Make Something Wildrose?

If you have read this blog anytime over the last 4 years, you know that I have been pretty tough on the Wildrose Party. Never have I been that critical of their Leader Danielle Smith, as she has been effective at staying on message about their fiscal conservative message. What has caused my concern stems largely from the supporters who have defined their social conservative culture. At one event hosted by the Alberta Party in 2010, I recall getting into an argument with a supporter about Gay Marriage. Believe it or not, his position was contrary to supporting it because in his words, the slippery slope of legalizing Gay Marriage could lead to allowing people to marry their pets. Crazy, and I am not making this up.

Of course this is no position of the party, and it’s a radicalism they are working to shed. But when you are measuring a movement, you have to make some assessment based on the types of people it attracts. We could criticise the party as being disingenuous to it’s roots, but perhaps that is no longer true? We should also be honest and give credit where credit’s due. The party is striving towards a mainstream message.

Tonight, in a room of 350 Edmonton supporters, Danielle Smith made humble strides, admitting to many mistakes connecting with Edmontonians. I am not going to rush out and support them. But let’s be honest, they have no where to go but up in Edmonton. Also in Smith’s presentation tonight, was a significant nod to the Make Something Edmonton movement for which I am a Co-Chair.

When I was asked by the Mayor, Stephen Mandel, to Co-Chair the City’s Image and Reputation campaign, now called Make Something Edmonton, I had to rely on many years of experience loving and serving this community; also as a knowledge economy business founder. Volunteering for the City is what we as Edmontonians do. We serve this place, to help others, to move the community forward together. I am unapologetically excited about our future and believe that with our current momentum things like Make Something Edmonton and Startup Edmonton (which I am also currently the Board Chair), are very really changing the confidence of this place. So… it goes without saying that the Wildrose and Smith’s speech, got my attention.

Ironically, as Smith was delivering her speech down the street at the Shaw Conference Centre, Startup Edmonton hosted our Fourth Annual Launch Party event at our amazing 104th street campus. 10 new companies were featured and hundreds of Edmontonians came out to celebrate them and our Startup Culture. Also, just this past  Monday, we held our annual luncheon to kickoff  Global Entrepreneurship Week, and again hundreds attended to celebrate the our Startup City initiative. Easily, our work has become the standard for Startup Ecosystems and communities across the country.

Startup Edmonton Campus - Launch Party 4 Event

Startup Edmonton Campus – Launch Party 4 Event

So. Back to Smith’s speech and Edmonton.

Clearly, her party missed the mark here during the last election. But, if her speech tonight was any indication, the Wildrose are ready to open a new front on the political war for Alberta’s next election. And frankly, I think Edmonton will play a large role in who wins the next election.

There’s no guessing how they will do, and I hope the Alberta Party and PC Party will also work to continue their building parties, showing respect for an energized Edmonton. But one thing is certain. Edmonton is an important political front of the 2016 provincial election.

Below is the entire text of Danielle Smith’s speech. Judge for yourself if she is making headway. I happen to think she made all the right points.

I’m going to start out tonight with a bit of a confession.

Well, it’s not so much a confession.

I don’t want anyone thinking there are videos of me floating around out there like a certain big city mayor. It’s more of an admission, really. I believe in admitting mistakes and learning from them. So here it goes:

So far Wildrose has not been viewed as the party of Edmonton.  I think there is a reason for that. We haven’t been on the same page as many Edmontonians about the issues that mattered most to them.  And because of that, most Edmontonians didn’t come out to support Wildrose in the last election.  And as leader, I regret that, because I genuinely believe that Wildrose is the party best positioned to support Edmonton and Edmonton’s causes in the Alberta Legislature.  However, I think Edmonton hasn’t been convinced yet that we will be their party and their champion on the provincial stage.

But that’s going to change. Edmonton is a city that is commanding attention these days. And it’s certainly got ours.

Let me tell you about the Edmonton I see.

I see an Edmonton on the front lines of so much of what drives the modern global economy.

I see an Edmonton bursting with possibility, possessing that rare and powerful combination of blue-collar work ethic, leading edge innovation and a true entrepreneurial spirit.

It has the finest symphony orchestra in the country – a tribute to a dynamic arts and culture scene that gives Edmonton an unmistakeable flair. World-renowned musicians come to Edmonton to record with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and it stages brave and bold musical productions which other orchestras traditionally shy away from.

Its colleges and universities regularly break new ground on research and consistently perform among the best in Canada. The University of Alberta, our province’s largest and best renowned university, is an institution whose research is known globally.  It forms the basis of a dynamic research hub which is at the cutting-edge of biotechnology, engineering, software development, pharmaceuticals, and countless other fields.

