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Hype builds around Wildrose Alliance leadership race Add to ...

In one of the worst-kept secrets in Alberta politics, Danielle Smith will announce today that she is abandoning life as a lobbyist, commentator and policy wonk to run for the leadership of the fledgling Wildrose Alliance Party.

The 38-year-old pundit is being touted as the province's right-wing saviour who can restore conservative policies in a province where there's rumbling that the long-governing Tories have turned their backs on their roots.

Ms. Smith said she wants the few hundred people who are expected to gather for the upstart party's annual general meeting in Calgary to be the first to know of her plans rather than speak to reporters in advance.

But, she added, "Things are looking pretty good."

A blogger with the Western Standard magazine described Ms. Smith as "the perfect conservative candidate," a leader with "sex appeal" and someone who should "worry" the government of Ed Stelmach.

A year ago, it was a struggle for the Wildrose Alliance to get 100 supporters in one room, admits Jeff Callaway, the party's president. The party is the product of a shotgun union between the Alberta Alliance and the Wildrose Party just before the March, 2008, election, when it captured a fraction of the vote and lost its only seat - the one held by party leader Paul Hinman.

The Progressive Conservatives, who have governed since 1971, took 72 of the legislature's 83 seats. (A recent resignation by deputy premier Ron Stevens who was appointed to the bench, opens a by-election seat in Calgary.)

Mr. Hinman stepped down in April so some "new blood" could be brought to the party. A leadership vote will be held Oct. 17 in Edmonton. One or two other candidates are also expected to announce their plans today, party officials said.

Party membership has tripled since January and fundraising efforts are going well - though the party won't reveal numbers. But last year, it collected $755,000 in donations.

Premier Stelmach's changes to the royalty regime riled energy companies, which have been hurt by sliding commodity prices. Deficit budgeting has angered fiscal conservatives.

And most recently, the Tories came under fire for new legislation that gives parents the right to pull their children out of classes that deal with religion and sexuality, and potentially exposes teachers to human-rights complaints.

"Our executive director is very much fretting about how she's going to be dealing with all of these problems of growth," Mr. Callaway said, "I'll have that problem any day."

Tom Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and a former federal Conservative campaign manager, will also speak to party faithful about the history of conservatism as well as modern-day failings.

"The provincial government is drifting," said Prof. Flanagan, adding that some people in government share his concerns. "There's a real need for a party like the Wildrose Alliance. I don't know how far they'll be able to take it."

Ms. Smith, a former student of Prof. Flanagan's, started her career as an intern at the Fraser Institute, became a public-school board trustee, headed a national property-rights institute, hosted a national affairs television program and recently left her post as Alberta head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

 

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