Wildrose Alliance leadership candidate has experience with crisis

While Premier Ed Stelmach is being criticized for trying to deal with the Calgary-Glenmore by-election loss and an interparty crisis, could Danielle Smith handle similar pressures if she were to lead the Wildrose Alliance?

Smith is a candidate, along with Mark Dyrholm, vying for the Wildrose Alliance leadership race to replace Paul Hinman, who captured Calgary-Glenmore from the Progressive Conservatives in early September.

Smith was a former Calgary school board trustee, but she was fired along with the rest of the board under then-Minister of Education Lyle Oberg in August 1999. According to the Calgary Herald, chairwoman Teresa Woo-Paw had informed the minister that the board had become “completely dysfunctional.” The minister cited violations of the privacy act, disclosure of “bitter” personal meeting notes and a physical standoff between trustee Jennifer Pollock and Smith during a meeting. Smith did not run for re-election after the board disbanded.

Since that time, Smith has tackled other roles, such as a position on the Calgary Herald’s editorial board, hosting various television and radio programs and, most recently, acting as provincial director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Smith said she ran a conservative platform on the school board and wanted to represent the constituents rather than the administration. She cited major problems during her time as trustee, including motions that tried to remove her from the board. She did not see eye-to-eye on many issues with Pollock, but “liked her a lot” as a colleague.

“We could have worked out the differences over time,” said Smith. “[But] we were genuinely trying to represent our constituents.”

She noted that a lack of experience and her age could have played a role in the conflicts leading up to the dismissal, but said people would understand the circumstances she had to deal with. Smith was only 27 years-old when she was elected as a school board trustee.

“I was a bit too strident,” said Smith.

She now believes compromise is important and wants to find areas of agreement. She believes that people will judge her on the work she’s done with the CFIB and her time with the media.

“I can’t see why it would hurt my chances,” Smith said.

Mark Dyrholm, the only other Wildrose Alliance leadership contender, declined an interview, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment on such matters.

Craig Chandler, one of Dyrholm’s campaign assistants, said the campaign is focused mainly on membership sales right now instead of personal issues related to other candidates.

Jeff Willerton, a candidate for the leadership race, who dropped out after the Sept. 16 Calgary forum, endorsed Dyrholm. He said he endorsed Dyrholm because of Smith’s policies and not her previous work as school board trustee.

Hinman said that the crisis is actually a strength for Smith.

“Her experience will be an asset for her,” he said, pointing out that Alberta is already struggling with a dysfunctional government.

Hinman wants to stay neutral during the leadership race, but he hinted that may change in the future.

The Wildrose Alliance leadership convention will be Oct. 17.

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