Edmonton’s public education system has set an international standard in innovation, providing an example that has been emulated around the world.  The Edmonton model for public education is held up as the gold standard in many US States, the United Kingdom, and other developed economies who are as impressed as we are that the very best education can be offered in public schools.

Edmonton is also a healthcare hub not just for Alberta, but for Canada.  Edmonton has even pioneered some of the most innovative and effective treatment protocols for today’s most pressing illnesses.  The Edmonton Protocol for treating certain types of Type 1 diabetes is now a standard procedure world-wide and improving the lives of countless individuals afflicted with this disease.

Edmonton’s municipal leaders – starting with Mayor Stephen Mandel and now with new Mayor Don Iveson – have worked incredibly hard to re-orient Edmonton’s collective attention towards the bright horizon, towards the days ahead. In my opinion, they have redefined what it is to lead a city into the future – with poise, with confidence and with vision.

What I’m getting at is this: There is a new optimism in Edmonton. You can feel it.

It’s all around us.

It’s on campus, with the ongoing expansion of what is already world-class research and development.

It’s downtown, with construction cranes and new glass towers popping up in an ever-growing skyline.

It’s winding its way out of the city core and into the suburbs in the form of new light rail lines.

And it’s everywhere in between. It’s the bounce in Edmonton’s step and the swagger in its walk.

One of my favourite new Edmonton initiatives is Make Something Edmonton, a project spearheaded by Mayor Mandel and a committee of fiercely proud Edmontonians determined to tell the city’s story in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Together, they have asserted with tremendous conviction and style and fun that Edmonton is the best place to make something. To create something. To take what’s in your heart and mind and built it for the world to see and the city to support.

The stories are phenomenal. An Edmonton architect offering free Portugese language lessons for Edmontonians planning on attending the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A local artist sketching personal portraits in exchange for donations to combat Cystic Fibrosis. Even a group of hearty folks who want to celebrate Edmonton’s abundance of parkades by occasionally transforming them into venues for rooftop parkade parties.

Make Something Edmonton says this:  The Edmonton question of the future is not “Why do we live here?” The Edmonton question of the future is “What are you making?”

In speaking with Edmontonians over the years, you once got the impression that perhaps the city’s best days were behind it – that when people spoke of Edmonton’s golden years, it was harkening back to a period now gone.

However – and I think everyone in this room will agree with me – you don’t hear that anymore when Edmontonians talk about their city.

They talk about how Edmonton’s best days are still to come.  They see a future in which Edmonton will be leading the way and shaking off the misconceptions of those who think it is anything other than a city which defines a modern Alberta and drives our province forward.

There is a new Edmonton, and this it. An Edmonton that is coming into its own. An Edmonton that will in no way consider itself anything but a first-rate, forward-thinking capital city. And an Edmonton that is out to prove it.

This Edmonton reflects Alberta’s desire to be excellent. And our desire to be excellent is what defines us as Albertans.

I’ve been Leader of the Official Opposition now for almost 19 months. And in that time I’ve become keenly aware of something that truly disturbs me – and affirms why I’m doing what I’m doing.

This desire to be excellent – this thing that makes us uniquely and distinctly Albertan – is not reflected in the government that we have.

I get to see these incredible things Albertans do for each other, like the folks who participate in Make Something Edmonton. I see the lengths we go to just to do the right thing for our families, friends and even strangers  — especially strangers — I’ll get back to that in a moment.

I get to meet the Albertans who do these incredible things. I am inspired, time and time again.  We are a province of heroes and leaders.

And then I get to the Legislature. I face down the government across the aisle. I see their faces and hear their words. And something doesn’t add up. There is just no comparison.

Albertans are thoughtful. This government is glib.

Albertans are diligent. This government is careless.

Albertans are humble. This government is arrogant.

Albertans are consistent. This government is erratic.

Every day, this disconnect between who we are and the leadership we receive becomes clearer and deeper.

Albertans are hopeful. This government is cynical.

Albertans are trustworthy. This government is misleading.

Albertans are forthright. This government is secretive.

Albertans are compassionate. This government is callous.

Make Something Edmonton. An invitation to the entire city to identify gaps, weaknesses, problems and opportunities in the community and come up with creative ways to address them, together. That’s the Alberta I love. The Alberta I fight for.

But the more time I spend trying to make sense of what this government is doing, the more frustrated I become. I’m frustrated because we can do so much better than this.

