Wildrose shows it's not ready for prime time
The past week cast an interesting light on two Alberta opposition parties. While the NDP leader pounded the government on high, unregulated energy rates during the coldest snap yet of the winter, and its environment critic called for a review of fracking after the Gleniffer Lake blowout raised some serious questions about health and safety and regulatory oversight, the Wildrose Party was playing gotcha politics by “exposing” piddling donations to the PCs that supposedly came from school divisions and municipalities. Not only that, but they didn’t do their homework very well either.
A Wildrose press release sent to media outlets last Thursday (“PCs actively solicit illegal donations at premier’s dinners”) claims that “over the past week the Wildrose revealed documents showing the PC party accepting donations in the thousands of dollars from post-secondary institutions and local school boards, most recently at Premier Redford’s leader’s dinner this past October.”
In a “backgrounder” attached to the release, 16 local government bodies are listed. First on the list is Chinook’s Edge School Division. A link to CESD minutes shows that, sure enough, the division had authorized two trustees to attend a premier’s dinner on Oct. 14, 2010 in Red Deer.
But it’s misleading. When Albertan/Gazette reporter Paul Frey checked out the “revelation” with school board chairman Colleen Butler, he learned that both trustees who attended the function had paid their own freight.
“When we attend those, we pay for those tickets out of our own individual money,” Butler said. “This is not paid for by the school board and we feel that it’s important to attend as a part of our political advocacy for education.”
The trustees, it turns out, “are aware that paying public money to attend political party functions is against the law, and are careful to use personal funds when paying for the tickets to attend such events.”
So while the PCs sending invitation letters might be a matter of limited concern as a technical breach of the election laws, to suggest that the ticket purchases are “illegal donations” is really stretching it. And it’s also making local elected officials appear undeservedly sleazy.
It’s gotcha politics. The focus is on making the other guys look bad, rather than serving the public interest in a useful, intelligent way.
Yet it’s a common assumption among many rural Albertans that the untried and untested Wildrose is the province’s opposition in waiting. Or perhaps even the replacement regime for the governing Tories.
We saw it a couple of weeks ago at the PC government’s dog and pony show at the Cow Palace. For many if not most of the people attending the Alberta Property Rights Task Force open house, the No. 1 issue was the Conservatives selling them out to the oil and gas industry. Many of the same people were looking to the Wildrose Party as their salvation.
The party does like to portray itself as the protector of property rights – but again, it’s about bashing government bills that are patently unpopular. It plays well in the boonies. Beyond that, though, will Wildrose really stand up to the oil and gas industry?
Check out a website called protectthepatch.ca. It profiles eight “Wildrose Party Oil and Gas Industry Candidates,” all having solid industry credentials. The PC government’s big sin against the industry, according to the website, was its ill-fated attempt to increase royalty rates by what many analysts had described at the time as a modest, even bare minimum amount. The PCs, of course, caved in a year later – after the industry reminded all Albertans who was really boss of this province, by shutting in and effectively shutting down the economy. The Stelmach government’s royalty reversal prompted an uncharacteristically positive comment from Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith: “It looks like they made some pretty good changes,” Smith was quoted as saying in the Financial Post on March 11, 2010.
Which is one reason why, especially outside the province, Wildrose is seen as a sleeper party for the oilpatch – a B team to be activated if the ruling Tories step out of line again.
Which is fine if that’s what you want, but don’t expect those guys to “come down hard” on fracking and force the ERCB to grow teeth.
Last week we saw which opposition party was responsive to those issues. And we also saw, with its shabby guilt-by-association attacks on local government bodies, that Wildrose has a little ways to go before it’s ready for prime time.