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Saturday, July 11, 2009

From the Poorhouse to the Penthouse: The Fall and Rise of Jeff Irwin Willerton: Book Review

Willerton-small Jeff Willerton’s life is an open book. In fact, it is literally an open book. The Alberta-based conservative activist and author shares the intimate details of his life in an autobiography, From the Poorhouse to the Penthouse: The Fall and Rise of Jeff Irwin Willerton.

Willerton has publicly expressed his interest in running for the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance, Alberta’s upstart conservative party that hopes to replace Premier Ed Stelmach's drifting Progressive Conservative government. The deadline for fulfilling the requirements to become a leadership candidate is September 1st, and so far two officially recognized candidates are in the race: Mark Dyrholm and Danielle Smith

Willerton needs to come up with a $10,000 deposit in order to become a candidate.

So who is Jeff Willerton?

Well, first, he’s a man of faith and humility. With remarkable, sometimes uncomfortable, candour, Willerton’s book documents a series of personal career failures on his path to what he calls a spiritual “penthouse.”

Willerton got off to a rough start in life. At age ten, he rode his bike into a moving car and spent five days in a coma. The accident caused “considerable bruising of the areas of the brain responsible for memory and social functioning.” As a result of this diminished social functioning, Willerton was “teased mercilessly” growing up.

Things don’t get much better for Willerton from here. By his own account, he failed high school English; his eight-year military career was a miserable mistake, never holding on to a rank higher than private; his love life has been a bust; he didn’t make it as a truck driver, or a politician; and his attempt at self-publishing led him to financial ruin.

It’s not a pretty picture, and Willerton spares us none of the tragic and grim details. In fact, when Willerton told a friend he was writing his autobiography, his friend responded: “Don’t you have to accomplish something before you write your memoirs?” Ouch.

Before anyone accuses me of mistreating Willerton, remember -- this is his own account of his life. Besides, I like Willerton. I met him in 2004 when he showed up at the Western Standard offices looking for an advertising campaign to promote his book Times Up! Fix Canada or Lose It. He was a demanding client, but paid his bills and was well liked by Western Standard staff with whom he had contact. In the end, the book sold well, but not well enough to pay for an aggressive national advertising campaign. That’s just the nature of publishing in Canada.

What will strike readers most about this autobiography is that Willerton is now at peace with these earthly failures. From the Poorhouse to the Penthouse is a spiritual journey from spiritual poverty to spiritual richness. It’s also a story of personal growth, and in this regard Willerton has grown as a writer. His 31-page autobiography is well written. It also has a rawness that makes autobiographies worth reading. (You can download his autobiography here. But, if you do, be sure to make a donation, as per the author’s request.)

Will we see Willerton in the Wildrose Alliance leadership race? The tenacious Christian conservative told the Western Standard on Friday that he is still working on raising the $10,000. I would have discounted Willerton’s chances of becoming a candidate before reading his autobiography, but Willerton once worked as a fundraiser for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and isn’t afraid to ask for money. He’s also got a website -- www.willertonforpremier.com – where he’s collecting online donations.

If Willerton does enter the Wildrose Alliance leader race, he will change the dynamics of the contest. Party members currently have a clear choice: traditional conservatives have Mark Dyrholm, and moderate libertarians (fiscal conservatives who would rather the state leave social issues alone) have Danielle Smith. Willerton is an unapologetic social conservative who would more likely draw votes from Dyrholm than from Smith.

Willerton writes in his book that “there is a God in heaven Who loves you and has a will for your life.” By September 1st, I guess we’ll know if God wants Willerton in the Wildrose Alliance leadership race.

(Picture: Jeff Willerton)

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on July 11, 2009 | Permalink


What a refreshing and wonderful story. I'm tired of political autobiographies that extol the virtues of the author, and insist that he or she is the best at everything. Willerton's frankness, candor and honesty strike me as risky for someone who wants to pursue a political office and, because of that, admirable.

I wish him luck.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-07-11 10:17:51 AM


It seems you do not understand that traditional conservatives want social issues left alone by the State as well. We do not believe in legislating morality and are fed up with "moderates" continuing to do it.

A traditional conservative is what is needed to get the state away from social issues. Afterall, we have had far too many people like Ed Stelmach who call themselves "moderate" that have legislated morality for too long.

Craig B. Chandler

PS The last thing the party needs is to have people that want to legalize drugs (see the Libertarian Party website) Did you not work as well for the Marijuana Party? Libertarian and Moderate (a code word for Liberal according to Tim Hudak, the new Ontario PC Leader). I sure hope not!

Posted by: Craig B. Chandler | 2009-07-11 11:21:52 AM


Your post just expressed your preference for legislating social issues.

