Alberta's Wildrose Party announced changes to tighten up its candidate selection process, while members voted to jettison the controversial policies they believe sowed the seeds of defeat in the last provincial election.
In its annual general meeting on Saturday, the Wildrose Party attempted to strip itself of what the leader calls "distractions" that gave political foes the chance to portray the party as a group of right-wing firebrands.
But the governing Progressive Conservatives did what they could to bring up previous Wildrose policy statements. Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas made a surprise appearance Saturday at the Red Deer hotel where the Wildrose AGM is being held to decry the Official Opposition's policy on climate change, and to remind reporters of a Wildrose MLA's fundraiser next month that had been set to feature a vocal climate-change denier – an appearance that was abruptly cancelled.
For her part, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the minister's appearance "was a little strange."
"But I think it does demonstrate that they do have an obsession with the opposition. And I suppose that's a good thing."
Her party originally came together in late 2006 to oppose an Alberta government that members believed had strayed too far from its conservative roots, and remains focused on populist issues such as property and homeschooling rights. But faced with the knowledge they may have lost the 2012 election due to fears they were too socially conservative, members voted Saturday to ditch several of their most controversial policies.
Gone from the policy booklet are references to conscience rights, Alberta "firewall" issues such as a provincial income-tax scheme or constitution, and a push for the disbanding the Alberta Human Rights Commission. With Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson saying the party was going to be "loud and proud" against discrimination, members resoundingly passed a special policy motion to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of a long list of factors including race and sexual orientation.
"Let's pass this and send those PC fearmongers scurrying back under the rocks from where they came from," he said.
And for the first time, the party said it was a good idea to reduce greenhouse gases. During the 2012 campaign, Ms. Smith was famously booed when she told an Edmonton audience the science on climate change was still a debate. Earlier this week, Ms. Smith said the science didn't matter, but market access for Alberta's oil and free trade with countries concerned about climate change does.
But on Friday, Ms. Smith told reporters: "I accept that climate change is a reality, as do our members. I accept that there's a human influence on it."
Over the weekend, the majority of members voted in favour of policy that, without mentioning climate change, calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. However, a few members fought against the policy addition – longtime member Milan Matusik said "global warming is the biggest scam in human history."
The party also announced they were beefing up their candidate selection process in advance of the 2016 election, including a thorough search of public statements or writings by nomination contestants.
The more rigorous selection process is in direct relation to the 2012 election and two Wildrose candidates – Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech, two pastors running for the Wildrose in Edmonton and Calgary, respectively. Mr. Hunsperger had come under fire for a past blog entry that said gays will spend eternity in the "lake of fire, hell." Mr. Leech told a radio station he had an advantage in his multicultural riding because he's white, saying Sikh and Muslim leaders "speak to their own people, in many ways."