Alberta WIldrose Party meets in Calgary to plot election strategy

This rose isn’t ready to wilt.

With an election writ expected to drop in the next few weeks, the Wildrose party plans to enter an anticipated spring election with a new leader.

A date when the new leader will be selected hasn’t been settled on but the decision was tentatively made at the party’s members’ assembly in Calgary Saturday, fast tracking what was initially planned as a June leadership convention.

“We listened to the membership today and it seems fairly clear … the vast majority of them indicated their interest in moving the leadership selection date forward,” said party president Jeff Callaway.

It has been a challenging few months for the Wildrose caucus. High-profile defections that saw a good portion of their MLAs, including former party leader Danielle Smith, cross the floor to join the rival Progressive Conservatives had many questioning whether the party would be able to regroup with such a small window.

While declining to say exactly how many ridings will be contested by the Wildrose, Callaway said the party will be strongly represented in the upcoming election.

“Our donors and members want to see that the party is alive and growing, and will be ready for the next election,” he said.

“I don’t think we’ll be running the extent of the campaign that we were last time, but we’re definitely going to be running a big campaign.”

Four candidates have shown interest in leading the Wildrose into the next election, including ex-taxpayer-watchdog Derek Fildebrandt, Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes, former Strathcona County mayor Linda Osinchuk and former Fort McMurray-Athabasca Tory MP Brian Jean, who said the party’s new leader needs to concentrate on rebuilding the party as a strong opposition presence.

“If we don’t have a strong opposition, this government will continue doing what it’s been doing for years,” Jean said.

Chosen in December to succeed Smith as interim party leader, Heather Forsyth is confident the party’s message still resonates.

“Polls are done on the ground — talking to people at the doors and talking to Albertans at the grocery store,” Forsyth said. “I have been, at times, overwhelmed and even moved to tears all of the times people have come up to me and said ‘don’t give up, we’re behind you.’ ”

Forsyth, who expressed no interest in becoming permanent party leader, said Wildrose will be ready to take on the PCs when the election happens.

“We can, and will not, let the actions of a few stop the important mission grassroots members our party have embarked on,” she said.

“Our values, our principles our ideas remain just as important, and just as badly needed as ever.”

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