Its called the "tyranny of the status quo" -- whatever has previously been socially legislated shall forever be 'conserved' as illegal.

Freedom is not divisible, Craig -- you are either for it or agin' it. And you are either for personal responsibility or you are not.

With you, it appears not.

I can only hope Mr. Dyrholm is more pro-freedom than you are.

Danielle Smith, meanwhile, would get the State out of your life the same way she wants it out of her life.

Your comments on the other hand suggest you want freedom for yourself and only those freedoms for others that you personally approve of.

So you might understand that when you proclaim your bona fides for freedom, somewhere near 80% of the public will not believe you. This has very real consequences for the campaign you back.

And I say this as a libertarian who has championed the freedom of socons.


p.s...your opposition to personal sovereignty and choice when it comes to drugs also has the odd effect of placing you firmly in the pro-pharmaceutical camp, complete with all the privilege for such companies your preference for prohibition implies.

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-07-11 12:13:26 PM

Craig, drug policy is not a provincial issue, except when it comes to asset and child forfeiture issues, obscene policies of the Stelmach government.

Would you at least agree that libertarians are more laissez-faire than traditional conservatives when it comes to social policy? That’s the point I was making.

If you’re going to take issue with my understanding of traditional conservatives, I’ll have to take issue with your understanding of libertarians, my friend.

I am a culturally conservative libertarian – not a liberal. So are many people on the WS site -- like John Collison. There is no contradiction here. I would invite you to read my post, The importance of character in a free society: Acton Institute, below:


Let me know what you think.

And good luck with your campaign.

Happy capitalism!

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-11 12:24:58 PM


Since you are indeed a friend. I will read more.

I respect you and since you provided me a link and suggested reading I will do so.

Happy Capitalism

Posted by: Craig B. Chandler | 2009-07-11 1:19:19 PM

Little Willy is running again eh? What a surprise!

Posted by: Myheadhurts | 2009-07-11 1:20:32 PM

Of the last five people I have spoken to who express interest in the Wildrose Alliance, ALL are church-going, morally conservative, free-enterprise types, who might superficially be called "socons". ALL are going with Danielle Smith.

Of the last five people I have spoken to who express interest in the party, THREE have wondered about Jeff Willerton.

Of these several people I spoke to in the last few days, ALL are born and bred Albertans and Prairie people.

It seems certain that Danielle has the support of the libertarian and disaffected Tory segments of the fledgling party, and that she may well have a majority of so-called "socons", too;

There is no reason at all not to assume Jeff Willerton would be a viable candidate and do quite well among so-called "socons". I interviewed him on Western Standard Radio years ago, and his sincerity and communication skills are not to be doubted.

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-07-11 3:47:12 PM

Never understimate any candidate. Take a lesson form Special Ed.

This race is not over for any candidate.

Posted by: Craig B. Chandler | 2009-07-11 11:32:14 PM

I agree, Craig. Word on the street is your candidate already has the votes to win. Any comment for WS readers? (Note to readers: He'll never show his cards.)

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-11 11:45:34 PM

Problem with "social moderateness/libertarianism" aka 'social liberalism' is that it can often lead to big gov't fiscal liberalism just as much as "soconism" can lead to big government fiscal liberalism. The reason being that social liberals often realize that state engineering is the only way to radically disrupt the traditional morality of families and localities which is preserved in the traditions of common law. Having said that, I do believe there are "culturally conservative libertarians" like Matt Johnston. Randy Hillier is a "culturally conservative libertarian" in my opinion which is why I backed him. I know Danielle Smith is a libertarian, but I don't believe she is of the culturally conservative bent like Randy is.

Posted by: Graham Sproule | 2009-07-11 11:56:00 PM

Gee, Matthew. I'm glad you like me. I'd hate to think of what you'd have written if you didn't. (By the way, I made corporal - or in Navy parlance, Leading Seaman - just so you know).
As an aside, you misread my book. I haven't arrived at any kind of a spiritual "penthouse." (That sounds like quackery). What I do is honestly document what has been a challenging life, which may or may not one day lead to a penthouse lifestyle, not that it really matters. Life is 10% what you make it, 90% how you take it. It's about attitude, and the premise of the book is that we keep going, no matter the obstacles.

Posted by: Jeff Willerton | 2009-07-12 9:41:17 AM

Further to my last, as per my candidacy, you can't win if you don't buy a ticket, so I bought a ticket (figuratively speaking). I've been fighting this duplicitous, "Conservative" government for a dozen year through five elections, while my opponents (until mere months ago in one case)were up to their eyeballs in Toryism. I respect both for different reasons, but I don't think either are ready for prime time.