This isn’t a government that reinforces who are. Or a government that reflects the excellence of our people and proclaims it on a daily basis.

And really, isn’t that what a government should do? If we can’t look at the people who lead us and have confidence that they are taking us where we want to go, then we’ve got to do something about the people who lead us.

In many ways, Edmonton was ground zero for the cuts to the Persons With Developmental Disabilities programs that came out of the March budget.

For those unfamiliar, it was a $42 million cut to programs that help adults with disabilities function in today’s society.

For me, this raised a fundamental question about our province, and our government.  How is it  that in Alberta, the wealthiest province in Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, how is it that we can’t afford to support the most vulnerable people in our society?

Why can’t a government in power for forty-two years manage our affairs  in such a way that those most in need aren’t falling through the cracks?

Those who rely on support from the government’s Persons with Developmental Disabilities program are those who face some of the most daunting challenges in life.  In many cases, they require a very high level of care, across a wide-range of fields.  Their families and friends also make sacrifices to ensure their loved ones can lead dignified lives in safe and supportive environments.  This spring’s budget demonstrated vividly the callousness of the government as they slashed support for PDD programs across the board.

For many individuals already facing tremendous challenges in their lives, this left both their families and their support workers completely in the dark about how care and support for their relatives and clients would be provided.

Instead of consulting with these groups, explaining the process for how these cuts would be implemented, and working with the families and caregivers of PDD clients to minimize the disruptions to care,  the government – claiming the need for budget secrecy -bulldozed ahead without a word to anyone.  Budget secrecy — it makes you shake your head in disbelief at the callousness.

The result of this approach was a disaster.  And after huge backlash from us, from other opposition parties, from families, from caregivers, from facilities and institutions, and from the public at large who were outraged at the callousness of this decision, the government put the brakes on implementing these cuts.

For many individuals, the damage was already done, and they are continuing to feel the uncertainty of the government’s short-sightedness.

Here’s the bottom line: Pulling the rug out from underneath the most vulnerable people in our society is not who we are. Failing to support them is unAlbertan.

Now, not every decision government makes will be easy, or popular, or simple.  Wildrose recognizes that sometimes tough choices need to be made by the government.  We anticipate that 2016 will see us making more than a few tough choices to fix some of this government’s messes.

Where we differ from this government is in how these decisions are approached.

We believe that what was missing from the government’s approach to PDD cuts was a pretty basic concept which most Albertans innately understand and display throughout their day-to-day lives.  This government just didn’t seem to care about the people who would be impacted by these cuts.  And this lack of caring made a difficult situation much, much worse.

But fortunately, while this government may not understand the importance of caring, this is not the case for everyday Albertans across our province.

In fact, I would respectfully suggest that Albertans hold caring at the very heart of who we are as a people. And this summer provided a tremendous example of just how caring Albertans truly are.

As many of you know, my riding of High River was impacted deeply by this summer’s terrible flooding.

More than two-thirds of our town was underwater, and many people are still wondering if they will be able to rebuild and restore their homes, or if they will have to relocate.  Thousands of Calgarians also faced similar challenges with water and mud-filled basements, ruined personal belongings, and prolonged dislocation from their homes.  Many were on the verge of despair, and were worried that might never recover from this disaster.  However, during this time of darkness, the character of Alberta shone through.  Despair turned to hope, and fear gave way to optimism.

Tens of thousands of volunteers mobilized to help their friends, neighbours, and strangers, especially strangers, recover.  They mucked out basements, donated supplies, offered up free meals, hot showers, and warm beds to those unable to return home, and they gave generously to the Red Cross and other organizations who worked tirelessly to help flood victims.  As someone from a town devastated by flooding, I can honestly say that without the help, support, and love from this army of Good Samaritan Albertans, my town of High River would have faced a truly bleak outlook.

And during this crisis, Calgary and Southern Alberta had no better friend than Edmonton.

As a Calgarian, I like to tease my Edmonton friends over things like football and hockey (although neither of us has much to be boasting about right now when it comes to either of Canada’s favourite sports), because that’s what friends do.

However, when the chips were down, and we really needed you, Edmonton was there in a heartbeat, because that’s what Albertans do.  Hundreds of everyday Edmontonians came South to help strangers with the clean up.  They donated water, cleaning materials, and other badly-needed supplies.  Your police and firefighters joined with our local authorities to keep people safe and protect our homes.   Edmonton’s utility workers joined in to help restore power to the tens of thousands of homes knocked off the grid by the flood.  Shoulder to shoulder, Edmontonians worked with Calgarians and others in Southern Alberta to help manage the biggest disaster our province has seen in its history.

