Danielle Smith, Missing Wildrose Leader, Is She Ready For Legislature's Return?

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DANIELLE SMITH QUIET
Where has Danielle Smith been and why has she been so quiet? (Wikimedia) | WikiMedia:

Where did Wildrose leader Danielle Smith disappear to this summer?

Today the Edmonton Journal is discussing the whereabouts of Smith following her defeat in the April 23 election against Conservative party leader and premier Alison Redford.

It would appear the party has been active, having issued 114 press releases in that time. However, the majority of those (57 per cent) make no mention of Smith.

The Journal points out that Smith left her MLAs to handle some of the summer's biggest issues including the treatment of Alberta seniors in long-term housing, the hiring of former Tory Agriculture Minister Evan Berger, the controversy over transmission lines and the Redford government's spending plan for the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

Other contentious issues, such as the firing of Edmonton teacher Lynden Dorval for issuing zeros to students, expense scandals plaguing AHS and MLA payment for "mo-meet" committees, were met with little more than a press release from the Wildrose.

"I'm a bit baffled that you wouldn't take advantage of a new premier who is not having a completely easy time of it," University of Lethbridge political scientist Peter McCormick told the Journal.

"This is not, by any means yet, a strong government or a strong premier. You've got to keep banging on the door and hope the hinges fall off."

The one issue Smith had no problems embracing - leaving many Albertans scratching their heads - was what The Calgary Sun called a deal with the devil, when the Wildrose leader pushed for a political alliance with Quebec separatists, following that province's latest rounds of elections.

Climbing into bed with Parti Quebecois separatists should be contemplated if the partnership benefits Alberta and Alberta interests, Smith told The Sun.

"Obviously a PQ government is not ideal, but I think with the CAQ offering the balance of power, there is an opportunity for us to work together on things where we share a common cause," Smith told QMI Agency.

"Let's look at it is an opportunity for us to make sure we can advance that agenda of preserving provincial powers."

Meanwhile, the XL Foods beef recall is being highlighted by many as Smith's most recent lost opportunity to send a strong message to Redford's government.

While flipping burgers last week at an event to show solidarity for Alberta's beef producers, Smith offered thoughful comments about the way the recall was handled but was careful not to criticize the province, Journal columnist Graham Thompson points out.

She told reporters "I think it's a bit early to be placing blame or pointing fingers," to which Thompson opined "That's a quote Redford should copy, laminate and frame -- and send back to Smith the next time Wildrose starts to point fingers early."

Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey told the Journal that Smith's reluctance to take the Alberta Tories to task on the handling of the beef recall may have to do with her close ties to the federal Conservatives.

"Remember that this is mainly a federal problem. Where is the provincial government on this, saying we're going to ... set up an inquiry?

"That's what I think Danielle Smith should be calling for, but I think she would be reluctant to do that because of her federal cousins. She is very close to the federal Conservatives," said Brownley.

However, McCormick thinks Smith should have used the recall as a opportunity to call out Redford.

"It is amazing how slow governments were off the mark, but even more amazing that in Alberta you wouldn't be jumping at this new premier," he said. "That is a fumbled opportunity."

In her defence, Smith told the Journal her low-profile as of late is a strategic move to promote individuals in the party; to educate the public on the caucus.

"What happened during the election is we had a couple of candidates make controversial remarks, and that got people thinking well, I know Danielle, and I like a few of the Wildrose policies, but I don't really know who else is running with her," Smith said.

"Do they have enough people that they can form a front bench? Can we hand over the keys to this $41-billion corporation? That was where we ended up losing ground in the last days of the campaign."

Smith is not known to take the back bench when it comes to, well, anything, so her relative silence as of late is not going unnoticed.

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid noted that last week's speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce was "more like a consultant's report than an opposition leader's broadside."

Coming off of a three-week, all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. (paid for by the U.S. government), she was not her impassioned political self, barely mentioning the provincial government at all.

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Instead, she focused her speech on what she learned about U.S. politics, making "the trip sound more like wide-eyed research for a master's thesis," wrote Braid.

Smith's departure from her usual outspoken ways are all strategic, says Wildrose political strategist Vitor Marciano, and that the party is saving itself for when legislature resumes on Oct. 23.

"When your opponent isn't doing themselves any favours, why get in their way?" he said.

"Why change the channel?"

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