It Starts NOW!
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith Address to the 2011 Wildrose Annual General Meeting
June 24, 2011
Thank you to everyone for that fantastic welcome. Thank you for taking the time out from your busy summer. It’s good that you’re here!
All parties have an annual general meeting. But the Wildrose AGM is special. You here in this room are the ultimate source of authority in our party. It is here that we debate new and bold ideas for our province.
If you continue to do your job as well as you have up until now, there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind the Wildrose will form the government of Alberta. As we stand here on the cusp of a provincial election, we rely on you to exercise the statesmanship and judgment that is the hallmark of a great governing party. Everyday Albertans just like you will ensure that we will have a mandate from Albertans to fix the current government’s many mistakes. And there are many. Restoring Alberta is a team effort, and – it – starts – now.
Tonight we will reflect on our astonishing progress as a party. We will consider the dismal political condition of our province. And we will celebrate a vision of how Alberta will be after we win the next election. It’s one thing to be an opposition party. We intend to become the governing party. That means we need to earn the trust of Albertans by showing them what a Wildrose government would do. This, my friends, starts this evening. Our goal is to form the next government, and it starts now.
It seems like just yesterday – it almost was yesterday – that our growing party met for its first leadership convention. That was in Edmonton in 2009.
By way of a friendly warning, I said then to the Premier “you have no idea what’s about to hit you.”
Did you hear me say that in Edmonton? Did we warn them?
And did they believe us? Did they listen?
No, they didn’t. And look what’s happened. We hit them. We hit them on health care. On royalties. On property rights. On power lines. On finances. Our caucus hit them in the Legislature, and our candidates and grassroots members hit them some more in their constituencies back home.
Not in their worst nightmares did they see this coming.
Well, that was Edmonton in 2009. Then one year ago, in June 2010, we met again, this time in Red Deer. Red Deer was where we were able to report that after a lot of incredibly hard work by a lot of incredibly dedicated people, we had established growing organizations in every constituency across Alberta.
Since then we have been busy choosing candidates. As you can see, this too is going remarkably well. The people we’ve chosen so far fill me with pride and confidence – at their overall level of talent, commitment to principle, community accomplishments and dedication to the task.
These Wildrose candidates are people with a mission – a mission to get Alberta back on track for a stronger future. We’ll think about that future tonight. I could not wish for better people with whom to serve and govern this province. 40 candidates are in place already, and we will have the rest in place in time for a Spring election. This team is dedicated to winning the next election, and they’ve already started. Bill Jarvis in Calgary-Southeast, I think he’s knocked on half the doors in his constituency, and John Corie in Edmonton-Riverview can’t be too far behind. This is an incredible team we have.
The Wildrose candidates on stage with me this evening are among the best Alberta has to offer. You may not know them just yet, but believe me, you will when they are members of a Wildrose government. And we are getting ready for that campaign. In fact, it starts now.
Friends, I want you to realize that in the last forty years nobody in Alberta has done what you have done in less than two years. We’ve turned Alberta politics upside down and we’ve got the governing party on the run. We’ve got them backing up so fast they’re tripping. And it was you who did it. It wasn’t the other opposition parties. It was you.
Now why is this? Why are you driving political change and not them? Rarely does a government fall apart as fast as this one. So why are the traditional opposition parties fragmenting instead of growing, while we go from strength to strength? It’s because we aren’t a traditional opposition party. We are the government in waiting.
Before I talk about what that Wildrose government will look like, let’s review the current government’s record together to remind ourselves of why it is we so badly need change.
The current government has made six grievous errors – you could call it the Stelmach six-pack. But, we all know it took more than the current premier to produce the current mess of mistakes.
It also took the willing assistance of those who were sitting around his cabinet and caucus table and who are running to replace him. They are now running away from their own records as fast they can. Now, most of them are pretending they never agreed with him. Alison Redford is pretending to stand up for landowners. Ted Morton is pretending to care about transmission lines. Doug Griffiths is pretending he wants real health reform.
Rick Orman is pretending he can fix his party. I guess he’s hoping people have forgotten about those Getty-era deficit budgets and corporate handouts he voted for when he was in cabinet.
And then there is Gary Mar, the man entrusted to promote and defend our interests in Washington. He is pretending to be Alberta’s best friend and advocate. But, on his watch, our most precious industry was demonized by lobbyists, special interest groups and politicians all over the world, including our own country. This is the same man who said he wouldn’t take his massive severance package until his cushy Washington job was over and then he did so anyway. He was one of several Health Ministers in charge during one of the biggest ethical scandals in our province’s history as doctors and medical staff were intimidated and bullied. And he doesn’t support a public inquiry on health care – I wonder why?
Gary Mar and the others say they want to change things. Where were these suddenly principled men and women when they had a chance to do something about it? Why didn’t they do anything before the damage was done? Why didn’t they resign from Cabinet or the party? Were their jobs more important than standing up for Albertans? I think you know the answer.
