My friends, there is no question we have had a challenging couple of weeks. And we are bound to have a challenging couple of months ahead. But I think we Wildrosers have an exciting opportunity ahead of us. We are at a crossroads, and I will be asking you to make a choice this weekend about our direction going forward together as a party.
You may have heard that the Chinese symbol for crisis and opportunity are the same. Some may see the events of the last few weeks as a crisis. I see them as an opportunity. We have a chance to seize this opportunity to make some changes to how we conduct ourselves – for the benefit of the entire province.
First let’s talk about the huge challenge that we face. These words of wisdom came to me from former Speaker of the Assembly Ken Kowalski. Quite a source. After the last election one of Speaker Kowalski’s last acts was to preside over the swearing in ceremony for our Wildrose MLAs as the Official Opposition. Speaker Kowalski had spent a long time in government and he commented on the new make-up of the legislature and our near miss at forming government in 2012 with this: He said every so often Albertans get really, really, really angry at the government… so they vote in a new Opposition.
Albertans are conservative in the truest sense of the word. Change is hard for Albertans. No matter what the scandal, ethical lapses, mismanagement, mistakes and misbehaviour, when it comes down to casting their vote at the ballot box so far it seems Albertans default to the status quo.
The mistake we made in 2012 was that we gave Albertans too many reasons to vote against us.
Over the last two and a half years together we’ve worked hard to fix those reasons. In our last AGM you, our members, addressed those issues by removing policies that were outdated, out of touch, or adding policies that were missing. We needed a policy on greenhouse gases. So you passed a good one. We needed a definitive statement to protect the equality of all Albertans, including our friends in the LGBTQ community. So we drafted and approved one. Our cultural communities felt our human rights commission policy went too far and put them at risk. So we changed it. In the past 2 and a half years we have reached out to every community and every group who we felt misunderstood us. We found common cause with our front line workers on issues like fighting to keep Michener Centre and Carmangay’s long term care facility open. We started talking more about what we would do if we formed government. We published policy papers on the budget, the flood, infrastructure, seniors, and released six of nine Moving Alberta Forward documents.
We needed better candidates so we recruited them. I don’t think we could have had finer representation in the 2014 byelections than Sheila Taylor, Kathy Macdonald, Tim Grover and John Fletcher. Please show them your appreciation.
But in those 2014 byelections we lost again. Not only did we lose, we failed to make up ground from the 2012 election.
My friends, here is the hard truth. Something we are doing isn’t quite working. As leader, I have to accept that. And I do. So what is the problem? The thing I find most surprising after five and a half years of travelling this province from end to end is the number of people who say they don’t know what we stand for and what makes us different. Let me tell you what I think are twelve of the most important things that make us different from the governing party:
- We believe the budget should be balanced. Really balanced. Every year. And the books should be an honest reflection of the money coming in and the money being spent without taking on new debt. The governing party will have racked up $20 billion in debt by 2016. At this rate they will have $40 billion in debt by 2020 and $60 billion in debt by 2024, costing us billions upon billions a year in annual interest charges.
- We believe low taxes, streamlined regulation and a level playing field is the best way to support families, attract new investment and diversify our economy. The governing party continues to pick winners and losers with an appalling number of sole source contracts to politically connected companies, an army of consultants and corporate welfare handouts to individual firms.
- We believe in property rights and we will fight for the rights of our landowners to own and use their property as they see fit. If land is needed for public use, we believe landowners need full, fair and timely compensation. The governing party has shown that whenever property rights interfere with what they want to do, they pass legislation to take those rights away.
- We believe our energy business needs a stable, predictable environment to operate under. The governing party hasn’t provided stability; we’ve seen arbitrary changes to royalty rates, cancelled leases, and increasing red tape that has undermined investor confidence.
- We believe we need stable, low cost electricity to fuel our continued growth and protect consumers. The governing party continues to build transmission lines we don’t need, makes consumers pay the full amount of cost overruns, makes it difficult for microgenerators to sell back into the grid, and seemingly has no ability to moderate extreme price spikes.
- We believe to improve our reputation on the environment we need to make real measurable progress on improving the quality of our air, water and land, and reduce greenhouse gases. The governing party makes grand gestures and public relations announcements but has made no progress on reducing greenhouse gases, or improving water quality testing, or recovering the sites of abandoned wells, or eliminating tailings ponds.