And on behalf of my constituents in High River, and the people of Calgary and Southern Alberta who were impacted by the flood, I would like say thank you to Edmonton for your friendship, help, and support.  We couldn’t have made it through without you.

What we saw during this flood was an outpouring of support from everyday Albertans who, when they saw people in need, dropped everything to help.  And I think this speaks to the character of Albertans.  We are honest, hard-working, and fair.

We are generous in spirit, and compassionate towards those in need.

And we value things like integrity in our leaders.

These are the things that bind us together, and what makes us a magnet for people across Canada, and indeed around the world, looking to build a better life for themselves and their families.

There is a sense of optimism across Alberta.  You see it everyday in Edmonton – a new frontier spirit of neighbourliness, community and friendship which you can feel in our cities, towns, and villages.  We aren’t mired in the problems of the past like other provinces.  We approach each day with the belief that we can and will create a better and brighter world for our families and children.  In every sense of the word, we are a province of hope.  And it is that province that I want to lead.

Let me end by thanking you for the opportunity to speak to you this evening, and for coming out tonightto learn more about Wildrose.

We commit to you that if you put your trust in us, we will be a government for each and every Albertan, from every walk of life and from every corner of the province.

We will always strive to be a government that reflects the very best of our province, and its people.

A government worthy of Alberta and Albertans. The kind of government we can all be proud of again.

 

“…what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?”

Well… you might say… here we go again.

Since the 2012 election, I have been somewhat of a political agnostic. My experience helping build the Alberta Party into a new moderate option for Albertans was an experience I would never give back, yet one that opened my eyes to the difficulties and challenges of partisan politics.

Let’s not go into the story on why it didn’t find greater success, as it would take a book to do it justice; but I can summarize pretty much where I feel the movement Peaked: Just prior to The selection of Alison Redford as PC Party leader. It made sense really. On paper, the Premier was the perfect blend of potential. Our first woman Premier, young, a human rights lawyer with international experience, and yet a reputation for sternness when needed.

But perhaps what Alison Redford taketh away….. Alison Redford giveth back?

After a couple years of an Alison Redford PC Government, it’s possible the conditions are emerging for the Alberta Party to be considered again as an option in the provincial political landscape? What are some of those things?

  1.  The likelihood of a Wildrose government. Danielle Smith is leading the only real organized opposition to the government, and on many issues, is looking more like a Premier than the Premier. They are beating the PC’s at their own game, raising piles of money from a very broad base of support, and they have very much softened their policy positions. The Wildrose will not make the same mistakes the next election, they did the last one.
  2.  The Alberta Liberals seem to be struggling with sustainability. Under the highly polarizing and some might say damaging ego leader Raj Sherman, it seems almost all large donors have left and so too much of the new blood needed to backfill this vacuum.
  3.  The PC Government under Alison Redford has acted erratically on many huge issues, and less than ever, we really don’t know their vision. They have tried to be everything along the political spectrum, and seemingly are beating themselves in the process. Even some bright lights in the party (yes they are there), have been dulled by the overbearing control from a Madame Premier who calls all the shots. These are the last couple years:

 

But… back to my point. The Alberta Party. What to do with this table scrap of the past election?

Firstly, I am happily surprised the experiment from 2009, 2010 and 2011 has somehow persisted. The retail support of the party has virtually disappeared, but as I revisited it over the last month, what I saw surprised me. Several new faces among their support and a fresh commitment to stay the course; build it responsibly, and maintain commitment for a fresh political palate. A new home for moderately minded political Albertans.

** Special shout-out to current Alberta Party President Will Munsey, who seems to personally embody almost every example of the Province. A rural farmer, who also works as a unionized train engineer; an entrepreneur who fits perfectly selling his fresh foods and plants to Urban local-food enthusiasts. Will holds a masters degree and has lived for two-decades abroad. He speaks fluent Japanese and knows a thing or two about the colourful language of hardworking Albertans as well. This man has been instrumental in holding the party up, even if just above the waterline, saving it from possibly drowning.

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

Candidate Greg Clark, Party President Will Munsey, Candidate Troy Millington

That said, the Alberta Party will not form the next government of Alberta and it would be a twice in a century story for them to form government in even two elections. But when I spent some time talking to each of the candidates currently running for leader of this boutique movement, I found a whole new extreme practicality. The two Calgary based candidates are similar in professional background, as computer and technology service consultants, yet they are also unique in their own approach. Yet again, as they are diverse, they also seem to typify the party in several ways. Fresh, young, new to the scene and VERY gosh-shucks idealistic.

