Social issues sank Wildrose during campaign, experts say
The rise and fall of the Wildrose Party confirms a truth about Canadian politics, political strategists say: Social conservatism has become an “electorally toxic” Pandora’s box that parties should actively avoid on the campaign trail.
“It’s the social conservatism that does them in,” said Faron Ellis, a Lethbridge College political scientist who authored a book on the rise of the Reform party. “Until you draw a clear line in the sand over which you’re not going to let social conservatives drag your party, it becomes electorally toxic.”
The sort of social conservatism that believes in traditional marriage and condemns abortion, among other issues, obviously still has a place in Canadian politics — social conservatives make up the ruling federal Conservative party’s base, even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed not to legislate controversial moral values. But political strategists say lobbing those issues to the fore of an electoral campaign is a risky, and oftentimes losing, proposition.
A series of polls suggested Danielle Smith’s fledgling party was poised to topple the Progressive Conservatives’ 41-year dynasty, but her Wildrose fell flat after what became known as “bozo eruptions” by inexperienced candidates that suggested the party would wage culture wars.
“The lesson here is that the Alberta voter, and certainly I think the Canadian voter, has decided that issues that have already been settled are best left alone, particularly social issues,” said Goldy Hyder, a senior vice-president with Hill+Knowlton Strategies who knows both Ms. Smith and Premier Alison Redford from his 25 years living in Alberta.