POLITICS

Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith takes lead on city issues

05/01/2012 05:48 EDT | Updated 07/01/2012 05:12 EDT
EDMONTON - Alberta is increasingly divided between urbanites and rural dwellers, says Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith, who named herself cities critic Tuesday.

Her comments come only days after criticizing "urban elites" for their attitudes toward small-town voters and they follow suggestions by one of her newly minted members that rural voters have more common sense.

Bridge building "needs to go both ways," Smith said after announcing her shadow cabinet Tuesday. "There's a serious divide in this province, a lack of understanding about how much of our wealth is generated in our rural areas."

Smith's right-wing party was nearly shut out of the province's two largest cities, winning only two seats in Calgary and none in Edmonton.

But Tuesday, Smith seemed to suggest that it's the city dwellers who need to open their minds.

She said she was upset over an independently produced video that came out during the campaign that she said painted small-town people in a bad light. Titled "I never thought I'd vote PC", the video featured people, some of them actors, talking about holding their noses and voting PC to keep the Wildrose out.

"It's clear that there is a problem in Alberta when you have a video that received 75,000 views that depicts hard-working men and women in rural Alberta as being gun-toting simpletons," she said. "That actually demonstrates that we have some very serious bridges that need to be built between rural and urban."

Still, she admitted she has work to do in the cities, where two-thirds of Alberta's population lives.

"We are prepared to set the reset button," she said.

"We know we have a lot of work to do to build the trust with Edmonton council and with Edmontonians, that was very clear from the election results."

Smith said she has asked Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi if he might be able to broker a peace summit with Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who was critical of the Wildrose during the campaign.

Smith shadow cabinet includes key posts for Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth. Both are former Tory members of the legislature who crossed the floor to the Wildrose during the last session. They were also the only two Wildrose members to retain their seats in last week's vote.

Anderson was named Opposition house leader and finance critic. Forsyth was named to the health portfolio.

Shayne Saskiw, the Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills member who knocked off cabinet minister Ray Danyluk, is deputy house leader and justice critic. Bruce McAllister, who bested cabinet minister Ted Morton, was given education.

The failure to break through in Alberta's two largest cities is one of the reasons the Wildrose finds itself on the opposition benches.

Tuesday's news conference was Smith's first since election night when the rival Progressive Conservatives under Leader Alison Redford won 61 seats en route to the party's 12th consecutive majority.

Smith has confined her public appearances since to a series of one-on-one interviews where she has talked about the need to possibly recast some of the party's more controversial policies that called for Alberta to isolate itself from the rest of Canada.

She's also signalled that the party may reconsider its position on global warming. In an online debate during the last week of the campaign, Smith said she believes the science is not settled on climate change.

Her "urban elite" comments came while talking about the "I never thought I'd vote PC" video" on CTV.

"It had outrageous statements there, really outrageous statements, essentially talking about our members and rural voters as being simpletons and gun-toting people who really had no understanding of what the modern issues of the day were," Smith told CTV.

"And if that's how urban elites look towards our rural population and look towards members of our party, we're in real trouble."

Those remarks came on the heels of some post-election reaction from newly elected Wildrose member Gary Bikman, who suggested rural voters understood the issues in the campaign better.

"I think they possess more common sense, at least that's my experience," he said. "That people that make their living off the land really seem to understand the way nature really works.

"I think that the social issues that came up during the last week, and the PCs ability to exploit them, caused some concern in the voters — within urban areas at least, because they didn't understand the issues."