While the sacking of Toronto grabbed national attention this weekend, another event captivated political audiences in Alberta. The Wildrose Alliance policy conference in Red Deer drew the kind of crowds that opposition parties in Alberta have not seen since Laurence Decore led the Liberal Party twenty years ago. Around 700 delegates traveled to central Alberta to debate and vote on party policy and an estimated 900 to 1000 people packed the conference hotel to hear leader Danielle Smith deliver her keynote speech on Friday night (video and text).
Starting her speech, she took a direct shot at Speaker Ken Kowalski, who Ms. Smith claimed has been “running roughshot over Alberta’s democracy” for blocking increased funding to the Wildrose caucus. Ms. Smith also directly challenged the integrity of the current government, led by Premier Ed Stelmach.
In what must have been a carefully managed production, delegates rejected some of the more controversial policies (including the right to bear arms). There is no doubt that more extreme conservative elements exist in this party, but under Ms. Smith’s leadership they are very tactfully creating a new image as a moderate conservative alternative to the current governing party.
The Wildroses also announced that it has organized local associations in all 83 constituencies, which is a status that the Liberals and New Democrats would have a difficult time legitimately claiming. With organizations being built on the ground, a large challenge will be for the party to prove that it can attract strong candidates across the province (in 87 new constituencies).
Ms. Smith has yet to convince Albertans that she is ready to lead a government, but she has taken an important step this weekend by grabbing their attention. Let us see if she can hang on to it.