The uncomfortable truth is this: they all helped create the problems we face today, and now they are all pretending they are the ones who can fix it.
So let’s start by reviewing the list of government fiascos.
First, the royalty fiasco. Persuaded by a small but vocal group of critics, this government slapped an unprecedented tax hike on our most prosperous industry, driving investment and jobs out of the province. They broke signed contracts with Albertans. They destroyed many of our homegrown junior energy companies, and devastated rural communities that relied on these companies for the work. It was wrong. Everyone now sees this. Even the government now sees it.
Yet the traditional opposition parties didn’t defend our energy industry workers. When the current government drove investment into B.C., Saskatchewan and the United States, and vaporized well-paying jobs from Acme to Zama – what did the other opposition parties say? Did they say, “Premier, are you nuts? Back off!” No. They said it still wasn’t enough. That’s what they said.
And what did we in the Wildrose say? We said it was wrong. Our Wildrose Deputy Leader Paul Hinman said it was wrong in principle and wrong in practice and it wouldn’t work. And as we all know, it didn’t work. Within two years, after several ham-handed attempts, and constant pressure from our Wildrose MLAs, the governing party pretty much dismantled the whole thing.
So what would a Wildrose government do? We’d honour contracts. We’d uphold leases. We’d make sure our royalty system is fair to everyone, including those who create so many jobs for Albertans. How do we do this? We form the next government. And it starts now.
Second – the budget fiasco. With the highest per-capita revenues of any province in Canada, the current government is forecast to have a $6 billion cash shortfall this year. Some in government are hinting that the province must impose a sales tax to make up the shortfall. Even as they raise spending to record levels, they say we have a revenue problem.
How is it possible to blow through a $15-billion sustainability fund in three years? How is it possible to collect tens of billions in royalty revenue such as no other province can ever hope to enjoy and save virtually none of it?
The traditional opposition parties have no proposals to solve Alberta’s spending problem. We do. We brought in an alternative budget showing how eliminate the deficit this year. Without hardship. Without tax increases. Without massive cuts. That’s right. No deficit. No tax increase. No slash and burn. Just reasonable self-discipline, self-restraint, common sense, and determination. Friends, we must cure this government of its spending addiction. And it starts now.
Third, the health care fiasco. Those of you who’ve had the misfortune of needing serious health care may have seen first-hand how badly the current government has messed things up. There have been so many confirmed horror stories that people are actually frightened of going anywhere near a hospital.
And the cause of this dysfunction is easy to see. First the governing party regionalized all the hospitals, and then regionalized them some more, and then loaded on top of them a bureaucratic superboard. At every stage, the contract payouts to previous managers and political appointees got larger and more ridiculous, the surgical waiting lists got longer, the ER rooms got more crowded, and the people working in the system got more and more frustrated.
The traditional opposition parties still think they can solve the problems in health care by pouring more money into this broken system. The Wildrose approach is different. We looked around the world for public health systems that have solved the same problems we face here, things we can do while staying true to the Canada Health Act. They weren’t hard to find, and they’re easy to understand.
To start with, let’s pay hospitals only when they actually perform a service or procedure. They shouldn’t be paid for leaving you on a gurney in the hallway, or on a waiting list. They should be paid for treating you.
Next, we need to get rid of the superboard. Hospitals should be governed and managed locally, not by central planners far removed from the effects of their decisions.
One more thing Wildrose would do is allow public funding to follow each patient to the doctor or facility of their choice. Who owns the facility is of no concern to Alberta patients. You just want health care that works. You shouldn’t have to wait. You shouldn’t have to pay. And you shouldn’t be put on a never-ending waiting list.
These reforms are not the whole answer, but they have saved many public health care systems around the world from the same problems that are ruining ours. We can have a public health care system that works. Albertans are demanding healthcare reforms, and we’re ready to deliver. To do this, we must win the next election, and I know that we can. It starts now.
The fourth major blunder is the passage of Bills, 19, 24, 36 and 50. Though they were all about different things, they had this in common – they disrespected Albertans. They stripped away property rights. They will deprive you of fair compensation and they will deprive you of real justice. They will double your monthly power bill. They will drive thousands of jobs out of the province.
The Wildrose was not yet in the Legislature when most of these damaging bills became law, and Alberta’s traditional opposition parties did little to stop them. It took our caucus of four, landowners banding together across Alberta and experts like Keith Wilson and the Industrial Power Consumers’ Association to get all the other parties back into the discussion. We in the Wildrose stood up for Albertans in the legislature. We will continue to stand up for Albertans when we form government. And friends, we will form the next government. It starts now.
Fifth is how poorly the current government has positioned our province in Canada and the world.
They have done virtually nothing to promote Senate reform – in fact they have all but disowned it. They’ve done virtually nothing to reduce the vast and ongoing tide of money flowing from Alberta into eastern Canada through Ottawa. And they have given away the moral high ground on energy and the environment, while chasing after Hollywood directors whose environmental ideas are as imaginary as their movies.
