Wildrose leadership battle draws a crowd

The snowball that started with the Calgary-Glenbow byelection has gained size and momentum as the Wildrose Alliance heads toward its leadership convention in Edmonton Oct. 17.

Danielle Smith listens as Mark Dyrholm answers a question during the Wild Rose Alliance party’s leadership forum at the Capri Centre Wednesday night.

The snowball that started with the Calgary-Glenbow byelection has gained size and momentum as the Wildrose Alliance heads toward its leadership convention in Edmonton Oct. 17.

More than 250 people jammed a ballroom at Red Deer’s Capri Centre on Wednesday to hear from the two remaining candidates running for party leadership.

Jeff Willerton backed out at the end of a forum in Calgary last week, leaving Mark Dyrholm and Danielle Smith battling in the homestretch to replace party leader Paul Hinman, who announced his resignation earlier this year.

Calgary-Glenmore voters shifted the Wildrose leadership campaign into high gear when they chose Hinman, turfed from his Cardston-Taber-Warner riding in the 2008 election, to replace Tory MLA Ron Stevens.

Stevens had resigned in May to accept a judicial posting. Tory candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart finished in third, roughly 1,000 votes behind Liberal candidate Avalon Roberts.

Among the people gathered for the Red Deer leadership forum were founding members of the federal Reform Party and a number of people who have strong ties with the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

Red Deer County business owner Garett Cupples, who had helped with Premier Ed Stelmach’s leadership campaign, said someone else had purchased a Wildrose membership for him, so he attended the forum out of curiosity.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with competition,” said Cupples.

Cattle producer Tom Towers, defeated by Luke Ouellette when the Tories were choosing a new candidate in Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, also declined to state whether he had made any commitment to the Wildrose Alliance.

Myron Thompson, former Conservative MP for the federal riding of Wildrose, said he supports everything the Wildrose Alliance stands for.

Thompson said that, while he had served as an MP with the Conservative Party of Canada, he started as a Reformer and has always held fast to the party’s original set of principles.

“I’m pleased with what I’m seeing in this party. That’s the track we need to get on, as far as I’m concerned,” Thompson said while waiting for the forum to begin.

While he declined to predict a victory for the party, Thompson said Hinman will have “a lot of company” after the next general election.

Others were firm in their belief that the Wildrose Alliance has the people and the momentum to upset the Progressive Conservative party’s 38-year hold on the Alberta Legislature.

The candidate who wins the Oct. 17 leadership race will become the province’s next premier, running victoriously up the steps of the Legislature, just like Peter Lougheed and his crew did in 1971, said Hinman.

Former Canadian Wheat Board delegate Jim Chatenay, who supported Ted Morton’s bid to lead the provincial Tories, said time is up for Stelmach and his government.

“I think it’s time for a showdown,” said Chatenay.

While critical of Stelmach’s leadership, Chatenay said that, regardless of who is at the helm, the Progressive Conservative Party has become complacent after holding the reins of power for too many years.

“It’s a tired old party that’s outlived its usefulness.”

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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