Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith wouldn’t be surprised if Progressive Conservatives call an election six months to a year after they crown their new leader.
The Tories have until May 2016 to call an election. But the party likes to think it can “wipe the slate clean” every time they bring in a new leader and may want to go to the polls sooner, said Smith.
Former Premier Ed Stelmach called an election 14 months after winning the leadership. Alison Redford and Ralph Klein only waited six months.
Whenever the election call, Wildrose will be prepared, said Smith, who was in Red Deer for a meet and greet with a standing room-only crowd of about 100 in a local hotel conference room.
The party has an election readiness meeting this weekend and plans to start pulling together its full slate of 87 candidates this summer to have everyone in place by January or February next year.
During a question and answer session Smith was asked how the party intended to avoid repeats of controversies such as the “lake of fire” comment by a candidate that many blame for scuttling Wildrose’s shot at victory in the last election.
In the last days of the campaign, it was revealed Edmonton candidate Allan Hunsperger suggested in a blog that if homosexuals didn’t change their ways they would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell.”
Smith said while the party supports free speech, candidates are expected to represent their party and not make comments that diminish it in the eyes of the public. Constituency associations will be expected to screen candidates more closely and a “high bar” will be set for candidates.
“Not everyone is cut out to be a candidate.”
The party also has made it clear it is not taking positions on controversial social issues and will focus on issues important to most Albertans.
Smith was also asked what her qualifications were to lead the province.
She talked of the valuable experience she gained by building a party from the ground up since she became leader in the fall of 2009. It has gone from a party with 15 constituency associations and a pair of employees to an organization with 87 associations, 17 sitting MLAs and a staff of dozens.
As leader, Smith has crisscrossed the province listening to Albertans to build the party’s platform.
Redford, who emerged from an established party, never had the same “large group dynamics” experience, said Smith.
In response to another question, Smith said among approaches that set Wildrose apart from the Tories is its commitment to balancing the books, allowing free votes and open debate, and its support of direct democracy initiatives, such as recall provisions or public referenda.