- We believe we need a new relationship with municipalities that treats our municipal partners as another order of government and flows through a stable, growing number of dollars in a permanent transfer program with no strings attached. The governing party has created a begging model for funding our municipalities, where our cities and towns have to guess where they are on the priority list of projects, hire special staff to fill in applications and lobby for grants, or go to PC party fundraisers so they don’t get moved to the bottom of the list.
- We believe our Heritage Savings Trust Fund should grow from about $15 billion to about $150 billion and that future generations should be able to share in our resource wealth. The governing party has not only racked up new debt, they have blown through nearly $17 billion in savings that were in the sustainability fund, they continue to spend every single dollar of our resource revenues every single year, and they are not setting aside enough money to pay back our debt when it comes due.
- We believe health care should be decentralized to the local level with day to day decisions for staffing, surgeries and procedures made by hospital administrators with their own budgets overseen by local hospital boards. The governing party has centralized our $18 billion health system into the office of the health minister, they have centralized EMS services, they have centralized home care, they have centralized lab services, and they have no plan to increase the number of 24 hour long term nursing care beds, reduce surgical wait times, or unclog our emergency rooms.
- We believe that parents have a fundamental right to choose the kind of education they want for their kids, whether that means being taught proper basic math and literacy skills, or having parents informed when sex education is being taught in class. The governing party continues to introduce fads in education curriculum that are impacting our students’ international performance, they believe in fuzzy math and fuzzy report cards. They force schools to charge fees to make up cash shortfalls, they promise schools and then don’t build them, and they make political decisions on which projects get approved.
- We believe in free votes in the legislature so every single citizen can know that they will be represented on the issues that matter to them most. The governing party wouldn’t know a free vote or real representation if it punched them in the nose.
- And finally, we believe we need a return to ethical behaviour in government. No first class flights. No five star hotels. No lavish salaries and six figure severance packages. No sole source contracts. No special deals for cronies. No buying elections with shady announcements designed solely to buy votes. In short we need clean government.
There you have it: twelve big things Wildrose believes in that are fundamentally different. Our program for change could not be more different than what we see in the current governing party. It is also what Albertans tell us they want.
So why do they keep voting for the same party that has been in power for going on 44 years?
I have a theory. It comes from a column written after the byelections by a columnist with the Calgary Herald. She said the problem with the Wildrose is we have been too effective as an opposition. It is almost as if Albertans believe that it’s OK to keep on electing the PCs as government, because as long as Wildrose is the Official Opposition, we will eventually push, prod, pressure and embarrass them into doing the right thing.
But here is the thing my friends. My time as Leader of the Official Opposition is coming to an end – one way or another – in about 500 days.
If we win the election in 2016, I will be Premier and we will be the ones facing a new Leader of the Official Opposition.
If we don’t win the election in 2016, it will be up to you as Wildrose members to choose a new leader.
Either way, we are in for a big change in about 500 days. The question now is what are we going to do in the meantime?
One of my favourite books when I was a kid was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Do you remember those books? Where you got to select which path you took and it would end in victory or defeat? That’s the point we are at in this speech. You now get to Choose Our Next Wildrose Adventure. There’s a Plan A and a Plan B for how the next 500 days will go.
Let me tell you, Plan B, is the path where Wildrose becomes the NDP of the right in the legislature, opposing the government’s agenda and pushing them to steal a few of our ideas from time to time. In 2016, this path ends right where we are now – as Official Opposition.
And then there is Plan A. Plan A is the path that allows us to actually implement all of the ideas that we have to make Alberta even better, because Plan A ends in 2016 with us forming government.
So this weekend you get to choose what direction we go. You get to choose the path we are going to follow for the next 500 days. I am going to ask you, do you want Plan B – the path that leads to another term as Official Opposition? Or do you want Plan A – the path that leads to Government in 2016?
Good. I was hoping you’d say that. Because that is what I believe is the purpose of a political party. And it is our purpose. The reason Wildrose exists is to form government so that we can implement and execute on our ideas and our policies to make Alberta all that it can be.
We want to form government not for the sake of power but because it is a necessary first step in doing what we know in our hearts to be right.
We believe we have the ideas that will make Alberta better and we believe that we can do a better job of making those ideas real than any other party. It is an important point to never forget. Forming government isn’t the end goal, it is the means to making Alberta even better.
My dear Wildrose friends, let me now tell you how we can form government in 2016. Let me tell you what I think we need to change and let me give you five ideas that will get us there.
In 2012, as I said, we gave Albertans too many reasons to vote against us.
In the 2014 byelections, we gave Albertans too few reasons to vote for us.
