The Wildrose Alliance and being new

By DJ Kelly January 6, 2010

It seems strange to me to congratulate someone who is effectively spewing venom. But I feel proud of Rob Anderson for switching?allegiance?from the Alberta PCs to the Wildrose Alliance. No sooner had he made the announcement and he began immediately exposing the dark corners of the Government he had supported and loved so dearly not so long ago.

To do this takes gumption and honesty. It could not have been an easy decision, but assuming he is telling the truth, it is clearly one based on morality and I applaud him for this. We need more politicians who are willing to be open and honest with the public and who are willing to stake their career on correcting their mistakes.

Yet, that is where my applause for his and Heather Forsyth’s defection ends.

If you don’t read many Alberta political blogs then you probably haven’t seen an interesting?phenomenon?happening coming out of the Reboot Alberta conference. Average citizens who attended – and many who didn’t – have been taking the time to put into writing what they believe the definition of “progressive” is. “Progressive” being what Rebooters have branded themselves as. (My own thoughts on the subject will come in the near future in the form of a series of posts.)

In my mind, I find myself amazed at the number of Albertan’s taking the time, through this difficult exercise, to try and spell out what they want their province to look like – and how Alberta might get from where it is now, to that point.

I’m not seeing this kind of open idealogical and policy development happening with the Wildrose Alliance and that concerns me. Hardly anyone is talking about what it means to be a Wildrose supporter. Especially before?choosing?to become one.

Up until this point the majority of what the general public has seen is a party which is defining itself via negative statements: i.e. “We are not the Tories.” This was perhaps most clearly stated during the Calgary-Glenmore by-election when the slogan the Wildrose Alliance staked their claim with was “Send Ed a Message”. There was nothing in there about how their position would be any different, but that’s okay because it tapped into a societal urge to do just that: send Ed a message. (Remember the Liberals did come in second in the race, also beating out the PC candidate. Meaning many voters chose to send a message too, just via a different channel.)

The problem with defining yourself in such a way is you’ve left the power to define you in the hands of your opposition. It would be very easy for Ed Stelmach to simply illustrate ‘the message was received’ and suddenly you’re brand has dried up. To be truly effective, the Wildrose Alliance are going to have to illustrate what they are and just what they are not.

So who is the Wildrose Alliance? What do they stand for?

From the policy documents on their website and what their leader Danielle Smith has said in the media, I think they can be summed up as offering ‘change’ or ‘something different’. While this doesn’t help solve my previous point it’s not a bad horse to hitch your wagon to. After all, it worked for Barack Obama.

But the point with Obama was, he really did represent a different way of doing things. (Arguments can be made that his results so far have been the same, but his methods have been near polar opposites of his?predecessor.) I’m not convinced yet that the Wildrose Alliance really does offer a different way of doing things.

Case in point the addition of Anderson and Forsyth. If you’ve staked your entire brand on the fact you are different than the PC Party, how can you accept two of their MLAs as your own? This appears to be a quick – albeit short-term helpful – abandonment of the central pillar of the brand.

Yet, I think it goes deeper than just this. From what I’ve been told, the Wildrose Alliance party was founded by former PC supporters who feel the party has lost its way over the past however many years. Anderson and Forsyth and the framing of the by-election victory illustrate this?disillusion?as well.

Here’s my point: if voters are looking for something new – how does the Wildrose Alliance represent anything other than simply the PC Party of the past? That’s not new, that’s simply slapping a new coat of paint on the same thing we’ve?already?had before. Change for the sake of change, if you will.

I’m not deluded however. This alone may be enough to hand them a majority in the next election. The Liberals – despite David Swann’s best efforts – are looking to do nothing more than change their logo, while the Alberta NDP plod along contemplating no change of any kind. When these are the options you are up against, the Wildrose’s fresh face with the same tired out plan might be more than enough.

I may be wrong, but it strikes me the public don’t just want new people doing the same thing we’ve done before. If given the option, they want Alberta politics to be done in completely different – and better – way.

So far as I can see right now, those bloggers typing out their thoughts on what the province could be are the only ones offering anything “new”. And that’s too bad they’re the only ones.