Danielle Smith wants to win

Will her newly moderate Wildrose Party find the power it desires?

Jeff McIntosh/CP Images

“I’ve never wanted to lead a party that was going to be the right-wing NDP. I wanted to lead a party that’s capable of forming government.” —Danielle Smith, Wildrose Party Leader

Like clockwork, politics turns wingnuts into moderates and nice guys into attack dogs. The allure of power is far too tempting for mere mortals to ignore. Malleability wins. That’s no grand secret, but a pair of conservatives have shown this week just how starkly people can change when power is anywhere near their fingertips.

Danielle Smith, the leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, wants to win the next provincial election. The last time around, when Wildrose was routinely beating the Progressive Conservatives in the polls, things went sour when candidates started saying extraordinary things. Allan Hunsperger, a pastor and candidate who lives east of Edmonton, reacted to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ in a blog post with some exuberance. “You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering,” he wrote.

Needless to say, that and other statements didn’t help Wildrose’s cause. The party lost the election, and this past weekend, decided it wanted to be moderate. So, at its annual general meeting, Wildrose delegates cleaned up its language. Now, the party admits humans play a role in climate change, no longer wants to abolish human-rights commissions, and even thinks all human beings should receive the same rights, regardless of sexual orientation. Badda bing, badda boom. It’s just that easy. The National Post‘s Jen Gerson wrote that the party’s already earned a new nickname: The Mildrose Party. Probably, the party’s happy for the ribbing.

The other conservative who’s changed his tune is Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary. Calandra, who’s represented a suburban riding north of Toronto for the last five years, spent plenty of that time out of the spotlight. He has a reputation as a nice, hard-working man.

There’s even a Liberal out there who’s willing to be friendly. John McCallum, a longtime MP in a neighbouring riding, spoke highly of Calandra in an interview with Postmedia. “I guess I can say, as Conservatives go, he’s a very nice guy,” McCallum said. “We get along well.” Frank Scarpitti, the mayor of Markham who represents part of Calandra’s riding, lauded the MP as “able to see past partisan divides to do what’s best for the broader community.”

So he’s totally fair, non-partisan when it matters, and generally nice. Until he’s speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister. Take an example, one among many, from Oct. 25. Sadia Groguhé, an NDP MP from Quebec, wondered if the Conservatives would wait for the Supreme Court to provide an opinion of the government’s Senate reform reference before appointing more senators. The question was uncommonly straightforward. Calandra’s answer was less than succinct.

“Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear since we were elected in this place that we do not want to appoint senators: we want to elect senators. We want a Senate that is accountable to the people of Canada,” he said. “It is the NDP that has consistently obstructed us in that matter. When it comes to accountability in the Senate, it is the New Democrats and the Liberals who constantly obstruct us.”

That wasn’t exactly fair, non-partisan, or nice. As it happens, the NDP hasn’t voted against the government’s Senate reform. And that’s among the more polite of Calandra’s answers since he’s taken to his perch in the Commons.

The thing is, outside of that sort-of powerful position in the House, Calandra’s a nice guy. But that niceness won’t earn him more power, so we won’t see much of it. Wildrose will, no doubt, have rather extreme elements kicking around—perhaps not among its candidates, but certainly its members and supporters. Those immoderate exceptions, because now they’ll be treated as exceptions, will be hidden as deftly as possible, so we won’t see much of them. Now, of course, we wait. In two years, let’s see where Calandra’s at, and where Wildrose might be headed.

What’s above the fold

The Globe and Mail The Senate might not suspend three of its senators without pay.
National Post Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed died at the age of 71.
Toronto Star Sen. Mike Duffy might not receive a lighter punishment in the Senate.
Ottawa Citizen An Ottawa church received a settlement of over $379,000.
CBC News Pipeline safety incidents have doubled since 2000.
CTV News Hurricane-force wind gusts are hitting France and southern England.
National Newswatch Conservative opposition to the suspension of three senators is rising.

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