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Danielle Smith wins the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance Party in Edmonton on October 17, 2009. (Ian Jackson/The Canadian Press)
Danielle Smith wins the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance Party in Edmonton on October 17, 2009. (Ian Jackson/The Canadian Press)

Andrew Steele

Safe change Add to ...

One weekend. Two party leaderships. Nerd heaven.

In Winnipeg, the Manitoba NDP selected Gary Selinger as the new leader and Premier.

In Alberta, the Wildrose Alliance picked Danielle Smith to represent them.

The two leaders have very different challenges in the days ahead, but both are going to try to be "safe change."

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For Selinger, the job will be pulling his party together while freshening the brand. In short, he needs to be able to embody "safe change".

The NDP has governed Manitoba for ten years, and done a pretty good job. A lot of the government's popularity were due to Mr. Selinger's policies, and outgoing Premier Gary Doer's personality. Keeping the public's trust while maintaining a centrist path against pressure from the left-wing of his own party will try Mr. Selinger.

Probably his biggest early challenge is paring down the cumbersome two-thirds of the party membership and 100 per cent of the cabinet who backed him into a leaner coalition of core supporters.

Political theory says that the most efficient coalition is exactly what is needed to win a race. Any more, and the spoils of victory are dilluted by the multitude on the winning side. It is this pressure that explains why - despite chaotic factors - so many races come down to a 52-48 finish or some similarly close number.

When politicians run up huge super-majorities, it can be a sign of making too many promises to too many people and making the post-vote winnowing down a harrowing process.

Selinger will need to disappoint some people as he moves forward. Hopefully, he will pick well.

The new Albertan party leader has a different challenge, but needs to embody the same characteristic: "safe change."

In many ways, Danielle Smith is in the catbird seat.

Ed Stelmach is facing a revolt from the oil industry over his royalty review.

His party lost a safe Calgary seat in a by-election, finishing third to the Wildrose Alliance candidate.

Ralph Klein has said if Stelmach gets less than 70 per cent at a leadership review November 7 he must step down.

There are rumours that as many as ten MLAs will switch parties to the Wildrose between today and November 7.

The pressure is on the Premier to deliver a massive victory in his review in Red Deer.

Ms. Smith needs to keep it there.

She won the leadership of her party while espousing socially progressive positions on abortion and gay rights. In an organization thought to be a coalition of libertarians and social conservatives, these are tricky issues to subsume. The less she talks about the details of her own agenda and the more she keeps the spotlight on Stelmach's fumbles the better off she is.

Reporters will want to run "Who is Danielle Smith" biographies for the next several days. By all means, the new leader needs to make an impression, but the key is to present a face attractive to all three major vote blocs in Alberta: Edmonton, Calgary and rural. Do that by contrasting yourself against Premier Stelmach and letting voters fill in the details themselves with what they want to see.

Basically, embody safe change, and let the voters decide what that means for themselves.

Two leaders. Two situations. Both need to present themselves as safe change, and both need to do it in very different ways.

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