COLUMN: Gunter – Smith and Wildrose need to keep their spine

- April 26th, 2012

No point in becoming Tories lite

by Lorne Gunter

“You can only govern with a mandate from the people, and if the people aren’t interested in going a certain direction, you have to be the one to change.”

That is what Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith told one national media outlet on Tuesday in response to a question about where her party goes next after its unexpected defeat in Monday’s provincial election.

She told another outlet, “Our members have now seen that some of our policies were rejected by Albertans … We will be revisiting some of those. You can’t run a government if you don’t get sanction from the people.”

Egad. It’s only E-Day +2 and already Smith seems to be backing away from some of the policies Wildrose had that made them different from – more principled than – the do-anything, say-anything-to-get-elected Tories of Alison Redford.

In particular, Smith seems to be softening on conscience rights and climate change.

A bit of this is to be expected.

For one thing, Monday’s loss was a body blow to Smith and her party who had expected to win.

Losing caught them off guard, so now they are grasping for explanations.

And, second, Wildrose is a populist party and Smith herself is a libertarian.

Populist parties believe it is incumbent on leaders to divine the will of the people and act accordingly, rather than always foisting their own views and ideas on voters. Bottom-up rather than top-down.

Similarly, libertarians respect the intelligence of the average person. Ordinary people are as good judges of what is best for them and their families as bureaucrats and “experts.”

One of the reasons Wildrose pushed for citizen-initiated referenda is the party’s inherent faith in the common sense of regular Albertans. That’s hardly a mark against Smith and her colleagues.

The problem, though, was likely not Wildrose’s policies. Rather it was the party’s fire-and-forget approach to introducing them.

Smith says if the people don’t want certain policies, then it’s the politicians who have to change. Fair enough. But politicians have to make sure they have fully explained their policies before cratering to the popular will.

Take Wildrose’s stance on climate change, for instance.

The science is unsettled. And it is becoming more unsettled all the time, not less.

Just this week, for instance, James Lovelock, the environmental scientist who crafted the Gaia theory and who was Al Gore’s climate-change guru, admitted he had been too “alarmist” about global warming.

Lovelock still believes manmade influences are affecting climate, but he admits the lack of any significant warming in the past 15 years means earlier dire predictions about climate catastrophes were wrong.

He told the U.S. cable news channel MSNBC, “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”

But voters can’t be expected to know about climate science uncertainty when they are subjected to a daily drum beat from most media about how the science is “settled.” Nor can they be expected to stand up on their own to the environmental establishment when every skeptic is shouted down and berated as anti-science (like Smith was) by “green” activists.

Wildrose is right to trust the intelligence of ordinary Alberta voters, even on complex and controversial subjects.

But if they want the people to join them in opposing a politically correct viewpoint, Wildrose has to take the time to explain its stance again and again – instead of choosing to go with the flow at the first sign of pressure.

They are never going to unseat Redford and the Tories by being Tories-lite.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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3 comments

  1. Geoff Meek says:

    I agree, there are principles that Wildrose should stick with.

    Win the people over with good arguments that they can understand. ….Otherwise you become like the Ontario PCs

  2. David says:

    Pretty easy math for me. If Danielle Smith decides to stop fighting for conscience rights, the social conservatives will revolt and that will be the end of the Wildrose. Opportunity knocks right now as Alison Redford has besically declared war on social conservatism.

  3. Alain says:

    Sorry but supporting freedom of conscience is more libertarian than social conservative. Both may agree on the topic but it is about basic individual freedom. To argue that supporting such basic individual freedoms is social conservative is wrong. I also suggest that it has nothing to do with why the WRP did not become the government in this election. Only the hard Left and those with a totalitarian bent oppose such individual freedoms.

    I agree with Geoff Meek that the WRP must not become another wishy-washy party changing policies as the wind blows. They need to stick with their policies and to clearly communicate them to the public.

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