Wildrose to grapple with climate change, lake of fire topics

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith admits the heat is on to cool global warming and douse a lake of fire when her party meets this weekend at its annual convention.

Party's annual general meeting set for Saturday in Edmonton

Danielle Smith hopes her party endorses the view she took during the last election campaign that a Wildrose government will not pass policy on controversial moral issues. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith admits the heat is on to cool global warming and douse a lake of fire when her party meets this weekend at its annual convention.

"We all know some of the things that caused difficulty during the [last election] campaign," said Smith.

"I am hoping that [party members] will endorse the view I took during the campaign that a Wildrose government will not pass policy on controversial moral issues."

The election on April 23 saw Wildrose hopes to form government hit the ditch over racist and homophobic comments from candidates and from Smith's own assertion that the science of climate change was not proven.

"I don't know that we've ever taken a formal position on [climate change] as a party, but it's quite clear that the public is looking for us to make a stronger statement on it," said Smith.

"Our members are pragmatic and realistic about this issue, and we have got international treaty obligations. We also have an expectation from our customers that we're going to produce this [oil] resource in a way that has less and less emissions, and that includes greenhouse gases."

Saturday's meeting at an Edmonton hotel will be the start of policy change discussions to be voted on at next year's meeting.

It has been seven months since the Wildrose won 17 seats to become the official opposition to Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives. The Tories won 61 seats.

For Smith, it was an invigorating breakthrough but also a crushing disappointment.

Polls suggested as late as the final week of the campaign that the Wildrose had a chance of forming government by tapping into voter discontent over changes to private land rules and lavish payouts to politicians under the Tories.

But the wheels came off when a year-old blog surfaced from Edmonton Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger who suggested gay people would "suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire" if they didn't change their lifestyles.

Wildrose Calgary candidate Ron Leech was forced to apologize for suggesting in a radio interview that he was better suited to communicate with people of all races because he was white.

Smith was forced to endorse the right of candidates to their personal opinions while promising those views wouldn't spill into Wildrose policy.

She ignored cries from some to cut Hunsperger and Leech loose.

Both were defeated.

Smith herself was shouted down at a leaders forum just before polling day when she questioned the science of climate change.

Environmentalists said a Smith government that didn't believe in climate change couldn't be expected to be serious about cleaning up toxic emissions from the oilsands.

Redford successfully tied the issue to Alberta's international image by saying she doubted voters wanted a leader on the world stage who denied climate change.

Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson said the campaign showcased the growing pains any group in politics goes through.

"It's part of the maturing of every party," said Anderson.

"Most of our policies are very sound, but there are some that we do need to change.

"There's just some stuff left over from five, six years ago that needs to be cleaned up a bit and fall in line ... with the mainstream of our party, which is the mainstream of Alberta."

Anderson said the new caucus has successfully held the government's feet to the fire in the fall sitting of the legislature.

Wildrose has led the charge on criticism over changes to land-use rules and on pay for politicians. The party accuses the Tories of voting last month to increase that pay by eight per cent to $170,000. The Tories say compared with the money legislature members were making before the election, it's an eight per cent cut.

This week, the Wildrose unearthed documents suggesting Lynn Redford, the premier's sister, broke fundraising laws by billing taxpayers when she attended PC party functions.

Wildrose MLAs also disclosed circumstantial evidence they say merits Lynn Redford being called as a witness at an upcoming public inquiry into whether politicians and other VIPs were put on a fast track to better health care.

The Tories have begun responding in kind, attacking expense irregularities by Smith's team.

"We feel we have a lot more ability to change what's going on in the legislature, to frame the debate, to push the agenda that we want to push, whether that's property rights or democratic reform or finances," said Anderson.

"I think you'll see us come out of this AGM and the 2013 policy AGM in a very strong position to win the next election."