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Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith pictured in a grassy field in Stettler Alberta on Friday April 13, 2012. (Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail./Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith pictured in a grassy field in Stettler Alberta on Friday April 13, 2012. (Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail./Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail)

Danielle Smith: Is she Alberta's Sarah Palin, or the future of Canada? Add to ...

“Danielle has no legislative experience, no administrative experience and no background in governing experience,” contends Ron Ghitter, the former PC senator and Lougheed-era MLA. “To run Alberta over to that level of inexperience with totally unknown people is a high-risk situation. I think it would be a backward step for Alberta.”

The brawl between the progressive form of conservatism and the reform brand has not gone unnoticed by others in the Alberta legislature.

“Wildrose people are Conservatives in a hurry,” says New Democrat member Rachel Notley, adding yet again that “this is a family fight between the PCs and the Wildrose.”

During the second week of the campaign, things got ugly when Amanda Wilkie, a young staffer in Ms. Redford’s Calgary office put up a tweet saying: “If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn’t she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere.”

In the most foolish way possible, she was questioning Ms. Smith’s dedication to her proposed tax breaks for families, and the public explosion was immediate and very damaging to her own leader.

Ms. Smith responded with a cool, brief statement. She and her husband had wanted to have children but couldn’t even after consulting a fertility clinic. The fallout immediately resulted in Ms. Wilkie’s resignation, as well as a public apology and a personal phone call to Ms. Smith from Ms. Redford. Later polls suggested a quick swing of votes to Wildrose.

While some questioned whether Ms. Smith had used the incident for political advantage, I know that’s not true. After we’d both left the Herald, we met by chance one day and she told me, with tears in her eyes, that she and her husband were hoping for a baby.

In past generations, the fact that women not only bore the children but also raised them, contributed strongly to the lack of female representation in provincial and federal politics. Now, in a most bizarre turnabout, a party leader was being politically maligned precisely because she did not have children.

“I was hoping gender would be a non-factor,” Ms. Smith told me. “It’s actually turned out to be more of a factor than I expected. You have two fairly well-matched leaders. I hoped that would bring a more neutralizing factor.”

“Some stories that get written about women in leadership positions wouldn’t get written about men,” she continued. “There’s a little bit of learning going on here on how to cover the race where two women lead the two top parties.”

Ms. Notley wishes there was more discussion on issues of concern to women rather than the fact that Ms. Smith and Ms. Redford are women. “I want to reach a place where the gender of the politician is less relevant than the policies,” she says.

THE ‘BOOB BUS’

With Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Fryers calling the shots in the Wildrose planning room, everything is so tightly controlled that barely a hiccup is allowed to pass the lips of the campaigners.

But sometimes, campaigns need luck as well as planning. For all the preparation, none of Ms. Smith’s senior advisers noticed that on the big campaign bus, the photo of their leader’s head and torso was placed directly over the wheels. The visual impact was immediate – and hilarious. When Jay Leno showed the photo on his weekly headlines spot, identifying Smith only as a Canadian politician running for office, it got the biggest laugh of the night from the audience.

Ms. Smith was said to be personally embarrassed, but in public she just laughed off the episode, sticking as always to her script. The bus went in for a makeover, and the campaign began with such high profile that some people thought the bus blunder was a stunt.

To people outside Alberta, Smith is eager to say she’s not about to hunker down and fight with the rest of Canada, despite the PCs’ implication that she’ll replay the energy wars of earlier days.

“Part of what’s happened over the last couple of decades is that there’s a perception Alberta is not as interested in reaching out to our provincial neighbours,” she says, citing the time when Mr. Klein “cut out of the first ministers meeting and went to gamble. Everyone had a hoot about it. Yet the relationship with our provincial counterparts was not on a good level and did not improve with Mr. Stelmach.”

“Both the PC leader and I share the view that Alberta is going to be an important player in Confederation,” she continues. “We already are an energy superpower. We have to start acting like it.”

Ms. Smith says the premier will have a vital role in communicating how much good work the province is doing in developing resources in an environmentally sustainable way.

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