First party to get the review is the Wildrose Party. The WRP is the early favourite to take down the PC party and the current official opposition. The party lands a little bit towards the right side of the spectrum, mostly based on being true fiscal conservatives. Their right wing leanings have made them easy fodder in the past because of the perceived social politics of the party, mostly from slanderous politics of the PC party.
The Wildrose is a fairly young political party in Alberta. They came into existence in 2008, an election year, when their unregistered party merged with the Alberta Alliance. Going into that election the Alberta Alliance held 1 seat in the legislative assembly. In 2008 they would lose that single seat and return no members. In that election the scored a little of 64,000 votes, about 7% of the popular vote and finished in fourth behind the PC, Liberals and NDP in that regard. In 2009 it was time for change already and they would replace their leader with a new face in Danielle Smith. Smith was a find for the party and was a fantastic leader she brought the WRP into the spotlight and by 2012 she had convinced 34% of the voters to side with the WRP. Only 9% below the ruling PC party, but a full 44 sitting members of legislature behind the PCs. But 17 members was nothing to scoff at (since 2008 election 4 floor crossers had joined the WRP ranks as sitting members).
This is where things get a little hairy for the WRP. See in 2012 there was a lot of polls indicating that the WRP would be taking the election and offering Alberta new leadership. Right up to the election in fact this was the case. But the PCs were able to reveal one WRP candidate, Alan Hunsperger, had some interesting thoughts in regards to the gay community. He felt they were all going to burn in a lake of fire for their life choices. Not a real nice dude. And with a chance to smack the PC party back and indicate that the WRP was not a crazy right wing organization Danielle Smith stepped up and…… well she really didn’t step up. Instead she told everyone he should just keep it at home and not bring it to the party. Problem is the public saw it as a party condoning a violently radical candidates hate speech. She should have gave him the boot, instead she tried to hedge bets and got the message sent by the voters. However with the Wildrose taking over as opposition Danielle Smith did some great work in calling out the PC party and helping direct some change in Alberta. Then she did the unthinkable, she crossed the floor and became a PC. Danielle Smith went from the person fighting the good battle to an opportunist traitor. She got what she deserved in a nomination election in her riding, with the members of the PC party voting for someone else to represent them in the upcoming election. So Smith, the truest contender to be Alberta’s next premier instead became unemployed and the butt of a lot of jokes. She deserves it too. It was Jim Prentice who talked her into the floor crossing. Knowing he had an election to call in April, with the Liberals (the 3rd party) looking for a new leader and in shambles he took out his competition. He ripped the heart from the WRP by taking 9 of their members, one being their leader. He thought this would leave them lost going into an early election in April. The WRP was not easily defeated and they elected Brian Jean to lead them.
Since coming in Brian Jean has been strong, he has spoken firmly about his party’s vision for Alberta and been quick to make decisions. One of his candidates was quickly dismissed for a comment regarding seating charts and race at Brian Jean’s victory ceremony from the leadership convention. He also dismissed another candidate for a homophobic blog that came forward. Really the WRP has managed to step mostly well so far. There is the who BYWP (Bring your wife’s pie) fundraiser one of his candidates ran in rural Alberta that wasn’t in the best of taste but has otherwise been ok.
So what does the WRP bring you ask. Well lets hit their platform planks
1) FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY – The WRP is very firm in not taxing Albertans extra. They want to lower taxes and find other areas there are issues to save money. Cutting government bureaucracy and waste is a big target for them. A lot of the poor PC management has been their low hanging fruit. They are promising to deliver a balanced budget by 2017 with a budget office to oversee and review all budget decisions. Tough to argue with this, no one likes to pay taxes and a balanced budget should always be the goal. WRP is promising to invest 50% of all surpluses into the Heritage Trust and leave all interest in account untouched to help grow it too their estimate of $200 billion in 20 years. The other 50% of surpluses will be broken into infrastructure spending and contingency accounts as well as debt reduction. Again all fairly easy to get on side with. Definitely the Heritage Trust has become an issue, seeing as the PCs have demolished that fund over the past little bit, literally taking our rainy day fund and flushing it into bad programs. The problem I see here is the bit of double speak. All of the surpluses will be broken up this way makes sense on the surface, but Alberta has run deficits for 7 straight years. So this all hangs on if you believe they can meet their other goals in the fiscal section. Something to be a little wary of I think. Also 20 year promises are easy because Albertans have proven they don’t really track long-term all that well, hence 44 years of PCs not meeting five-year targets.