It’s not for lack of effort on my part or on the part of my amazing team of Wildrose MLAs. We have so many wonderful policies and so many ideas to make Alberta better, but we haven’t had much success in getting our message out to the public.
At least two media outlets have told us directly that they won’t cover our policy announcements because they’re not news. When governments announce something, it’s actually going to happen and it will impact on people’s lives. When the Opposition announces something, it will only happen if we win an election sometime in the future.
When we did a policy announcement on our Seniors policy during the byelections we had just one member of the media show up. Just one. This Wednesday, MLA Drew Barnes released a comprehensive report on how Alberta can do a better job of building infrastructure without going into debt. It’s a great report. You can find it on Wildrose.ca. It’s better than anything the governing party has to say about infrastructure. And yet not a single member of the media attended the press conference about the report’s release. Not one.
But, when we did a press conference the day after the byelection losses, we had everyone show up. I didn’t know there was that much media in Alberta.
When we say something positive about the government, it doesn’t get reported.
When we criticize the government, it ALWAYS gets reported. As Ralph Klein used to say there are 5 c’s of journalism: controversy, chaos, conflict, confusion and confrontation. We’ve all had our fill of that in the last few weeks.
Fellow Wildrosers, let’s now put aside any notion that the media are going to carry our message to the public over the next 500 days. They aren’t.
Let’s also put aside the notion that we can advertise what we stand for and get people to change their vote. To get our positive message out in print ads, radio ads, TV ads across the entire province would cost millions upon millions of dollars. That’s a lot of money to spend. Plus we only get about 30 seconds or 50 words to make a single point.
This challenge is becoming even greater than any political party has ever faced before.
We know people don’t want to be mailed. They don’t like junk mail. We know people don’t want to be called. They hate robo-calls. We know they don’t come out in large numbers to town hall meetings. Too much effort. We know they don’t sign on in large numbers to our telephone town halls. Too busy. They don’t want us to email them. They don’t like spam. They don’t follow us on Social Media – even though I have nearly 35K Facebook friends and 23K Twitter followers – we are a province with 2.4 million voters. We’re only reaching a tiny fraction online.
We simply aren’t talking to who we need to talk to if we are going to form government in 2016.
You may recall when I started this job at our first Leader’s Congresses in 2010, I set out a big hairy audacious goal to talk to 1 million Alberta voters. I’ve put a pretty big dent in reaching that figure. I have travelled about 280,000 km in the last 5 years. I’ve done hundreds of town halls, thousands of meetings, and met tens of thousands of people. I am going to keep on doing this. But it’s not going to be enough. I can’t do this by myself and win the next election. I need your help.
Let me tell you about an experience I had doorknocking in the recent byelections. I went to one cul de sac and there were about 10 houses and all but 2 had PC lawn signs. The two that had no signs at all were Wildrose supporters. There were two things that struck me about this. The fact that there were so many PC lawn signs was because one of the people on the corner had asked all of his neighbours to put one up, and they did because their neighbour asked them to. The two Wildrosers didn’t put up a PC sign, but they didn’t put a Wildrose sign up either.
The PCs have supporters that are willing to talk to their neighbours and friends and families and coworkers and strangers about why they should vote PC. Our Wildrosers, too often, are quietly supportive. They aren’t loud and proud. If we are going to win in 2016, we need to change that.
Here’s how we are going to do it. We are going to build the Wildrose party around 5 core pillars: Communication, Engagement, Partnership, Trust and Fun. I will be asking you to carry the Wildrose message, engage your neighbours, partner with your community, earn trust and make politics fun.
First, let’s start with fun. We need to make politics fun once again. I need you to make it fun for people to come out to Wildrose events and board meetings. I am giving you permission to fire obnoxious board members. You have more than my permission you have my wholehearted encouragement. I am giving you permission not to tolerate rudeness and disrespectful behaviour anywhere in our Wildrose community. Not at any meeting, not on Facebook, not in any online forum.
I am asking you to start being kinder to each other and make Wildrose events a fun place to be. Enjoy each other. Do things together. Have a monthly beer and wings night. Hold a Christmas social. Do a Christmas cookie exchange. Hold a potluck. Sing Christmas carols door to door. Make your Wildrose board members your friends and plan to do your board business around doing something fun before or after your monthly board meetings. Appoint one of your board members to be the official Fun Police. It is their job to ensure that Wildrosers want to come out and want to bring their friends out too. TELL YOUR CHILI STORY.
