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Every Wildrose Has its Thorn

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It's tempting to look at the rise of Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party as an Alberta-only phenomenon.

The conventional wisdom is the Wildrose's imminent electoral success has been nurtured by its Alberta-first mentality; their populist "firewall Alberta" sentiment speaks to Albertans who fear the unscrupulous capitalists from central Canada who singularly wish to profit from Alberta's natural resources.

At 2,700 kilometers away from the country's presumed centre of the universe (Toronto), Alberta is very clearly a different lot socially, economically and politically from many other parts of the true north strong and free.

And though we once lived in a Canada which pleasantly traded French-Canadian Prime Ministers for English-Canadian ones this old Ontario-Quebec compact has been put out to pasture by our current Prime Minister.

In fact, before Stephen Harper, Canadians hadn't voted for a politician so closely affiliated with Alberta since R.B. Bennett -- the man your grade school history books probably mocked for his impotent turn as Prime Minister during the Great Depression. (Joe Clark's stint as Prime Minister in 1979 barely counts).

The old Reform Party slogan went "the west wants in." Well...it has become clear that the west got in.

For political history buffs, the rise of the Wildrose Party is nothing short of astounding. If current polls hold true, the Wildrose, which garnered only seven per cent of the popular vote in Alberta's 2008 provincial election, is set to topple Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative Government on Monday. Redford's party is the current flag bearer of a political dynasty that has been in power for over 41 years.

A mighty wind, one may argue, is about to blow through Canada's most popular prairie province. However, the relevance of a Wildrose victory Monday night will outlast this year's election and the importance of the Wildrose's ascendance will reverberate well beyond Alberta.

As a leader, Danielle Smith personifies an increasingly worrisome trend amongst Canadian politicians who refuse to govern anyone outside of a carefully cultivated base.

Over the last week of Alberta's provincial election campaign, the Wildrose Party was hit by two significant gaffes by potential Members of the Legislative Assembly.

One candidate, Ron Leech, declared he had an advantage as a politician because he was Caucasian.

Another candidate, Allan Hunsperger, had a blog post go viral wherein he declared that gays and lesbians "will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell".

While it was not the best week for the Wildrose Party and for party leader Smith, what is most telling about these "bozo eruptions" was Smith's response. She refused to condemn the bigoted actions of her candidates.

Via twitter Smith replied: "Once again... a [Wildrose government] will not legislate on controversial social issues - [especially] those that have already been settled by the Supreme Court."

She further tweeted, "I will represent all [Albertans] regardless of their race, religion, gender, politics or sexual orientation. Rights are rights are rights."

And again on Friday Smith hosted a news conference refusing to condemn Hunsperger's statement arguing that in a Wildrose-led Alberta, freedom of speech and freedom of religion trump bigotry.

Smith's tweet is nothing more than the modern-day political version of a gentlemen's agreement. She may as well have stood up on a podium to tell everyone that some of her best friends are black (or perhaps black and gay).

And while it would be easy to say that Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party is an Alberta-only phenom, it's becoming clear that Smith and the Calgary School from which her party came are increasingly becoming part of the new normal in Canada's political scene.

The Calgary School is the name given to the pseudo-group of conservative thinkers at the University of Calgary. Members of the unofficial Calgary School have supported Prime Minister Harper. Danielle Smith is considered a member of the school.

The problem with this is that politicians across Canada are dangerously falling to a contagion of disinterest when it comes to social issues outside of those which impact their political base.

For example, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford infamously skips Toronto's Pride Parade. And while one may argue that Ford skips Pride because he is homophobic, one may also argue that he skips Pride because he sees himself not as the mayor of Toronto, but as the mayor of Ford Nation, which does not include Toronto's LGBTQ population.

Similarly, the Harper government's obsessive pandering and cultivation of its own conservative base has seen things like gun control and military spending become major policy planks, much to the detriment of actual economic policy.

The problem with these types of politics is that they create a disconnect between politicians and those who are on the outside. As Chantal Hebert wrote in the Toronto Star on March 2, "It is hard to think of a time when the gap between the rock-solid loyalty of a steadily nurtured government base and the equally rock-solid mistrust of the majority of the electorate that does not support the governing party has been as wide."

Most importantly, it removes the politics of compromise from Canada's political discourse. The politics of disinterest signifies an evolution of Canadian politics.

While Danielle Smith may indeed be a made-in-Alberta phenomenon, the importance of her party will reverberate throughout the country.