Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta, spoke to students at the University of Calgary March 29 about her party and Alberta politics.
The event was the first and last of the school year for the recently launched Wildrose Alliance Club, which only voted in their executive roughly a month ago.
"We thought the year's almost over so we might as well plan for one event and what better event to have than have Danielle Smith, the leader of the party, come," said James Jeffrey, president of the campus club.
Approximately 70 people attended Smith's talk, where she focused on post-secondary issues and answered audience questions on a range of topics including prostitution, health care and voter apathy.
Smith, who has degrees in both English and Economics from the U of C and has worked as a journalist and Calgary Board of Education Trustee, spoke to students about her time on campus and challenged audience members to become involved with her party's policy proposals.
"I think that we're on the cusp of one of these seismic political shifts that happen in this province from time to time," she told the audience.
Smith said she believes citizens are looking for a change.
"I think for the first time in a number of years people are finally getting engaged and talking about policy again and talking about what can we be as Albertans and what kind of leadership role can Alberta play, not only in Canada, but also internationally. I think that's the kind of thing that's capturing the imagination of Albertans."
While answering audience questions, Smith identified a widespread voter turnout problem and noted she feels it's up to politicians and political parties to make politics interesting.
"I don't blame people for their apathy. When I look at this province the fact that we have a party that's in power for 39 years and there are many, many ridings where that party would win with 65, 70 per cent of the vote, I can understand why people say, 'what's the point of me going out?' " said Smith.
"I hope if nothing else what the emergence of our party has done is created a little more competitive tension."
Trent Charles, a first-year communications student, was impressed by Smith's speech and her strong economics background.
"It was a lot better than I expected," said Charles. "Few politicians truly understand the economics behind the decisions that they make . . . You need the economic basis to truly understand what you're doing and how you're affecting the people you are trying to represent."
Charles said he sees the Wildrose Alliance Party as the only option in Alberta dedicated to limited government intervention. Charles plans on starting up or joining a student Wildrose club when he transfers to Grant MacEwan University in the fall.
Following a 15-minute speech, over 45-minutes of audience questions and more than half an hour of one-on-one discussions with a line up of interested students, Smith said seeing a Wildrose club on campus was "fantastic."
"I was a bit surprised to see it, as I think it's the first Wildrose campus club of any of the universities or colleges. To me, student politics is so important, that's where I got my start in being interested in politics," said Smith, who served as president of the Progressive Conservative club as a U of C student in 1992.
Smith said the addition of a club on campus is positive for the Wildrose Alliance party.
"I think having a strong youth presence is important from a policy setting point of view and it's also important from a volunteer point of view."
Smith said the audience did not disappoint and brought forward challenging questions that "show they really care."
"It's always tough when you come to a university campus because the people who come to your sessions are a lot more knowledgeable about the areas that they're asking you about than you are," said Smith.
"You've got a lot of young people who are spending all of their time immersed in the field of economics, or history, or politics or environmental sciences. So I always find that the toughest questions have been at the university campuses."
Smith said what she saw on the U of C campus is typical of what she sees when she visits post-secondary institutions across the province.
"There is a whole range of issues that young people feel passionately about and I just think that they haven't had an avenue to be able to express those views and see it implemented in policy for a party and, ultimately, form policy for a government."
Before Smith took the stage the club asked audience members for voluntary donations to cover the cost of the event and stated they will not accept money from the Students' Union.
Jeffrey explained that the club declined to accept an SU grant of $100, which all new clubs receive, on a matter of principle.
"The Wildrose Alliance is a party of fiscal conservatives and we said we shouldn't accept that $100 grant because it's coming from people like Liberals, NDP-ers, et cetera that aren't actually choosing to donate money to us," said Jeffrey.