RED DEER, Alta. - Proclaiming themselves "loud and proud," Alberta's opposition Wildrose party voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to affirm party policy denouncing intolerance against anyone, including gays.
Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson told delegates it's time to wipe away a deceitful smear that cost them dearly in last year's election.
"We believe, in this party, in the equality of all Albertans," Anderson told delegates prior to the vote.
"I know — and I know all of you know — we already believe that in this room,
"But we need to be loud and proud and put this to bed once and for all.
"Let's pass this and send those PC fearmongers scurrying back under the rocks from where they came from!" he said to loud applause.
Seconds later, the 500 delegates in the room voted overwhelmingly to endorse the resolution.
It was one of the key planks laid on Saturday as the right-of-centre Wildrose party moved to the centre on social and environmental issues.
Party leader Danielle Smith said they needed to amend policies and fix rules that repelled mainstream voters in the last election, which saw the Wildrose become official opposition with 17 seats in the 87-seat legislature.
But that election saw a Wildrose lead in the polls evaporate just days before the vote when Smith refused to toss overboard two candidates for anti-gay and racist comments.
Smith was also roundly criticized for saying the science of climate change was not settled.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her Progressive Conservative party gleefully urged voters to envision a world where Alberta would be laughed off the international stage for refusing to endorse the science.
This weekend, Wildrose delegates approved by wide margins two resolutions to take steps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change and environmental damage through drought, rising water levels, melting glaciers and extreme weather.
On Friday, Smith told reporters she is on side that climate change is real and that the human race has a role to play in causing it.
As late as Thursday, she had hedged on the issue, saying the party didn't have a policy and she was interpreting what she believed was the prevailing view.
She says the resolutions now give her a "mandate" to fight climate change.
Earlier Saturday in Edmonton, Redford said she doesn't know what's true or not when it comes to the Wildrose.
"I find it absolutely shocking that we have one version (of climate change) on Wednesday, another version on Thursday and another version on Friday," said Redford, speaking to reporters in Edmonton after meeting with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton mayor-elect Don Iveson.
"Their party membership apparently will decide what they want today, and in a year they may decide something different."
Smith said what the premier calls dithering and flip-flopping, she views as the dynamism of growing populist party.
"When you have a democratic grassroots policy-making process, you have to accept that members will bring forward policies when it becomes relevant, and they might change their minds from time to time on direction," Smith told reporters after the resolutions passed.
"I think that's healthy in democracy.
"In 2016 it is going to be once again a real race."
The other measures passed by the Wildrose to move to the centre and away from so-called Alberta-only "firewalls" include no longer pursuing a policy to drop out of the Canada Pension Plan.
They also will no longer seek to drop the RCMP and set up a provincial police force.
They also dumped a promise to give conscience rights to health-care professionals. This was a controversial issue in the last election. Conscience rights have been invoked in other jurisdictions to allow health-care providers to opt out of assisting in abortions and to allow civic officials to refuse to marry gays.
They moved to no longer push for getting rid of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and replace it with a division of the provincial court. Instead, delegates voted to work to reform the commission by making the process fairer to those facing complaints and to reduce "vexatious" claims.
They also dumped a plan to propose an Alberta-only constitution.
The changes leave a clear wedge between the Wildrose and the PCs on financial management.
Redford promised in the last election to balance the budget, but instead delivered a spending document in the red on the operating side with a plan to borrow $17 billion over the next few years to pay for infrastructure.
Redford has said she had no choice given that a rapidly growing population demands new roads, schools and hospitals.
The Wildrose party says the budget can be balanced and debt avoided, but believes the Redford Tories are hamstrung by bloated management, misplaced spending, and big payouts for political staff and senior bureaucrats.
Wildrose delegates voted to legislate a cap on spending tied to population growth plus inflation, to dedicate a portion of future surpluses to municipalities for cities to use as they see fit, and to create a publicly available list of prioritized infrastructure projects to prevent debt and avoid political meddling in what gets built first.
They also introduced new candidate selection rules to prevent those with controversial resumes from running under the Wildrose banner in 2016.
William McBeath, the party's director of political operations, told delegates there will be search committees in each riding to find suitable candidates.
Nominees will fill out extensive questionnaires on past actions and statements, and will have those statements checked by committees with the help of sitting MLAs.
Any nominee who holds back information will be disqualified.
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