Posted by: Jeff Willerton | 2009-07-12 9:53:49 AM

Jeff, since you have not arrived at any material penthouse -- you rent a small apartment, according to your autobiography -- I could only take from your title that your poorhouse to penthouse journey was a spiritual one, marked by personal growth.

All the facts, and the structure of the story, lead readers to that conclusion. The resolution of the conflict in your personal story of woe and want -- the denouement, if you will -- is your realization that non-material wealth is what really matters.

Sorry, Jeff, I was assuming your story was following the tradition set-up, conflict/crisis, and then resolution structure of story telling.

Best of luck with your campaign.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-12 11:03:32 AM

On page 15 of your autobiography you wrote: "With a bit of a wry smile I told her I got out after eight [years] because they kept busting me back to private."

Fair point, Jeff. Ending your career as a private is different that never getting past the rank of private.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-12 11:18:00 AM

Good piece, Matthew, and best wishes to Jeff Willerton. Notwithstanding our personal friendship, I'm supporting Danielle for leader.

We should be wary of labels, I think, and the origins of legislation. The prohibition against psycho-active drugs -- so I have always been told, anyway -- came from the utopian, anti-alcohol female suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Prior to that the state had no interest in or statutory prohibition against these substances. So which position is 'conservative'? Either one, obviously.

The same is true of education. The truancy laws that compel parents to educate children in a manner satisfactory to the state are but a century old, prior to which parents were seen as competent and responsible -- and basic literacy in English-speaking cultures (interestingly enough) was just as widespread as today.

Similarly, until the Gerrman reformation in the 16th cenury, marriage was not licensed by the state. Marriage was the preserve of the Church, supported by the common law.

In all these cases the libertarian position is paradoxically more conservative than the conservative one.

Leaving aside whether either side is right or wrong in any of these arguments, the terms "liberal," "libertarian" and "conservative" are essentially useless when we discuss the social role and powers of the state.

Posted by: Link Byfield | 2009-07-12 11:30:44 AM

You're absolutely right, Link.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-12 11:41:43 AM

Matthew, you wrote: "Word on the street is your candidate already has the votes to win. Any comment for WS readers?"

Word on the street is Danielle has this in the bag and is winning. We are just doing our best and working hard. We hope to win, but will never understimate our opponents.

We always campaign as if we are behind and to campaign any other way = defeat.

Posted by: Craig B. Chandler | 2009-07-12 12:05:38 PM

Labels can be dangerous I agree. I consider myself to be pretty nuanced in analyzing a candidate for office beyond the labels attributed them - or, alternatively - that labels they attribute to themselves. But a leader can't merely understand and apply those limited functions of government, but also has to have a certain kind of character which embodies the character of the state. That is why I believe it's important not just to elect someone who understands good governance, but someone who will set a strong moral example of how his countrymen ought to conduct themselves. Because when you assume public office you must give up the desire to have a private life.

Posted by: Graham Sproule | 2009-07-12 1:01:11 PM

Matt, having read my own quote above I understand the confusion, but I did end as a Leading Seaman/Corporal. Not that matters a damn bit 20 years later:).

Posted by: Jeff Willerton | 2009-07-12 3:05:48 PM

Danielle Smith is the best friend any politically attuned "socon" could hope to have in Edmonton.

Her willingness to roll back the state's intrusion into ALL our lives will never be seen as being in the service of any single "special interest".

Any candidate even perceived as being of the Religious Right -- and let's be honest, that is the Chandler brand -- will simply never win. Rightly or wrongly, it will never even be open for discussion.

Danielle Smith can unite libertarians (both big L, and traditional small-l Albertan strains), right-leaning liberals and Liberals, conservatives, neocons, populists, independents, moderates... whatever label you care to use as shorthand for the disparate interests across the electorate of this province.

And the fact remains: in this era, ONLY a libertarian populist can provide an alternative to Big Government Conservatism and the stagnant centre left.

And I say this as one will not vote ;-)

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-07-12 3:50:50 PM

And a Willerton candidacy is important for the injection of honesty, and because it can provide the so-called "socon" segment with real choice and a real debate.

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-07-12 3:54:14 PM

John, since the results of the WAP leadership race are not binding on the general public, it doesn't raise the same libertarian concerns and objections as voting in a general election.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-12 5:51:22 PM

"We do not believe in legislating morality" by Craig Chandler.

Does this mean that Mr. Dyrholm will direct Alberta law enforcement put an end to arresting and prosecuting drug offences?

Dennis Young
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Posted by: Dennis Young | 2009-07-12 6:19:58 PM

John Collison: I've only met you a few times, but I'm sure you wouldn't get Willerton going to split the hard socon vote and get Danielle the victory:) It works for me.

