Mildrose. Dialed down rose. Centre-of-the-road rose. Hold-your-nose rose.
You may have heard one of these misnomers for the Wildrose Party, after it held its annual general meeting on Friday and Saturday in Red Deer.
In one fell swoop, all of a sudden the Wildrose Party is a shadow of its former self.
This would be good if you’re a Wildrose supporter, but not so good if you’re a supporter of Premier Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government.
During its annual meeting, attended by 500 supporters, Wildrose tried to put to rest issues that many believe cost it the 2012 election. Members also gave Danielle Smith’s leadership 90.2 per cent support.
On Friday, Smith stood before a scrum of reporters to profess that she did in fact accept climate change and that her party would commit to reducing greenhouse gases. Earlier she had waffled on whether climate change was real.
That kind of doubt cost votes last time around, as did the party’s view on several other issues that got the deep six on the weekend.
Wildrose went so far as to declare itself “loud and proud” in support of equal rights for everyone, removed policy that supported conscience rights (a licence to discriminate if there ever was one), and dumped the ideas of establishing a provincial police force and killing the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Oh such trickery and wickedry, the Conservatives would have voters believe.
If there’s any doubt that the Redford government’s biggest political foe is Wildrose, how about this unprecedented action?
While Wildrose was meeting, a PC MLA and cabinet minister held a press conference footsteps away to take a hothouse swipe at the enemy.
That brave soul was Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas, who told reporters that while Wildrose was seemingly changing its tune about climate change, a Wildrose fundraiser in November included a speaker who denies climate change. Wildrose quickly responded to Dallas — the speaker was cancelled. Still, during the annual general meeting, one delegate stated that climate change was “the biggest scam in human history.”
This brings us to one more action by Wildrose on the weekend. If you want to be a Wildrose candidate for election, you are going to go through a tougher screening process. It’s unlikely the individual who called climate change a scam would ever become an election candidate.
It’s really not about trying to find new voters to support them, it’s about swaying Conservative voters to come on over.
Wildrose tried to plug a lot of holes, and seems to be moving out of the “further right than the Conservatives” position that attracted so many.
It’s no accident — it’s a strategic move to take an even harder run at the Progressive Conservatives come the next provincial election in about three years.
What remains to be seen is whether Wildrose’s changes are just about forming the government or about a party that’s finding its true footings.
If they keep this up, how will we know the difference between Alberta’s two right-of-centre parties?
Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by phone at 403-314-4332, or by email at email@example.com.