The Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta's History

Here you will find a detailed history of the Wildrose Independence Party's history in Alberta, including their origins, significant moments, and significant figures. It is important to note that while this is a fairly comprehensive history, it is not the entirety of the story, nor is it necessarily perfect. If flaws are found, they will corrected as soon as possible. These histories are the best presentation of the facts as APAH could find, but will be updated and improved as time goes on and more resources become available.

 

          The Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta is a relatively young party in Alberta’s history. The origin of the WIPA begins with the Alberta Social Credit Party, or “Socreds”, when a proposal to limit the involvement of the Mormon Church led the party’s leader, Randy Thorsteinson, to resign from the Socreds and found a new party: the Alberta First Party. This is a party that has been known by many names since its inception - after the Separation Party of Alberta failed to gain the support necessary to register themselves, they took over the Alberta First Party in 2004 and changed the name, then changed it back to the Alberta First Party in 2013. In 2018, the party was briefly known as the Western Freedom Party of Alberta, before finally settling on the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta in June, 2018. In 2020, after a merger with Wexit - Alberta, the party came to be known as the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta.

          The history of this party begins with the resurgence of the Socreds in the early 1990’s, after over a decade of being politically dormant and two decades since the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) had ousted them from power. While the Socreds had once been an incredibly dominant party - at one point in time having won sixty of the sixty-three available seats - they fell hard from power after failing to adapt to the changing demographics of Alberta. The party had always relied on the rural vote, but as rural youth increasingly migrated to larger cities, their base became a smaller and smaller percentage of the province’s population.

          After losing in 1971, the party was aimless. It’s important to note that this is a party that had come into being only a few months before winning the 1935 election and swept almost every election for the next thirty-six years by massive margins. Even in their worst years in power, they were still in a clear majority. In 1971, they fell to twenty-five seats and in 1975, they fell to four. While the Socreds wouldn’t lose their last seat until the 1982 election, it was clear the party had lost the momentum it once had. In 1986, the Socreds worked with the Western Canada Concept and the Heritage Party of Alberta to create the Alberta Alliance Political Association, but this quickly dissolved, and in the same year the party chose to sit out of the election. This left most of their members to abandon the party and run for the Representative Party, which had been originally created by former Socred leader Raymond Speaker and Socred MLA Walt Buck so that they would have official party status, but also became a home for the remnants of the Socreds after their collapse.

          In the 1990’s, however, the Social Credit Party began to push for a resurgence. While the party failed to win seats in 1993 and 1997, they managed to nearly double their percentage of the popular vote in 1993 and then almost triple it again in 1997 under their new leader, Randy Thorsteinson. It was starting to look like the Socreds could potentially re-enter the Legislature in 2001, thirty years after losing power to the PCs. Unfortunately, the party shot itself in the foot with a 1999 proposal to limit the involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church). The proposal caused Thorsteinson, a member of the Mormon Church, to resign. The Socreds would go on to a dismal failure in the 2001 election, and Thorsteinson would go on to found the Alberta First Party in 1999.

          Alberta First was meant to be an alternative to the governing PCs, with a similar policy of fiscal conservatism. The main difference between the two at the time of founding was the Alberta First’s emphasis on socially conservative policies, and the desire to create a provincial senate. The party would go on to elect John Riel as the party’s first leader in 2000, when it would also expand its philosophy to include more radical policies such as privatization of Alberta’s health care.

          It’s interesting to note that while Randy Thorsteinson founded the Alberta First Party, he was not actually politically active within the party - instead, Thorsteinson would go on to found the Alberta Alliance Party in 2002, a party he would maintain an affiliation with until 2008 when the Alberta Alliance merged with the Wildrose Party of Alberta to create the Wildrose Alliance Party. This party would go on to become the Wildrose Party in 2015, which would then merge with the PCs in 2017 to create the United Conservative Party, or UCP. However, Thorsteinson wasn’t actually involved with any of these parties, and in 2016 became the leader of the newly-formed Reform Party of Alberta. This puts Thorsteinson in the interesting position of having led three provincial parties in Alberta (Social Credit, Alberta Alliance, and Reform), and in 2019 all three of those parties will be directly represented in some way (as the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association, the UCP, and the Reform Party, respectively). To take it a step further, the Alberta Advantage Party also traces its roots back to the Wildrose Party, and from there, the Alberta Alliance Party, making for a fourth modern party that has Thorsteinson in its DNA. 2019 will also feature the Freedom Conservatives, the modern Alberta First Party, meaning that in total Thorsteinson has a place in the histories of five of the ten parties registered for the 2019 election.

          While this is a bit of a fun fact, it's ultimately not particularly important to the FCP's history. Alberta First would go on to nominate sixteen candidates in 2001 and win no seats. In 2004, Riel left Alberta First to run in the Liberal Party of Alberta’s leadership race - a race he would go on to lose decisively - and the leaderless party would go on to be briefly deregistered during the month of April, 2004. Six months earlier, the Separation Party of Alberta was founded in Red Deer, but had failed to get the signatures necessary to be recognized by Elections Alberta. With the floundering of the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party seized an opportunity and infiltrated the party, getting it re-registered and re-named. With this, the Alberta First Party would officially become the Separation Party of Alberta in May of 2004.

