In this provincial general election, Albertans are caught with one foot in the political past while the other foot is searching for the firm ground of the political future. Our scrutiny of nominated candidates, and our evaluation of the Leaders provide two good example of this.
Wild Rose Leader Danielle Smith faces controversy about her party’s candidates in some constituencies. The suggestion has been made that she should disavow — and perhaps disallow — some of the Wild Rose candidates. She has done the right thing by refusing to do either.
Ms. Smith didn’t nominate Ron Leech to be the Party’s candidate in Calgary Greenway, or Allan Hunsperger in Edmonton Southwest, or Link Byfield in Barrhead-Morinville-Wetlock. Wild Rose party members in each of these three constituencies — in all 87 constituencies — nominated the respective candidates. It was Wild Rose Party members, living locally, who nominated candidates they thought best reflected the values of the Wild Rose Party in the constituency. They nominated the whole PERSON that they thought would be the face, voice, heart, and mind best able to reflect their Wild Rose values to the rest of the constituency.
Of course the candidate’s religious convictions, character, and attitudes toward issues like human rights and the rule of law will determine how that candidate will view and vote on all kinds of matters that will arise in the future. Party members (should) consider all of these things when they choose a candidate, because they know the candidate won’t be back to ask for direction before voting on all kinds of matters in the future. Voters should be asking questions about all of this as well, and assessing what they learn, before they vote.
Frankly, I don’t want Ms. Smith to “fire” nominated candidates she disagrees with, no matter what the nature of the disagreement. I don’t believe any party leader should adopt the role of “paramount Leader”. Ms. Smith’s appropriate role should have been played out before nominating meetings started, when she (presumably) communicated to Party members the range of beliefs and values and directions she would be comfortable working with. Since she clearly did not signal anything to indicate that recent statements by some of her candidates would be problematic, voters in each constituency should express their own views about the decision made by the local association of the Wild Rose Party Wild Rose Party members nominated their candidate in each constituency across the province, just as Liberals, N.D.s, and Alberta Party members did the same thing for their respective parties.
If Albertans are tired of the “paramount Leader” model of politics, if Albertans want to re-assert the role of the locally elected M.L.A. as a moral representative of the constituency, then it is not for Danielle Smith to judge candidates: that judgement is the role of electors. Party constituency associations must accept responsibility for their nominee. Accountability for their nominee, accountability to the electorate, will be experienced on election day.
Monday’s election is not a referendum on Danielle Smith’s leadership (so far we have only seen the audition tapes): it is a referendum on the sensibilities of the Wild Rose Party — and the P.C. Party, and all other parties, from constituency to constituency across Alberta. The Wild Rose Party in Calgary Greenway thinks that Ron Leech is the best possible face and voice, and heart and mind to represent all the constituents in the Legislative Assembly. The Wild Rose Party in Edmonton Southwest thinks the same of Allan Hunspurger. The Wild Rose Party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock thinks the same thing of Link Byfield. These men are not proxies for Danielle Smith. If each or all of them win, they will be Members of the Legislative Assembly. They may be Cabinet Ministers. They will each have a vote on every issue that comes before the Assembly. They will each have some influence on narrowing or broadening the vision of their leader and their colleagues. Maybe their Leader will rein them in; maybe they will rein in their Leader. In either case, they will each be the face and voice and heart and mind of their constituency.
It should be the voters of the constituencies who judge the candidates on the ballot. The same could be said for every candidate nominated by each party’s members in every constituency across the province.
Through the process of party nomination, some citizens (party members) have felt that each nominated candidate was the best possible representative of their political perspective. It is not for the party leader to say ‘yay’, or ‘nay”. It is for fellow citizens to say “yes, you sure understand us and we want your candidate to be our voice in the Legislature”, or “no, you — and your nominated candidate — are not really representative of the values and dreams and priorities we hold dear.
On election day, the voters in each constituency will decide which face, voice, mind, and spirit is going to be their agent in the Legislative Assembly for the next four years.
As an aside, while Party Leaders should not be able to disallow locally nominated candidates, caucus (not the Leader), can always decide who is a member of caucus and who is not.