantage so any inequities in hiring should balance themselves out. It's not quite so simple, of course.

        Also advocating for the legalization of recreational drugs is hardly a trivial position. Our country has a huge, already thickened border with drugs-obsessed Americuh, and that border could become thicker if we legalized. On the other hand, 25% of B.C.'s economy is the drug trade – that's a lot of direct cost in policing and opportunity cost in taxes. As you can see, hardly a trivial issue.

        Anyway, what are you, some sort of anarcho-capitalist or something?

      • I always thought a libertarian was someone who thought that if government disappeared, everyone would become nice and happy and live in paradise, while a Marxist was someone who thought that everyone would be nice and happy and live in paradise only if the government would force them to.

        That and libertarians wear camoflauge and run around in the forest shooting guns, while Marxists wear camoflauge, run around in cities and throw Molotov cocktails.

        • YSP, you're talking about anarchists, not libertarians.

      • A libertarian is the polar opposite of communism and fascism. These last two are totalitarian – that is to say, they maximize the role of government at the expense of personal liberty. Libertarianism minimizes the role of government to the benefit of personal liberty.

  4. Sorry, missing Link Smith

  5. Colby, I don't know much about Alberta politics and still found this interesting…but I wanted to say, what pleasant writing! Well done.

  6. What environmental policy is Danielle Smith going to have?
    I can't stand all this denial crap regarding climate change. Its fine to disagree about what is the best economic policy to solve the problem but the science is settled. The problems with scientists at East Anglia doesnt erase all the evidence from other scientists. Can't we have a grown up conversation about climate change? Denial is childish. Should we participate in a cap and trade program? Should we have a carbon tax? at what rate? What are the upsides and downsides to these policies? I am not impressed with Danielle Smith. When she can talk about the environment at a more competent level, I might be.

    • The way i read the statement is that moving towards renewable resources is a good thing for many reasons, and is something she would work on encouraging while not getting in the way of our current provincial wealth reliant on a strong oil and gas industry.

      And the science isn't exactly settled. That CO2 in the atmosphere causes some amount of a greenhouse effect is. The extent of overall warming that causes and the impacts it might have isn't.

      • CO2 does not a "cause" climate change. Glacial core data indicates that CO2 rises FOLLOW a rise in global temperature.

        Unless the laws of cause and effect have been changed and nobody told me about it, CO2 cannot logically cause climate change.

        • That is less than clear. CO2 does absorb (and reemit) IR radiation. The order of magnitude this effect has on a global scale is up to debate as there are other greenhouse gases, the effect of increased cloud cover on reflecting more of the inbound energy, etc which are frequently not discussed. It is certainly not the only factor, and it may not even be a significant factor.

          But it's too late for that now, the religion of activism has taken hold and something will be done about it anyways. Might as well take comfort that the move to renewable sustainable energy sources is good for other reasons even if limiting CO2 emissions isn't a worthwhile objective in and of itself.

    • The East Anglia "Climategate" e-mails certainly don't erase years of scientific research. What they do show is that reasonable, educated people, many of whom were researching specifically to find a link between human produced carbon dioxide and global warming, have reservations about the truthiness of climate change. The science is not settled. The science is never settled. And the consensus view on climate change is actually hardly consensus at all. What is true, is that humans are awful predictors of our effect on the environment and we should seek to minimize that effect, through any and all reasonable measures. The COP15 agreement is an absolute joke with regards to climate change. It's a fine document to increase foreign aid but has nothing to do with climate change.

    • Matt please provide an unequivocal account of the evidence in support of globall warming being caused by human prodcued C02. When you can do that then you you may ask your "childish" questions as there seems to be mountains of evidence against AGW but none for the argument.

  7. Odd that the author of this piece wasn't upfront about his old job as a writer and senior editor of the Byfield family's Alberta Report magazine. Link Byfield is one of the biggest financial contributors to the party, and to Danielle Smith, but Colby Cosh thinks this point isn't worth pointing out in a rather praiseworthy puff piece about Smith because…?

    • I just assumed adding Colby to the Macleans lineup was partly to boost the mag's appeal in Alberta, perhaps going after some of the Alberta Report readers. Nothing wrong with that – in fact probably a smart move.

      Btw, Macleans editor Kenneth Whyte has similar roots:

      Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. Whyte began his career in journalism as a sports reporter at the Sherwood Park News, where he went on to serve as editor-in-chief of the paper. He joined Alberta Report as a reporter in the mid-1980s and later served as executive editor of the magazine.


  8. "It's a clumsy (and, yes, sexist) metaphor."

    Oh shut up, gender hustling cultural Marxist. Here's some more "sexism" for you: Rita Johnston, Audrey McLaughlin. Alexa McDonough. Kim Campbell. Pauline Marois. And of course the egregious Elizabeth May. Do you see a successful politician there? Do you see someone there you'd want running your province or country? No. Female political leaders above the municipal level have done, on a quantifiable basis, horribly. They're awful.

    As opposed to Palin, who not only won the governorship, but was wildly popular (80% approval) with Alaskans and generally acknowledged to have done a very good job as governor. That must burn your nihilist, Sullivanist, anti-western civilization ass, eh Cosh?

  9. Craig Chandler and his affilitates (a chiropractor! That tell you a lot. At least it wasn’t a Scientologist) has never been a serious contender for anything. Aside from self generated press he is a joke to 99% of the Calgarians who have heard of him. The rest of Alberta haven’t a clue who he is.
    If you’re going to comment on Alberta politics Colby, bring yourself up to speed.

    • Rob H.

      You are out to lunch if you do not know about Craig Chandler. Many people in Alberta in Calgary and area are in office because of him.

      Do your homework.

  10. Matt!
    The true deniers are useful idiots like yourself who think Suzuki, Gore and friends are in this for humanitarian reasons. The science is very much unsettled; if it were settled AGW proponents would have been much more willing to provide it, and much less willing to corrupt the peer review process. AGW was and is being used as an agenda driven wealth redistribution tool; fortunately the federal government didn't drink the Kool-Aid.

  11. What a puff piece … did Link Byfield screen it first?? And don't compare Smith to Palin … they aren't even in the same league.

    As for the Alliance, er, Wildrose, they have more baggage then just Craig Chandler. Adding a fresh face to the mix won't solve their woes. Besides, the PC's are going to steal all of Wildrose's meaningful policies anyway and will start exposing people within that party if the PC's are worried about her being a real threat. Paul Hinman can tell you all too well what the PC machine does to win back ridings.

    At least for the time being we (Albertans) will benefit from the entanglement of the two parties and get some REAL fiscal and political change.

    • Chandler is awesome!

  12. palin resembles a floozy who just woke up in her birthday suit from a disheveled bed in log cabin in the woods who said, oh my, i want to be the prez of the knited states of merica

  13. It's always good to motivate people to work hard and help them stay with their jobs. Great insights, I really enjoyed reading this.