Who will become the leader of the loony-right Wildrose Alliance Party now that former Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Paul Hinman has conceded the obvious and announced he’ll fold his tent and head back to Mormon Country?
To many city folks, the Wildrose Alliance may seem too much like a goofball rural Taliban to be taken very seriously.
True enough, I suppose, but this remains an important question because with a capable leader, the far-right party has the potential to really throw a wrench into the machinery of Premier Ed Stelmach’s government, which looks all-powerful but is adrift in a crisis, bereft of ideas.
What if the WAP had a leader capable of splitting off 10 to 15 per cent of the conservative vote in even a couple of swingy ridings? All of a sudden, things could get real interesting around here!
This week, the soft-spoken Mr. Hinman (pictured at right) started dropping carefully gender-neutral hints that the WAP does indeed have just such a person waiting in the wings, entrance stage right. A leadership contest is scheduled for June.
And who would this person be? Mr. Hinman won’t say, other than to note he or she is not a sitting Tory MLA.
Well, remember where you heard it first, but based on a chirp or two from a well-positioned little birdie, I say the next leader of the Wildrose Alliance is none other than Danielle Smith, currently the Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Now, Ms. Smith is an interesting character. She’s had a career that’s been colourful at times, with at least one spectacular bump.
In her only previous successful brush with politics, as a Calgary school trustee, she was justly renowned for her contribution to the antics of the Calgary Board of Education, which culminated in 1999 with the Alberta government firing the entire board because it had become “completely dysfunctional.”
A sometime functionary of the Fraser “Institute,” a right-wing propaganda mill, she quickly followed her spell in politics by resurfacing as an editorial writer at the Calgary Herald. There, she blithely assailed the teaching profession and other liberal hotbeds in reactionary screeds, many of them penned on the wrong side of a legal picket line. She later popped up at the CFIB, another purveyor of “free enterprise” snake oil.
These things alone virtually guarantee Ms. Smith will be written off by some as Alberta’s answer to former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, with whom she shares several qualities, including being nice looking, well dressed and far enough to the right to give Genghis Khan the jitters.
But this would be to sell Ms. Smith short. She is also well spoken with a knack for a memorable turn of phrase, a quick study unlikely to repeat mistakes, blessed with an abundant supply of energy, and, notwithstanding her antediluvian views on how society should be organized, in possession of a superficially appealing public image.
In other words, Ms. Smith is already a coruscating star in the Conservative firmament, poised to rise even higher if she takes up the reins of the hitherto marginal WAP.
Add to all this the fact that unlike the major opposition parties on the left, the WAP has money.
It’s been successfully raking in very respectable sums from cranky Calgary oil bazillionaires who are still steamed at Mr. Stelmach for daring to even think about charging anything more than a paltry token royalty on Alberta’s petrochemicals.
Mr. Hinman played that card successfully before the last election, as the sole voice in the Legislature in favour of just giving the stuff to the oil barons in return for a pat on the head and a couple of jobs. That wasn’t enough to save him in Mr. Stelmach’s surprising sweep in March 2008, but he may nevertheless have set the stage quite nicely for Ms. Smith.
If my little birdie tweets the truth, Ms. Smith poses a threat to Alberta’s lacklustre cadre of politicians on both the right and left.
The danger is particularly grave to the uncharismatic Mr. Stelmach and his achingly stale caucus and cabinet.
As for the opposition, she may present an opportunity, a threat or an irrelevancy – depending on how much Conservative support she can manage to bleed off.
But whatever you think of her views, don’t count her out. One thing’s for sure, if Danielle Smith becomes the WAP’s new leader, she’ll add an interesting and unpredictable edge to Alberta politics.