Posted by: Dennis Young | 2009-07-12 6:27:27 PM

Jeff is a good and honest freind of mine that saved my life on gay pride day as I was being stomped on by a large homosexual man.
You Matthew took the Herald pic of me on ground and pasted it on your WS office wall. You had a good laugh too at my expense.
Till this day you still say I was being provacative and thus I demise that you think I deserved the beating I got.
So much for the liberty to defend traditional marriage eh?
I was not violent in any way and only yelled at a passerby when I was not once but twice spit on with possibly AIDS infected saliva.
This was assault and they knew it as they laughed.
After that I yelled at the guy that spit on me and Tyson Cormack then left the parade and attacked me from behind- pardon the pun.
This man got a alternative jutice sentence and a bit of probation.
Had it been me who attacked a homosexual like he did I would be up on hate charges.
I thank Jeff for saving me that day and I hope he wins.

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-12 8:32:31 PM

John I see you are back on the blog eh??

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-12 8:34:08 PM

The six most feared words in the English language; "attacked by a large homosexual man"

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-12 8:41:58 PM

well its true DP. who ever dp is????? Ask Jeff he was there.

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-12 10:00:01 PM

Merle, since you brought this up, here's the full story. You showed up at a gay pride parade in Calgary with a placard that read "There is no pride in sodomy."

That is the very definition of provocative and bad taste.

You also chased a parade-goer yelling hateful, homophobic things in earshot of hundreds of gay rights activists. This is your own account.

As far as almost being killed, you didn't have a mark on you. Let's not get overly dramatic.

I don't condone what happened to you, nor do I condone your conduct. It was not the place to voice your opposition, and certainly not in the matter in which you did it. (I'm not arguing that you didn't have a right to protest, only that you did so in poor taste.)

Seeing you – my #1 ad salesman at the time – in the foetal position on the cover of the Herald with a headline that read something like "Unidentified man causes melee at gay pride parade" was a little shocking and a little amusing. Just a little? No?

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-07-12 10:03:31 PM

Well, Merle, I may be nobody, but I've never gotten an ass-whooping for teasing a "sissy".

Wait, I forgot about that time in grade 7.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-12 10:26:52 PM

All laws are about the imposition of morality. I just calculate that I'm dumb enough already without having to inhale second hand ganga at the bus stop.

Posted by: Jeff Willerton | 2009-07-12 10:34:50 PM

Willerton's candidacy is legit in as much as he says exactly what he means. And because the self-identified "socon" segment of Wildrose needs to firmly establish what their objectives are within the party. Willerton will help keep the Chandler-Dyrholm campaign honest -- and I am not alleging they are dishonest, as I have only heard good things about Mr. Dyrholm.

There are what I call "church going, morally conservative, free market" "socons" who are happily supporting Danielle Smith.

I believe that if Danielle coalesces the diverse elements of those disaffected with both the Stelmachite AND Harperite Tories -- and this will include the kind of non Moral Majority-type socon I identified above -- this province can get back to the Lauier Liberal roots it was founded on, which will be a brand of libertarianism a majority can live with.

Why Willerton is important to this race is that he may well reveal that there is a need for a Religious Right political party in Alberta.

I would rather see a Smith-led, libertarian leaning Wildrose Alliance deal with such a party AFTER the Progressive Conservatives collapse.

Some will already object to this as "vote splitting" -- but it is the only tolerable and functional form of democracy there is. Anything else leads to exactly what we have right now.

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Albert Einstein

Posted by: John Collison | 2009-07-12 10:53:40 PM

Matthew actually I was bleeding on my head area and I was kicked and punched several times.
This man was very big and he threw me to the ground from behind and yes it could have killed me.
As for the yelling I said that in my last post and it was only beacause I was spit on twice. I did not yell at anyone prior to that. Ask Jeff on that. As for provocative well it was the truth i.e our signs and its a free country.
Matthew the fact you put it on your wall proved you thought it was funny.
As for you dp unless you say who you are you are a coward to me.

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-13 3:57:38 AM

Tone it down, Merle or I'll send my sister and her chihuahua after you.

You went and raised shit and got what most people would consider predictable results. You have yourself to blame. Sodomy must be painful enough without guys like you putting it on a placard.

Posted by: Dennis Young | 2009-07-13 2:33:57 PM

Dennis I was not looking for sympathy I was simply thanking Jeff.

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-13 10:15:41 PM

Don't mind the teasing Merle. We've all had incidents we'd rather forget. My brother got his ass kicked by a pregnant woman once. He tried to tell everyone he got into a fight with some bullriders, but someone I knew witnessed the scrap. Busted.

Posted by: dp | 2009-07-13 10:52:29 PM

cheers dp

Posted by: Merle Terlesky | 2009-07-13 11:35:07 PM

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