And when we have fun, the Wildrose message becomes that much more appealing. People want to be part of something that excites. So let’s give it to them. The second thing we need to do, is we need to sign up 1,000 Wildrosers to be Wildrose Ambassadors. If you agree to be a Wildrose ambassador you will have a very important job to do. It will be your job to hold coffee parties and attend meetings and make phone calls and talk to the coach of your kid’s or grandkid’s hockey team about why you support Wildrose and why they should too. If you agree to be a Wildrose ambassador I will ask you to talk to 1,000 people over the next 500 days. That’s just 2 new people a day. If we have 1,000 ambassadors talking to 1,000 people we will spread our Wildrose message to 1 million voters by 2016.
Third, to further carry along the message, we are going to launch our 100 Wildrose Voices. We need 100 Wildrose Voices to blog on issues and celebrate their community and write about Alberta through the eyes of a Wildroser in their community. I’ve started a blog. Cory Morgan has a blog. Stuart Taylor of Hinton is famous for his thoughtful letters to the editor. That’s three, we have 97 to go. If you feel a calling to write and just need a push to get started we need you to be part of our 100 Wildrose voices. Write your blog. Write letters to the editor. Call in to the local radio talk show. Talk about why you support Wildrose. My friends, 1,000 Wildrose ambassadors and 100 Wildrose voices will do more to more to get our ideas to Alberta voters than any press conference or advertising campaign ever could.
Fourth, in the spirit of fun and service, we need to create and encourage a Wildrose Service Corps. Part of the Wildrose ethic is we believe that given the opportunity each of us will take care of ourselves, our family and our community. We believe profoundly in local government and local decision making. We believe profoundly in entrepreneurship and philanthropy. We believe profoundly that our social sector and our local community need our support in time and money.
I will be asking you, our Wildrose Service Corps, to commit to do something every month, or every other month, to make our local communities better. Let me give you some ideas of the things you in your community can do in December: Hold a toy drive for needy kids. Make Baskets of Hope for the local women’s shelter. Volunteer to wrap Christmas presents at a shopping centre. Do a Food Bank Christmas hamper food drive. Serve turkey dinner at the homeless shelter. Take cookies to a long term care facility. Get a snow clearing crew to shovel the walks for seniors. Whether you are a team of 5 Wildrosers or a team of 25, get together, share some fellowship with each other and do something good for your neighbours. TELL STORY OF DERRICK JACOBSON
And finally, we need your help to build our 2016 election platform. I want you to give me your ideas. In the next election I want to campaign on 100 changes we can implement in our first 100 days in government that will make our lives better. We have already identified the big ideas that we want to change in government and I already shared many of those with you.
But you and I know that there are little things the government does that make our lives unnecessarily difficult every day and that we could change without too much cost or trouble.
Let me give you a few examples. Why do we have to pay for parking at the hospital? Hospital parking should be free for patients and visitors.
Why is photo radar used to generate revenues? Photo cameras should only be used on a dangerous stretch of road to reduce collisions and accidents.
Why are our AHS health inspectors cracking down on church socials and potluck dinners? Our public health experts should be figuring out a strategy to deal with a possible Ebola outbreak, not picking on grandmas baking cookies for church.
I’m sure there are thousands of things we can brainstorm together to improve how our government works. I am asking you to send me your ideas so you can help develop our platform and campaign to make these changes in the next election.
So let’s recap: We are going to have the Fun Police, 1000 Wildrose Ambassadors, 100 Wildrose Voices, a Wildrose Service Corps and 100 ideas to implement in our first 100 days.
These are five concrete ideas on how you and I as Wildrose members can take our message to Albertans.
How we can earn the trust of Albertans.
How we can engage our neighbours, and improve our communities and have fun.
In the process we can convince Albertans to vote for the ideas they believe in and to put their trust in us.
In closing, let me say that I truly believe that we are needed my friends.
Wildrose is needed now more than ever. What we need in Alberta more than anything is honest, ethical, and capable government again. To get that we need a change of government.
We need to challenge Albertans to ask themselves some simple questions. Why should the current government get another majority mandate in the next election? Why should they get another 4 years to govern? Why do they deserve to have another chance to extend their dynasty to 48 years? My answer is they don’t.
But together, you and I, we have to convince Albertans of that. We have to get Albertans to agree.
Don’t give this PC government 48 years. Just give Wildrose 48 months and we can make a difference in this province that will be felt in the entire country.
Can you see the path?
Can you see how we can form government in 2016?
I will need your help. This is an exciting time to be a part of Wildrose!
Together, we can do it!