And here again, what do the traditional opposition parties say? Do they tell the government to start a national discussion among provinces on reducing the cost of Ottawa? No. Do they demand Alberta take a forceful role in democratizing the Senate? No. Do they advocate for a fair federal government? No.
Small wonder, then, that Albertans are turning to us.
We in the Wildrose see – as most Albertans see – that Alberta will never succeed by bowing to the bad ideas and misinformed biases of its critics. Alberta succeeds when it is a global leader. When we stand for something. When we have a government that works for the people. Alberta has been successful before, and we will be again. The road to success will be paved with the grit and determination of Albertans. We are going to be on that road soon.
Now that an Albertan is leading a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government in Ottawa, Alberta has a special leadership role to play. The election on May 2nd has opened an opportunity for a new and better federalism. It’s happened before in Canada, and it can happen again. But it won’t happen by itself. It needs a provincial government in Alberta that’s front and centre pushing these federal changes. It needs a government that stands up for Albertans. It requires people who know exactly what changes are most urgently needed who will go out and sell them to other provinces, and who are itching to get started. Friends, I’m talking about the Wildrose team with me on this stage. It starts now.
The last item in the six-pack of government slip-ups is the overbearing and bullying culture of Alberta’s governing party. It is unacceptable. We behold a premier walled off from cabinet, a cabinet walled off from caucus, a caucus sealed off from their constituents, and a party completely isolated and insulated from public opinion. They don’t listen, because they don’t want to hear. They don’t care, because they don’t want to change. They throw conscientious MLAs like Guy Boutilier out of caucus, threaten and punish MLAs like Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth for speaking out against the party line, pressure and intimidate municipal officials, stonewall and defame critics, endlessly and lavishly reward their supporters, and stifle democracy.
A spirit of arrogance and entitlement pervades that party from the top down. They think they own Alberta. If they are returned to office, it will make no difference who their new leader is. The attitude will remain as it is right now – that they can get away with anything.
The current governing party created all these disasters. The government cabinet and caucus could have defended Albertans, but they didn’t. Instead they defended these terrible policies and bulldozed over anyone who stood in the way. They accepted promotions and a huge pay raise in exchange for keeping their mouths shut.
The correct democratic response to the Stelmach six-pack is not to usher in the Ted Morton six-pack, or the Doug Horner six-pack, or the Gary Mar six-pack. It’s to throw them all out.
They had their chance. They blew it. All of them. It’s time for them to go.
From what I have said so far tonight I think you will agree that we are the only credible alternative to the current government. We have put forward positive solutions every step of the way.
I have always said that if you want to govern, you have to go beyond the politics of opposition. You have to act like a party ready to govern. It starts now.
In 2006 author Stephen Covey wrote something worth thinking about.
He said: “There is one thing common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world – one thing that if it’s removed can destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love.
“On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the power to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life.
“That thing is trust.”
The current government has lost the trust of Albertans. They don’t deserve to get it back with a simple sorry and a new captain. Albertans deserve so much better.
And I know that to many Albertans, after 40 years of single party rule, trusting a new party to govern can be difficult. I also know that simply telling you to trust me or to trust us on this stage is not enough.
Trust is earned by the actions we take. Trust comes from doing what is right even when it’s inconvenient.
I’m asking every Albertan listening tonight to give me and everybody up on this stage a chance to earn your trust.
We haven’t taken the easy way out on any issue.
We have stood up for what we believe is right – what we believe Albertans have told us they want and expect from their leaders and elected representatives.
We have stood up against a government that uses every means at its disposal to intimidate and bully.
If you, Albertans, give us a chance, we will earn your trust.
We will honour contracts and commitments made.
We will balance our budget, save for the future, and we will not mortgage our childrens’ future by running deficits.
We will honestly and openly address the problems in our health, education and other social services and we won’t sweep uncomfortable truths under the rug.
We will shine the bright light of accountability on every nook and cranny of government and we won’t be afraid of what we will find.
We will change our democracy so MLAs are free to lead and serve their communities and we’ll empower Albertans to hold them accountable if they don’t.
We will diversify our economy – not with corporate welfare handouts to specific companies- but by lowering taxes and eliminating unnecessary red tape to create a truly free and fair market.
We will build a health care system based on patient choice, innovation, and the unshakable truth that health care is best delivered and administered at the local level.
And we will respect and the rights and freedoms of all Albertans – their right to own and enjoy private property, to speak freely, and to raise their children according to their own hopes and values.
My friends, we have many big jobs ahead, but the most important of all is to earn the trust of Albertans. And it starts now.
Alberta is a special place. We are different here and proud of it. Our history is remarkable, but it is time to write a new chapter in the Alberta story.
So I ask you here tonight – Are you ready to write the next Alberta chapter? Are you ready?
Are you ready to fight the biggest political battle in half a century? Are you ready?
We will win by showing Albertans that we are courageous and principled – that we will fight for what’s right – and that we will give this all we’ve got and then some.
Let’s show Albertans, we are ready!
My friends, change is coming to Alberta! It starts NOW!