These are the words I still hear in my nightmares, several years removed from the last time I had to arbitrate a nomination or leadership vote for the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.
At the time, I was fielding complaints from my fellow PC's about people who had joined the party - a party they admittedly did not have any intention of further supporting or ever voting for - in order to get their candidate of choice (leadership or local nominee) elected.
While I was bound by the party constitution and the rules to be impartial, I remember how much it bothered me personally that people without any connection to the party were, collectively, having much more say than I - a loyal party member and volunteer for 20 years - was having over the future of the party that I'd still be fighting for long after they left the polling station.
It didn't feel right. It didn't seem fair. It, frankly, brought up some bad memories from my own failed nomination run. But with some time and distance under my belt, I can understand the perspective of the people who were putting down their $5 (at the time) and casting a vote: the PC's were the big dog in the yard. The successful candidate for Leader would be Alberta's next Premier. In our Westminster system, this was the closest any voter ever gets to directly choosing the person who runs the government (in fact if not in law). Likewise, the nomination meetings: Being elected the PC Nominee for the next general election didn't guarantee you the seat, but it certainly helped.
Well, if you fast forward a couple of years, things are quite different. The next Leader of the PCAA will be leading an 8-member (or fewer) Caucus which sits as the third party in the Legislative Assembly. They'll inherit a party with a central debt, one full-time employee, and a simmering civil war in its ranks about how best to move forward.
It is in this environment, with these stakes, that the current PC Leadership contest is being run.
Supporters on both sides of the "renew the PCAA/merge with the Wildrose" divide have had their noses out of joint about "Two Minute Tories" with respect to their local Delegate Selection Meetings (given the rules, it's more accurate to refer to them as "Two Week Tories"). Their argument goes, in much the same vein as the feelings I expressed above, that "people who aren't true conservatives shouldn't interfere in the process", or "people who don't support the PC party shouldn't interfere in the process". While those 2 statements appear to be more or less the same, the proponents of each argument would very much tend to disagree that they mean the same thing.
I'm a Lougheed PC. I believe strongly that a big tent PC Party helps the party and its caucus stay to the political centre, where the voters are and where Albertans wish to be governed from. With Red Tories and Blue Tories advocating the different policy ideas and priorities, a leader - no matter which side of that divide they came from themselves - would have the information they needed to make wise decisions in the best interest of all Albertans (provided that serving in the position of Leader of the PCAA actually means they'll be the Premier - which is less certain today than it was 2 years ago). I believe that a party with Ted Morton and Dave Hancock in it is stronger than a party with Morton and a different party with Hancock would be, and will govern better.
I have time for all manner of political beliefs in my sphere. I enjoy talking with my radical friends on the left, whether they be Sina, Kelly, or noted lefty Jonathan Denis. I enjoy debating policy as well with my friends on the right, including the Morgans, Derrick, and Richard. I would be happy (and in the case of some of them, actually AM happy) to have them in my Big Tent PCAA, so long as they believed in the fundamental Party Principles.
Those Principles, as approved at the recent PCAA Policy Conference and General Meeting, read as follows:
2. STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES
We, the members of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, believe in the right and autonomy of every Albertan to define and pursue their own success based on the following guiding principles, which should be taken together as a whole:
2.1 FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE We believe in:
2.1.1 a private sector that drives economic growth and job creation;
2.1.2 a government that creates a fair and competitive environment that provides opportunities for Albertans to succeed;
2.1.3 responsible financial management, efficient government, low taxes and respect for taxpayers’ dollars.
2.2 SOCIALLY PROGRESSIVE We believe in:
2.2.1 respecting and protecting human rights for all Albertans;
2.2.2 social policies that support Albertans to become self-reliant and help those who need assistance to lead dignified and meaningful lives;
2.2.3 a responsive, innovative education system to build a stronger society and economy;
2.2.4 an accessible, high quality, and sustainable healthcare system that promotes physical and mental wellness for all Albertans;
2.2.5 stewardship of the environment for future generations.
2.3 GOOD GOVERNANCE We believe in:
2.3.1 respectful, responsible, and responsive governance that is accountable to our members and to all Albertans.
As you can see, there's plenty of room for policy differences between people of good faith, working within those guiding principles.
There are people who hold party memberships at the moment, however, who are not interested in, for example, "responsible financial management, efficient government, low taxes and respect for taxpayers' dollars". Or who don't care a whit for "stewardship of the environment for future generations". I think these people, not believing in the principles that were rewritten after exhaustive consultation across the province with our membership and having been passed by the members at a General Meeting, might be trying to fit into a tent that, while large, doesn't quite have room for them. There are other tents that might be more to their liking.
One last point, that has become more and more clear to me over the past few months, between the U.S. election and the PC Leadership race:
My life has all sorts of room for political disagreement. I actually enjoy debating policy with people on both sides of the spectrum and at all points in between. I'm not going to stop being your friend because we disagree on public priorities.
I have room for lefties.
I have room for conservatives.
What I DON'T have room for is assholes, on either side. People who go out of their way to treat other people like shit, attack them personally, degrade them and their contributions, and then pat themselves on the back for being so damned awesome.
My party has its share. Some just joined. Some have been members for years. Some of them were central figures in the campaigns that eventually saw the PCAA lose the consent of Albertans to form government. And they apparently think that the way to get those voters back is to act like even BIGGER assholes than before. One way or another, come March 19, 2017, I'm not going to share my tent with them anymore.
Just as a matter of principle.