This is part one of a three part series on the state of politics in Alberta I’m running this week.
Danielle Smith was elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party on Saturday. Earning over 75% of the roughly 8300 votes cast, Smith takes over the fledgling party with a strong mandate.
Smith and her party have been on the receiving end of a lot of publicity, mostly positive, since their surprise win in the Calgary-Glenmore by-election last month. In polls released over the past few weeks, the party finds itself second only to the governing Tories, having lapped the Liberals and NDP before electing a leader or putting forward policies.
Four months ago, Danielle Smith first caught my attention, after she delivered what I thought was a very savvy speech at her party’s AGM. She subsequently performed well throughout the campaign, and at the one forum I took in.
Things are going pretty well for Danielle Smith and the Wildrose Alliance right now, but they could also quickly go off the rails. Here are some key issues and questions I see that need to be addressed between now and the next election.
Will Danielle Smith Try to Get Into the Legislature Before the Next General Election?
The next general election is likely to be held in 2012, and will be held no later than the spring of 2013, 3 1/2 years from now. That’s a long time for a party leader to be out of the legislature, and it will be a challenge for Smith to stay prominent in the public eye until then.
With only one MLA, who was only elected a month ago, the chances of Smith running for a seat appear to be in the hands of MLAs from other parties. She would likely run for any opening in Calgary, but will she run outside of her home city if the opportunity presents herself? I see the argument for her trying to win a seat, but I also see an argument for her spending her time criss-crossing Alberta while selling her party’s message, and focusing efforts on the questions that follow.
Can Smith Surround Herself With Talented Candidates?
The party can’t succeed if it’s perceived as a one woman show. It’s imperative that Smith surround herself with capable candidates.
A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Mario Dumont. Dumont, leader of the right-wing Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), came within a whisker of forming government in Quebec in 2007, instead forming the official opposition in Quebec’s first ever minority government situation. It was assumed by many that he was the Premier in waiting. Instead, 18 months later his party was decimated, returning to third place status, and 2 1/2 years later, he is out of politics and hosting a talk show.
Of the many problems that plagued Dumont, one was the perceived lack of quality MNAs and candidates surrounding him. Smith could fall prey to the same problem if she can’t attract strong candidates. Smith’s team could in large part make or break her attempt to challenge the Tories.
Can They Build an Organization in Time to Compete?
Smith and other WAP boosters have talked about challenging for government in 2012.
As of right now, they have constituency associations in about half of the ridings throughout the province. I imagine many of those are rumps. It’s going to be a significant challenge for the party to build strong constituency associations across the province in a matter of a couple of years. This might be worth watching as a sign of party strength. If we see a grassroots effort from people setting up and participating in constituency associations, it’s a sign that support for the party is real, not just a passing fad.
What Do They Stand For?
The million dollar question for a party with limited policy currently on the books. Smith’s overwhelming win gives her the mandate to pursue a big-tent conservative agenda. Had social conservative Mark Dyrholm done better, there would be more pressure on her to give social conservatism a prominent role. In any case, I see both sides as needing the support of the others – Smith needs them as part of her big tent, and social conservatives probably still see the party as the best avenue for their issues. What will Smith be willing to give them, and what do they want to stay in the tent?
As for other policies, Smith’s campaign website might provide some insight.
The Road to 44?
If the party is serious about forming government, where do they find the support to do so? Are there enough disenchanted Tories (or even Liberals, New Democrats, or Greens) willing to come over? How much appeal do they have for the 60% of voters who stayed home.
A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep?
I feel like Alberta politics is in flux right now. I’m not convinced the support for any party is firm, especially the Wildrose Alliance. I do think they are well-poised to firm up and continue to attract support in the coming months, but their success will depend in large part on how they respond to the questions listed above. It will also depend on the actions of the other parties, but those are topics for another day.
Daveberta: A Wake Up Call For Alberta’s Political Establisment
Ken Chapman: Smith Wins Wildrose Leadership: Now What?