Calgary investment advisor Jeff Callaway helped build the Wildrose Party in Alberta into the powerful opposition force it would become. He was as stunned as anyone when former leader Danielle Smith crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives, taking eight Wildrose MLAs with her. The party president talks to columnist Gary Mason about where the party goes from here.
Initially, it didn't look as though Wildrose would have a new leader in place ahead of an expected spring election. Now you'll choose one on March 28. What changed?
We talked to a number of our members and our candidates and Albertans, frankly, and they felt it would be better to have a leader in place for an inevitable spring election. When we initially set a date for the summer, there was no guarantee there was going to be an election. Having [the leadership contest] June 6th would have given us a bit more time to go through a proper leadership process and have more town halls with members. But we'll still have four, so the membership will have the chance to test the mettle of the three leadership candidates.
How ready will you be for an April campaign?
Well, if [Premier Jim Prentice] does call an illegal election, we're planning regardless. We have roughly half of our candidate selections done, the rest are well under way. We'll have a full slate if an election does occur this spring. Our campaign team is all together. Our strategy and all that is coming together. We'll be well prepared. Our campaign probably won't be the size of what it was in the past, but we can work smarter.
How are your election campaign coffers? Do you have enough money to fight an election?
We do. They're not what they were, but our fundraising has held relatively strong. We are seeing positive support among our donor base. We are a party that is based on a lot of small donations and they're really coming through and people recognize the importance of having a strong opposition in the province. There is definitely a desire to have someone hold this government to account.
What would you consider a victory in terms of the number of seats you end up with on Election Day?
I think a victory, rather than a number of seats, would be to remain as the official Opposition and perhaps making some gains from where we are today.
Is there still a lot of anger in the party about what went down last year?
There still is. It is a theme. Trust is definitely a theme within the membership. I think it is broader than that. It's a theme within the Alberta electorate. I think there is a strong appetite out there for the government not to be given a blank sheet of paper and a blank cheque book. People are now starting to understand the importance our party played in the province and holding this government to account – they want us to be there, hopefully as official Opposition.
This interview has been edited and condensed.