So where am I going with this? Well I am asking myself once again, is it time to give the next chapter of this young book, another look? As I said, can the Alberta Party form the next Government, of course not. The real questions, which I WILL be asking at the only Edmonton leadership forum event, will be around how each of these men will lead the party over the next couple years to continue it’s growth?

How will they make it more sustainable, perhaps more applicable to all Albertans? When will Albertans understand the policy of the party in practical terms? How will that be developed? Finally, how will they afford to keep the lights on, or better said, how will the Party get better at the Business of Politics. Something it has prided itself on shunning… clearly a mistake if it wants to bridge itself to the mainstream.

So… I invite you to join me as I ask those tough questions of each candidate.   On Wednesday September 4th, (The Facebook event link for more information) – Edmonton will have it’s only opportunity to meet the candidates, ask them some tough questions, before you decide if you want to buy a membership, which is required to vote in this race.

A race that by many will be considered irrelevant… unless you love the challenge and risk of building something new… and some of us Albertans certainly do.

The Wildrose Reinvented. Maybe it’s time?

Maybe it’s time?

Danielle Smith

Danielle Smith - WRP Leader

Yesterday the Wildrose Party of Alberta came together and laid the foundation for a more moderate policy framework, mostly by removing or clarifying their contentious social policy. It has yet to be submitted to the approval of the membership, but I think that’s a formality.

By doing this, the rigid social conservatives, those who joined the party to protect ideologically based “Family / Christian Values” will simply be made to feel unwelcome. Which is tough; but the choice of the ideologue, not the Party who strives to align itself with the majority of those it wants to represent. These beliefs fit in a home or a church, but not in a government, which must be responsible to a diverse constituency. Surely Danielle Smith has always known this and now the Party looks to be bending to her will. Which it must if it wants to form government.

I don’t begrudge this. I believe that this is the basic principle of representative government. Go where the people want you to go. The ancient social beliefs of the party were again and again contrary to what the majority of Albertans believe. From climate change to conscience rights… they were offside.  The Wildrose are doing what they are supposed to do… we can’t criticize them for that.

What will obviously happen, is a fracture in their party along the right side, but that is certainly expected; and I suspect Danielle Smith is discreetly thankful for it.

The big story is not that the Wildrose are doing late what every other party has done before them. That was inevitable. The big story is that by doing this, they eliminated the only legitimate reason that most rigid fiscal conservatives were staying away.  These people, have been holding their nose and staying with the Alberta PC Party, which really has become a confused home for everybody who was against the “old version of the Wildrose”, from forming government.

Maybe it’s time?

Maybe it’s time to break apart what is a tired and ill-focused PC government. Maybe it’s time to have a healthy debate about what the solution to our deficit and debt problems should be. Maybe it’s time to challenge how big or small government should be, how ever-expanding health care delivery costs can be controlled, what it means to make meaningful long-term budgets and business plans, and of course how services can be improved.

There are so many of these debates we have avoided for the last 6-8 years, because the PC Party has built their entire existence around being against the Wildrose and not for a better, bigger future for the Province. All it takes is one look at the way they campaigned just a year ago, and the polar opposite positions they have taken since gaining power. They simple expended every bit of energy and political capital they had to hold onto power…. now they are in trouble.

At least the Wildrose have clarified where they stand in the political debate.  They have dropped the ideological background noise that was hurting them and will be fighting on ideas. These ideas will be about smaller government, cost reduction – over any new revenue streams, and a culture of personal responsibility as a cornerstone of the social safety net. Agree or disagree with where they stand; agree with me that these are the debates that we need to be having. One’s really worth having.

The PC Party had better realize what happened to them yesterday and find some ways quickly to define what they really stand for. Why their ideas are better than the Wildrose’s.

Or maybe it’s time?

Maybe the PC Party needs to recognize the dissonance that exists within it. The rigid fiscal conservatives who have only ever stayed to hold onto shortening strings of power, or because they couldn’t live within the social conservative confines of the old Wildose Party…. or… the Lougheed-modelled Progressive Conservatives who hope to find a vision in the balance between smart government and enabling a vision for the future of a post-energy Province. The PC Party of today is neither of these things and rest assured, the mandatory Leadership Review of the Premier this fall will expose and likely exacerbate this dissonance.

Or just maybe… a complete explosion of the Party might be the best thing for the Province and its political landscape. Let new lines be drawn and reestablish for Albertans where they might fit if they were looking for something to believe in.