          The Separation Party would go on to enjoy the same sort of success as its predecessors, winning 0.5% of the vote in 2004 (even less that Alberta First in 2001) and then dropping to 0.01% of the popular vote in 2008. While this seems rough, it’s still better than the party’s results in 2012, when then-president of the party Glen Dundas would go on to receive a whopping 68 votes as the party’s sole candidate, accounting for 0.006% of the popular vote in the province. In 2013, the party would re-name itself once more as the Alberta First Party, and in 2015 Dundas would again be the party’s sole candidate. Despite the re-brand, Dundas would only increase his vote count by four and lose another 0.001% of the popular vote in 2015.

          In 2018, the party had a brief identity crisis, renaming themselves as the Western Freedom Party in April only to rename themselves sixty-eight days later as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The party had been led by Bart Hampton since 2012 and through three name changes, but in 2018, he would resign as leader when the Freedom Conservatives gained their first-ever MLA: Derek Fildebrandt.

          Fildebrandt had been heavily involved in public policy since 2012, when he was the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an advocacy group centered on fiscally conservative principles. In this role, he was heavily critical of the governing PCs, and his work dealt a significant blow to the PCs public perception. Through the CTF, he ruthlessly fought to expose the failings of the PCs - specifically Premiers Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, who both suffered heavily as a result of Fildebrandt’s use of Freedom of Information legislation.

          In 2014, Fildebrandt’s role as CTF director was ended, and in 2015 he successfully ran as a Wildrose candidate as they formed the official opposition. Having supported Brian Jean in his campaign to become the Wildrose Party’s leader in 2014, Fildebrandt was appointed to be the Shadow Finance Minister for the Wildrose’s Official Opposition Cabinet, a role that saw him again heavily criticizing the government’s financial policies. In early 2016, he was briefly suspended from the party after supporting a homophobic comment directed at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on social media, only to be reinstated after claiming that he had misread the original comment. Wildrose members were openly hostile about the suspension and threatened to withdraw financial support for the party if he wasn’t reinstated. At the end of 2016, Fildebrandt controversially called for a merger with the Progressive Conservatives - a move openly opposed by Brian Jean - which opened a public divide between the two. Fildebrandt was supported by Jason Kenney - then-candidate for and eventual winner of the PC leadership. A month later, Jean would join them in supporting a merger.

          In May of 2017, Fildebrandt joined the newly-created United Conservative Party, but would not remain there for long. 2017 was a scandal-filled year for Fildebrandt - two months before the merger, he was heavily criticised for his definition of “racist” (defining it as “someone winning an argument with a liberal or socialist”) after being accused of using a relationship with Rebel Media to generate support among racists. However, it was August of 2017 when Fildebrandt saw the most trouble - there was controversy over renting out his government-provided apartment on Airbnb while he wasn’t in the city, despite having been transparent on the subject and following all guidelines. Then, within a week, two more scandals erupted, beginning with Alberta Party leader Greg Clark exposing that Fildebrandt had unethically collected just short of two hundred dollars by double-claiming his meals, through charging his MLA expense account and then collecting the standard MLA food compensation for it.

          Just one day later, Fildebrandt was charged for backing into a neighbour’s vehicle with his truck and then leaving the scene of the accident back in 2016. Once charged, Fildebrandt resigned from the UCP and began sitting as an independent. In December, UCP leader Jason Kenney would suggest that he could rejoin once his legal troubles were sorted. Fildebrandt was next charged with illegally killing a deer on private property, to which Fildebrandt pled guilty in February of 2018, saying that it had been an accident after a GPS failure. With this, Kenney said that Fildebrandt was no longer welcome in the UCP caucus.

          It is important to note for fairness sake that Fildebrandt did offer to donate his money generated from renting out his apartment to the province to the effort of helping cover some of the province’s debt, and he did offer to reimburse the province for the food compensation money that he had taken. Fildebrandt did also claim to immediately go to the owner of the land where the deer had been shot once realizing his mistake to apologize, and donated the meat from the deer to the food bank.

          Six months later, Fildebrandt would officially join the Freedom Conservative Party as their first sitting MLA since being formed. This also incited the first actual leadership race since 1999, which Fildebrandt won as the only candidate. In 2019, the Freedom Conservatives planned to run in rural ridings across Alberta, the first time since 2004 that the party will run more than a single candidate. Fildebrandt stated that the party is no longer a separatist party, and instead will follow a more libertarian political philosophy. Provincial autonomism was another philosophy of the FCP - this is a belief in maintaining autonomy of a region (in this case, the province of Alberta) but not opposing federalism as a concept, and not wanting to fully separate. Several large parties in Quebec such as the CAQ (currently forming government in Quebec) and ADQ are both examples of this philosophy in action. 

          The FCP ran candidates in typically conservative ridings where the NDP were not especially strong in an effort to focus their resources where they have the best chances of success. Fildebrandt ran in the Chestermere-Strathmore riding instead of his current riding of Strathmore-Brooks, as the boundaries of the ridings around Strathmore were redrawn. However, the FCP failed to win any seats, and Fildebrandt did not return to the Legislature for a second time. Less than a month after the election, Fildebrandt stepped down as party leader and was replaced with David White.

          A year after the election, the Freedom Conservative Party chose to merge with Wexit - Alberta, forming the new Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta. Wexit - Alberta was the Albertan branch of the general Wexit movement, which calls for an independent Western Canada. There are similar parties in BC, Saskatchewan (now called the Buffalo Party), Manitoba, and a federal party as well (currently called the Maverick Party). After Wexit failed to get the necessary signatures to register as a party in Alberta, they merged with the FCP to form the new separatist party, the WIPA. At the time, this was the second officially-registered separatist party in Alberta, alongside The Independent Party of Alberta.

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