Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Scandal engulfs the Wildrose Party

Well, it was bound to happen. The era of friendly public relations between the Wildrose Party and Alberta Alliance Party has come to a crashing end.

For those of you who have not heard, the membership of the Alberta Alliance recently received a recruitment and donation solicitation email from the Wildrose Party. The email was signed by three high profile defectors from the Alberta Alliance - (i) former Interim Leader Eleanor Maroes, (ii) former VP Communications Marilyn Burns, and (iii) former Edmonton Region President Phil Gamache. Here is the full text of said email (sent August 21, 2007):

We are sending you this letter to suggest you check out the website:

I know you are as concerned as we are at how out of control our Conservative government is and has been for several years. As Ralph admitted – they had no plan beyond eliminating the provincial deficit and debt. It seems the Stelmach government also has no plan to manage the province’s resources, environment, infrastructure or social needs. A lack of affordable housing has created huge social problems and the government seems unable to take the necessary steps to solve the crisis.

The Wildrose Party has the backing of many previous Conservative members and donors. 200,000 Conservative members stayed home and did not vote in the last election. In the recent by-elections none of the parties gained in percentage of votes and the Alberta Alliance slipped in it’s support.

We believe the Wildrose Party is catching on with a large number of those 200,000 who stayed home in the last election. Our membership is climbing steadily and donations are sufficient for us to have hired a full time Executive Director and an Operations Manager.

Please check out our website and read our brochure (on the website). Should you decide to buy a membership and/or support us with a donation, you can do so directly from the website using your credit card.

It is obvious the Stelmach government will be vulnerable in the next election and we all need to support the party we believe most likely to challenge that government on the ground in the next election. We believe that party is the Wildrose Party of Alberta.

Eleanor Maroes
Former Interim Leader
Alberta Alliance Party

Marilyn Burns
Former candidate for Leader
Former VP Communications
Alberta Alliance Party

Phil Gamache
Former Edmonton Region President
Alberta Alliance Party
This email was quickly denounced by Alberta Alliance President Randy Thorsteinson in a second email to AAP members:
I have been inundated with messages from outraged members of the Alberta Alliance over an e-mail that they received from Eleanor Maroes, Marilyn Burns and Phil Gamache earlier today. I would like to state categorically that all three of them left the Alberta Alliance Party several months ago to join a rival political party. Their e-mail was unauthorized and done totally without our knowledge. In fact, they deliberately tried to hide their actions from the Alberta Alliance. Additionally, they purposefully hid their current roles on the rival political party Executive as Treasurer, Secretary and Northern Director.

I apologize that they sent you the e-mail, rest assured they did not get your e-mail address from the Alberta Alliance Party but rather from former candidates. It appears the rival party has been given your e-mail address from either Marilyn Burns or Eleanor Maroes. Each received a confidential Alliance membership list during the Alliance leadership election in 2005. Both Marilyn Burns and Eleanor Maroes were given a membership list under strict conditions of confidentiality and by divulging this list they broke their personal word to respect the confidential nature of the list. You have a right to your privacy and I am absolutely sick that these three people have betrayed that right. Unfortunately I don’t know what other information they have shared with the rival party.

Once again I apologize that they have given your information to a rival political party. I thought that they would honour their commitment to respect your privacy, but unfortunately they won’t.

I will do everything I can to remedy this situation.

Best Regards,

Randy Thorsteinson
I retrieved the text of these emails from the discussion forum at Project Alberta. Given that this story may develop some legs and go on for a bit, I have included all links in my public Furl bookmarks for ease of reference.

There are a few points about this developing scandal that should be mentioned:
  1. I think this shows that the Wildrose registration petition is in a bit of trouble. The Wildrose Party has imposed a deadline on itself of August 30, 2007 to obtain the 6004 signatures necessary to register the party. The Wildrosers are likely finding out that there simply isn't a very large market for the sorts of strident views Albertans associate with the founding members of this party. Since few mainstream Albertans are signing up, they have little choice but to cannibalize the membership lists of the other small right wing rump parties.
  2. Randy Thorsteinson indicates that both "Marilyn Burns and Eleanor Maroes were given a membership list under strict conditions of confidentiality and by divulging this list they broke their personal word to respect the confidential nature of the list." Assuming that this is correct, the sending of this email could result in professional ramifications for one or both of them. Marilyn Burns is a lawyer, and Eleanor Maroes is an accountant. As such, both are subject to a professional code of ethics. If either is found to have misused information they received in confidence, their respective professional bodies may have something to say about it. For their sake, I hope they are not involved in something this stupid. I note that the email would not appear to be digitally signed by them (their names are typed in), and may have gone out without either of them knowing it.
  3. If the Wildrose Party forms a government, they will have access to all kinds of confidential information on every Albertan: health records, financial information, educational records, and so forth. The privacy of such information is protected by law, but, if the Wildrosers are willing to violate confidentiality agreements to advance themselves as a party, why would anyone expect them to show any more deference for the privacy laws designed to protect people from government snooping?
  4. Randy Thorsteinson should deal with this publicly, not privately. He should make a public demand that the three signatories to the email be removed from the executive pending a full investigation. He should publicly release any confidentiality agreement that exists, and get the media asking questions about this. The public will be supportive of any effort to get answers, but, in order for them to be supportive, they have to know what is going on. I don't see anything on the Alliance website about this, nor is there anything in the media. Get it together.

I don't think we've heard the last of this. It will be interesting to see how the Wildrose Party handles this challenge. Like most political parties, they talk critically about the ethics of other parties, and about how they will be different and beyond reproach. From their website:

People are sick of politicians promising things and then not doing them.
When you live in glass houses, you shouldn't throw stones.

The Wildrose Party has some 'splaining to do, and some people to fire. It should make for fascinating viewing.