WATCH: After rumblings of a big political shift in Alberta politics, it was confirmed on Wednesday the leader of the opposition Wildrose Party and eight other members have left the party to join the Progressive Conservatives. We have full coverage from Reid Feist and Tom Clark.
People follow political leaders for one of two reasons: either they are genuinely inspired by them, or the leader holds the promise of power. In the case of Danielle Smith of the soon to be defunct Wildrose Party, she doesn’t have either. That’s not to say that at one point she didn’t. In fact, it was precisely because she had both qualities at one time that she shook the foundations of Alberta politics.
Smith was the fresh expression of political anger directed at a government that had grown careless and lazy. The Progressive Conservatives of Alberta had been in power for almost forty years and had grown into a big tent party, where even Liberals felt comfortable. But here were some hardcore, mainly rural, conservatives who didn’t much like rubbing shoulders with people who weren’t like them. For that group, Wildrose held the promise of a return to conservative fundamentals. Smith was the perfect, non-scary face of what was a highly aggressive uncompromising movement. For the true believers, she was inspirational, and as polls started to show, there was almost enough inspiration out there to create a road to power. Smith had hit the “Daily Double” of political leadership.
But then came the hard lifting. It turned out there were some really unhinged people in the new party, who themselves were careless and lazy. Instead of immediately weeding them out, Smith carried on as if expressions of hatred and discrimination were just one of those quirky little things about her new democracy. She started to inspire a little less. Strike one – when she realized that the nuts and kooks might harm her march to power back in the 2012 provincial election, she finally and reluctantly, cut them off, even threw some candidates over the cliff. But it was too late. By then, fewer people were buying that she could win. Strike two – this year, she lost all four by elections. Wildrose was no longer the route to power. Strike three – she gave up and joined the other team.
It may be that she just didn’t inspire herself anymore, or perhaps she figured out that trading once cherished principle for a taste of power was something she found more desirable than continuing her crusade.
I once used to ask new political leaders if they believed in losing as much as they did in winning. It was a tactful way of asking if they believed in their principles above power. Most didn’t understand the question.
I suspect that Danielle Smith would have. In any case, we now have her answer.