Here is where they plan on cutting, they want to get rid of the waste in government. And their has definitely been a lot, mostly they are talking about having accountability for their spending and promising not to piss away money on private planes and sky palaces. All easy takes for everyone. A couple of other things though. They promise to cap severance for public role execs in the future and they also are looking to hack a lot of the upper management in the public sector. The problem is a lot of these upper managers and execs they are hacking are going to have big severance in their contracts (see AHS in the past) and to me I am left wondering where they have allocated money to pay those out in their budget estimates? A question I asked Brandon Luntey today, he was honest and said without knowing the exact numbers it was tough to understand the cost and contingencies, but still something I wonder about. Promising a balanced budget by 2017 works but not if we have to pay out millions upon millions in severance. They are looking at a rough estimate of 3200 jobs being cut. None of those to affect front line staff but still that is a lot of jobs and potential severance. They also are promising to end the sole-source contracts of the PC governments styling. This one is going to be a huge money saver. The PCs are well-known to hand out sole-source contracts to everything from piddly shit to massive flood clean up projects. Without an open bid process there is no way to understand if the government is truly being fiscally prudent when it comes to these decisions. This should be in everyone’s platform and the Wildrose are smart to focus on this huge money drain.
Luntey was good enough to bring up their prosperity initiatives with us. Pointing out that, much like some other provinces it might be time to ensure we encourage our best and brightest to stay home with student loan initiatives. Keeping better trained people will lead to more prosperous business and hopefully to better diversification of the province. These things mean more stability and they also mean good job creation in our market. All positive things. But they also all have a cost, so if the numbers are there, that is great but we need to find dollars here too.
Finally they are promising to scrap the budget tabled by the PC government just prior to the dropping of the writ. In this same area he is promising more incentives to spur investment and business in Alberta. It is definitely a tough sell to our family to increase the taxes we pay and not those of corporations that make a lot of money here. The progressive tax proposed by the PCs may be bearable if we got better service for it but our family is paying more for PC mistakes and that doesn’t make sense. A progressive tax from the PCs to corporations would have made sense too. For the same reason I have a tough time understanding that we are going to offer big business more incentives in this province. Here is where I am not as on board with the PCs. I think that Alberta owns a lot of resources and it wouldn’t hurt us to act like we have some leverage once in a while. We don’t have to fleece energy companies but we don’t have to give it away either. I would like to see a creative solution to royalty structures in this province instead of continuing to let these companies take the oil with a bunch of breaks on tax.
2) HEALTH CARE – This is always a big area to hit. Albertans are punished with an incredibly bad health care system. The PC government has mismanaged this thing in every way possible and it has led to over paid execs, long wait times and a pit of wasted money. It was not that long ago that Health Care Premiums were done away with in this province. But Jim Prentice would like to bring them back, of course on a sliding scale, so really it is actually just another bullshit income tax. This health premium has no direct connection to the health system and goes to general revenues. So really you could call it the “Sun comes up levy” or he could have called it what it really is “Fuck you Alberta Levy”. So Health care has problems and the WRP has its own set of solutions. While the Health Care Levy falls into their fiscal responsibility portion there are lots of other issues here.
The WRP is focusing on tracking the money and ensuring it follows patients to best service them. If dollars are allocated to follow patients to multiple different sources of treatment we can get bottlenecks away from hospitals and emergency areas where resources are pushed to their limits. Allowing other health care partners to access the same public funding will give patients more options in their communities. Giving patients access to their own records and billing info will also help aid Albertans in better understanding the health system and holding those in charge of that system accountable.
They want to attack the huge number of dollars wasted on fraud within the system and reduce wait times by getting those cases out of our system. Also they want to help guarantee wait times by finding ways to help patients access needed procedures outside of the standard provincial options. Right now in Alberta you can wait a long time for things. I personally waited a year for an MRI, I could have paid a private provider more money to expedite, but really I had already paid Alberta Health Care for it and at the time finding that extra money wasn’t easy. If the WRP is offering to move me to a private MRI clinic to help complete the process in a more timely manner on the provinces dime, I am all for it. See it doesn’t really matter who gets the money as long as they can do the job. We have no reason to continue to protect poorly performing AHS clinics offering these services if a competing private company can be paid to do the same thing with the same dollars. My guess is, at worst the dollars are equal and the truth is the private companies probably are priced more competitively. This is a huge win for a program that is flat-out failing to serve its patients. This isn’t private health care or two-tier, it is a good use of all the health care assets in our province. Solid plan.
The biggest hole in their health strategy is the decentralizing of the health board. The PCs dreamt up this stupid super board idea a while back. The problem is you can’t centralize something that has to handle a lot of regional hurdles. I am in agreement that the centralized board is a problem and decentralizing is a much needed step, but again it is going to cost money and there are only so many dollars to be pulled out of all the waste. Right now we have a lot of severance to pay out and a decentralization process (which will mean reestablishing local boards). Double edged sword here.
3) EDUCATION – I think few would argue that education is very important to the future of a developed region. In the past the Alberta Education system was gutted in order to balance the books. While it helped create the Alberta advantage it led to long contract disputes, poor resources for students and a lack of educational infrastructure in the province. Alberta has a reasonably young population which means there is good reason to expect enrolment to continue to rise. This program costs money and here is a place parties need to be creative to best serve the needs of our population with the fiscal prudence required to help balance the books. The WRP has their views on ways to return Alberta to being one of the top performing educators in Canada.
