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Politics Wildrose Leader now believes in climate change as party set to shift policies

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith speaks to reporters in Calgary, Alta., on Jan. 24, 2013. After facing much criticism for her stance on climate change, Ms. Smith now says she believes in it.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

As grassroots Wildrose Party members were poised to change contentious policies that contributed to the party's loss in the 2012 provincial election, Alberta's governing Progressive Conservatives assailed the Official Opposition party for being out of step with the global consensus on climate change.

On Friday, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith also changed her tone on the issue. She told reporters covering her party's annual general meeting: "I accept that climate change is a reality, as do our members. I accept that there's a human influence on it."

During the 2012 campaign, the Leader said that the science on climate change wasn't settled. Earlier this week, Ms. Smith said the science didn't matter but that market access for Alberta's crude and trade with other concerned countries and jurisdictions does.

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Along with some socially conservative candidates and policies, the Wildrose take on climate change was thought to be one of the key reasons why many Alberta electors changed their minds in final days of the April, 2012, election and switched their vote to the long-governing Progressive Conservatives, who enunciated a firmer position on the issue.

Ms. Smith said her new stance comes because she got a clear message from her members, who Friday voted to give the initial green light to two policy motions calling for action on greenhouse gas emissions.

"There are a variety of different views out there, particularly in Alberta, and I really didn't have a gauge of where our members were at, because it had never come forward to debate," she said. The vote in favour of greenhouse gas reductions, she said, is "very positive. It gives me a mandate."

It came on a day when Progressive Conservative political operatives made sure reporters knew about a planned fundraiser for a rural Wildrose MLA at which climate-change skeptic Bruno Wiskel – a motivational speaker who also specializes in farming – was set to speak. Ms. Smith said Friday the November event hadn't been organized by the MLA himself, and Mr. Wiskel's appearance had been cancelled.

Earlier in the week, reporters in Edmonton were summoned to a hastily organized media availability with Alberta Environment Minister Diana McQueen, where she said Ms. Smith would never be taken seriously on the global stage if she didn't clearly recognize the issue of climate change. "People would just think you're ridiculous," Ms. McQueen said Thursday.

But the Alberta government has been long criticized for the province's increasing greenhouse gases, particularly from the oil sands sector, and for not taking more strident action to protect the environment.

"I don't accept a lecture from a do-nothing environment minister like Diana McQueen," Ms. Smith said.

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Ms. Smith also showed Friday she is still firmly in control of the party – 90.2 per cent of members voted against a new leadership race.

In a keynote speech to about 500 party members late Friday, Ms. Smith acknowledged "we weren't good enough in the last election." On Saturday, members will decide which party policies to keep and which to dump. Ms. Smith urged members to show "we have learned the lessons we needed to learn" so they have a chance at winning the next provincial election in 2016.

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