Friday, June 19, 2009

The Wildrose Alliance 2009 AGM Sets the Stage for the Party’s Leadership Race

By Mike Walker, Walker’s Blog 06-10/09

The AGM of the fledgling Wildrose Alliance party was held at the Bearspaw Community Centre in suburb of Calgary on June 5th and 6th. The room was with filled with what looked to be well over two hundred attendants. This was an impressive number for a party not even two years old.

Party President Jeff Callaway first addressed the attendants as they arrived on Friday evening and introduced outgoing party leader, Paul Hinman. The former MLA made a heartfelt speech about his many years of public service made on behalf of Albertans.

The line up of speakers throughout the AGM was impressive. The included Nadeem Esmail from the Frasier Institute, John Carpay of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and David Yager of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada and writer for the Calgary Herald.

But the most important speeches were from two of the leadership contestants. The first leadership contestant to speak was Danielle Smith who recently resigned her position with the CFIB. And the second was Mark Dyrholm, a chiropractor and Vice-President of the PGIB.

Last of the main speakers to address the attendants at the AGM was Prime Minister Harper’s advisor Tom Flanagan. The conservative strategist spoke about how conservatives through the 80s and 90s incorrectly believed that the free market could create a utopian society on earth.

Somewhat of a surprise was that the policy proposals that were made at the AGM were of very little real consequence. For anyone who attended the AGM, it was evident that it was the speeches made at the AGM that set the tone for the entire venue.

President Jeff Callaway did an admirable job as the MC of the event, but at times seemed a little too nervous and unable to bring he room to attention. The only real disappointment from Jeff was that he made no mention that June 6th also happened to be D-Day and Tax Freedom Day.

Outgoing leader Paul Hinman gave a gracious speech delivered with some of the folksiness one would expect from someone with strong rural roots. Compared with subsequent speeches at the event, one would suspect his lack of charisma is only a media creation.

Armed with numerous power point slides, Nadeem Esmail spoke passionately and effectively as he usually does about the plight of health care in Alberta. John Carpay quoted Voltaire to emphasise that free speech must allowed for all Canadians, even Bill Whatcott.

David Yager’s speech was all about how Evil Ed destroyed Alberta’s oil industry. His power point presented the premier in such an unflattering light, that you were left wondering if it was possible he was asked to remove a slide that had a picture of the Premier shaking hands with the devil.

The biggest surprise of the AGM was Danielle Smith. Despite being praised by so many in the media and libertarian pundits alike about her ability to communicate, her performance was pleasing but overly rehearsed. Despite a strong speech, there was very little warmth in her style.

Her main rival Mark Dyrholm came in with no expectations from the audience whatsoever and gave a speech in which he spoke passionately about his conservative roots as a young man in the Reform Party. In contrast to Danielle’s, his past suggests a strongly conservative candidate.

Tom Flanagan demonstrated his intellectual vigour and good humour, but it was obvious that he is more comfortable in an academic environment that appeals to the intellectual curiosity of students. He did not rouse the attendants, but skillfully answered all questions from the floor.

The speeches suggest a competitive leadership race was kicked off at the party’s AGM. It will be the more media-saavy libertarian candidate who grew up in the PC Party, Danielle Smith, against the more family-oriented conservative candidate who grew up in the Reform Party, Mark Dyrholm.