For a good number of years the PCs have promised Albertans they would build schools. Signs in the ground come election time but few of those signs lead to brick and mortar buildings for students. Another issue the WRP sees with the PCs is that when they do build schools the budget for building these seems to be a moving target. Tightening up here would be helpful but building schools will be expensive. It is also important to remember we have to staff the schools we build. These are all costs that I don’t see a lot of parties talking about. The WRP is promising fast built schools and on budget but not a lot about staffing these facilities.
A little more to the social end they are looking to have a consistent grading system in the schools. Each board has gotten away from consistent grading and it has led to a convoluted bunch of shit being sent home on report cards. I think the WRP is on to something by standardizing this. On the cost end they want to eliminate mandatory school fees. This is a common promise. I am not so hot on it. I will be honest, education is important but it freaks me out that a parent is content to pay thousands of dollars for their children to play hockey but can’t be bothered to pay some school fees. In my house I would have no problems paying school fees because I value education. For a party based on fiscal conservatism, I think this is a real departure from their core values. I feel like this is a please the masses offer and it disappoints me that they chose it. School fees are not restrictive and that is a lot of money we are talking about giving up. School fees go directly to the education system and I am not against a small bit of user pay for a system. Don’t worry it will still be almost entirely subsidized by the tax payers but a little bit of fees won’t hurt. Not pleased about this one.
4) BASH THE PC PARTY……ER STANDING UP FOR DEMOCRACY
It is no secret the PC party has betrayed its constituents with its actions. The entitlement from the PCs is embarrassing and needs to be stopped. Hopefully by a quick and painful death of voters picking other parties. So every party will have a slam the PC party platform plank, I think even the PCs have this platform plank.
WRP is promising things like rolling back MLA pay increases, cutting down on travel expenses, more assets to the auditor generals office, better reporting of expenses from MLAs and senior staff, the easy stuff. So in this plank is basically a bunch of soft balls over the plate that everyone can smack out of the park.
A couple of eye catchers. On the negative side is the promise to limit severance for MLAs. This is something the PCs have already done. A lot of Albertans are pissed about the packages offered to outgoing MLAs to help them transition into the private sector but the truth is those MLAs were assigned those severance long ago and that practice has since been reviewed and drastically changed. So an easy target but maybe a bit of a red herring.
There is a set of ones I really like in here though. The first is fixed dates for legislature sittings, elections and budget releases. By fixing these dates they will get away from the party in power controlling the political narrative and trying to sway the public with timely use of these non-fixed dates. Calling elections early is expensive (more than $20 million for this premature election) and certainly the ability to leave the other parties in a bad spot is a good way to protect power. This to me is a huge sales point.
Floor crossing is one that hits home with the Wildrose but let’s be honest it pisses us all off. We know that we elect a rep for our riding as part of a party and while it is a show of support for our candidate lets not lose sight of the fact in reality is a show of support for the party as a whole. That is why we have a leaders debate and my WRP rep campaigns on the WRP planks. Floor crossing is an absolute scam, while it is allowed for it is a huge issue. Those areas that elected a Wildrose member only to watch them cross to the PC party were having dirt kicked in their face. Those who crossed betrayed their constituents for their own political gain. The WRP wants them to have to go through a by-election if they wish to cross. This to me is a perfect way to handle floor crossing.
The final gem in this plank is the idea of getting better to true representation of each members constituents. Party whipping is a huge issue in parliamentary democracy. It means that my voice is lost when my MLA is whipped to vote in the legislature against what might be better for his riding. Having all votes be free votes and voting habits reported is a huge step in holding my MLA accountable. In theory this is an awesome way to go about it. I would like to see the WRP get a chance to put it into practice.
5) RURAL ALBERTA – Alright I am a city boy and really don’t have a lot of love for the rural end of things. Mostly because I don’t really know anything or truly even care that much. I suppose if I was a WRP member I would want to look into it more but for the most part the rural issues don’t ring with me. But for the WRP there is a lot of their support in rural ridings and I can understand them needing to address this. I am disappointed their isn’t a plank talking more about municipal issues but hey can’t win them all I guess.
For the most part I don’t even understand the issues that are in this plank. There is a lot about property rights and how it factors into using land for farming and ranching. All way over my head kind of stuff. If you are a rural citizen though please take a peak.
The one thing I do see is a focus on offering rural areas better access to education, health care and improved infrastructure maintenance. I have often heard that access to emergency health services is not easy in a lot of these locations and it is something made harder by the centralization of the health board. To better deal with these regional issues giving more decision making power to local authorities will help provide a significantly better access point for rural communities. Tough to complain about.
At the end of it all the WRP isn’t such a bad party. I am not telling you to vote for them. I am certainly a little biased as I fall a little towards the fiscal conservative end of the spectrum. I do have my questions about some of their social issues and how the stand in some of those items, but for the most part all of the parties are avoiding social issues and staying to the low hanging fruit issues or fiscal issues. I don’t know if WRP is for you, but at least take the time to hear them out. If you find yourself leaning the other way, I will have some of those parties as blog posts as well. Remember to take the time to educate yourself. There is an alternative to the PC party, in fact the PC party is not an option. Go find a party that speaks to you, maybe it is WRP.
For more info on WRP you can visit them at: