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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 ...

“I think that is a role for the provincial premier as the spokesperson for Alberta, and Albertans as the owner of that resource, to make that case in Alberta to Albertans and across the country to our Canadian neighbours and internationally,” she continues. “That is one of the top priorities for the provincial premier. I don’t think [she and Ms. Redford]are that different in that regard.”

Ms. Smith also says that the province has “a huge opportunity now that we’ve got an Albertan in the Prime Minister’s Office and in a majority position.”

A new partnership between Ottawa and the province has already begun, especially in such areas as streamlining regulatory approvals “This is an historic opportunity for Ottawa and Alberta to be in alignment in a way that they probably haven’t been in decades,” Ms. Smith adds.

Yet while she sees the federal bond between Ottawa and Alberta as much more collegial, she can’t say the same for two other provinces.

“The relationship that is more problematic is that with Quebec and Ontario,” she says. “The fact is that we have two premiers [Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest]that have expressed open hostility with the development of our oil sands, even though both provinces benefit greatly from its development through transfer payments and directly through jobs.”

Ms. Smith knows her numbers and is quick to cite the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that Quebeckers enjoy thanks to the oil sands. She wants that knowledge communicated across the country and will make and take the opportunities to do it herself.

That’s because she sees Alberta entering into a new leadership role within Canada.

“I think that is part of what Albertans are thirsting for,” she continues. “We’re leaders in the business community and we’re leaders in the non-profit sector. Our government is frankly failing us by being pretty mediocre.”

If she is premier, Ms. Smith insists, the province will once again lead the country on the fiscal front. She would endorse projects that would stimulate both the provincial and national economies. Too often, she suggests, the province has taken a more isolationist role to protect its interests.

“Maybe it goes back to the National Energy Program,” she posits, bringing up the Pierre Elliott Trudeau bogey man that still prevents old-school Albertans from ever seriously considering the provincial Liberals as an option. “It’s almost like Albertans decided to keep their heads down and not draw any attention from eastern Canada out of fear that someone might want to impose another NEP on us. It’s 30 years later and we’re in a completely different position now.”

“Albertans are ready to take on that leadership role knowing that Canada is an energy superpower,” she adds. “And a lot of the reason for that is Alberta and the oil sands.”

Mr. Ghitter, for one, doesn’t think Ms. Smith is ready for that role. “In a general sense, I take the view that to turn Alberta over to a totally inexperienced, right-wing, ideological government would be a regressive step,” he says. “Alberta is the envy of Canada and likely North America. This prehistoric approach would be a negative factor for Alberta.

Mr. Sherman, the Edmonton emergency-room doctor kicked out of the PC caucus by Mr. Stelmach for criticizing the government’s health-care policies, sat as an independent before becoming the Liberal leader. He likes Ms. Smith and believes he could work with her if Wildrose manages to form a minority government. That’s because only the Liberals, he says, “will keep alive the values that will, without question, suffer so badly under the Wildrose Party.”

“With respect to Danielle as a leader, she’s a nice person,” he says and then adds firmly, “Danielle and I both agree on this point: the corrupt and incompetent Redford PCs have to go.”

Mr. Sherman feels he could work with Smith “on issues of common interest,” yet also asserts that: “Danielle would take us further right. She’s honest about being right wing. She would move us back to the 1950s and 1960s.”

Whatever happens April 23, the split in Alberta’s conservative movement is likely to last for years before it somehow reunites under the same party umbrella. But conservatives in Alberta enjoy the luxury of slugging out their family quarrel, because no Jean Chrétien lurks with an opposition party strong enough to pounce.

Sydney Sharpe is the Calgary-based author of seven books, including Storming Babylon: Preston Manning and the Rise of the Reform Party (co-authored); and The Gilded Ghetto: Women and Political Power in Canada.

Editor's note: Alison Redford won her first provincial election as the MLA in Calgary-Elbow. Incorrection information appeared in an earlier version of this story.

Editor's note: François Mitterrand, the former French president, is reported to have said that Margaret Thatcher had the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula -- not Stalin, as reported in an earlier version of this article.

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