Political challenge from Wildrose

Newly crowned Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith has the right qualities to lead the surging right-wing party to victory in the next provincial election, says a Rocky Mountain House supporter.

Danielle Smith wins the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta in Edmonton

Newly crowned Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith has the right qualities to lead the surging right-wing party to victory in the next provincial election, says a Rocky Mountain House supporter.

Fanie van Heerden said he’s confident the 38-year-old political newcomer from Calgary has the skills to topple Premier Ed Stelmach and the nearly four-decade Progressive Conservative dynasty.

“I think she’s the best thing that’s happened to the party since it was formed and she has the qualities that we need to take this party forward,” said van Heerden from Saturday’s leadership convention in Edmonton. “The PCs will see us as a real threat in the next election.”

Stelmach, who won a solid majority in March 2008, doesn’t have to call another election for three years.

The smaller party would then have the time to build up an arsenal of members, candidates and finances.

Smith soundly defeated Calgary chiropractor Mark Dyrholm, 38, for the party’s top job vacated by Calgary-Glenmore MLA Paul Hinman. She received 6,295 votes, while Dyrholm took 1,905.

Van Heerden said the spirits were high within the conference hall where an estimated 400 party members gathered to hear the victory speech made by Smith, a former journalist.

“She’s really good with the media, she carries the message really good,” van Heerden said. “And I think it will make a big difference that we have a female as a party leader. That might swing a lot of people towards us.”

Van Heerden also supported Smith because of her business experience. She was the provincial affairs director for Alberta with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It lobbies various levels of government on behalf of 10,000 small business members in Alberta.

Van Heerden moved to Alberta from South Africa 11 years ago and shortly after, became a member of the Progressive Conservative party.

He grew frustrated with the Tories because he said it was ignoring its grassroots followers.

“They lost all ability for common sense — our education system is such a mess and now they talk about downgrading it,” said van Heerden, a former teacher and automotive mechanic for the past eight years. “I was so frustrated with how Ed Stelmach’s government is doing things — the wasting that is happening. I thought I’ve got to make a difference.”

He joined the Wildrose Alliance party soon after it was formed in January 2008, following the merger of the Wild Rose Party of Alberta and Alberta Alliance Party. When a provincial election was held two months later, van Heerden ran as a candidate in the Rocky riding.

He was a distant second to Tory veteran Ty Lund.

With Smith at the helm, van Heerden has renewed confidence and vows he’ll be a part of the ruling government next time.

“I’m ready to take over the riding,” he said.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com

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