Politicians never cease to interest me in terms of their personalities and behaviours – of course behind the scenes but especially when they venture into direct public contact.
Over the years I’ve chatted with many. I’ve interviewed the established ones, the wanna-be ones, and the ones who try in vain to get elected but never seem to be able to make a dent in voters’ consciousness.
During the recent Wildrose annual general meeting in Red Deer, I had the opportunity to talk with the party’s leader Danielle Smith for a while. I must say, it was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable interviews I’ve ever had with a political leader of any stripe.
Up to and even during the meetings, which were held June 25-26 at the Capri Hotel & Convention Centre, her handlers assured me I would time to talk to her one-on-one. But I started to doubt whether this was going to happen. Let’s face it, annual meetings aren’t typically orderly affairs with perfectly kept schedules.
So one of the mornings I walked into the media room and ‘voila’ – there was Smith perched on a chair surrounded by a flurry of reporters. She had apparently left one of the policy meetings with the simple purpose of meeting up with journalists.
That in itself, is impressive. She took questions in a calm, conversational manner. It didn’t feel like a media scrum as much as it did a laid-back time to ask questions and in return, receive thoughtful answers to the string of issues being presented to her that morning.
Smith kept her cool throughout. Even when the questions could have sent her into a defensive stance, she remained confident and accessible. Finally, the group broke up and I thought maybe this would be my chance.
She got herself a coffee, and looked like she was gearing up for another round of serious policy meetings. I walked up, introduced myself and asked if she could answer a few questions of a local nature.
She smiled and said no problem. We talked about a few things, including the increasing problem of homeless youth in Red Deer and the recent spate of rallies protesting the closure of two City nursing homes. She took her time in answering, even though she wasn’t completely aware of every nuance of the issues. She offered her thoughts on how her party would approach the issues. She was never in a hurry to dash out and hammer out policy – even though I could sense her handlers were getting just a wee bit jittery about keeping up schedules and appearances.
Even when our conversation ended, I had the feeling she would have kept right on doing the interview for another several minutes if that’s what it took.
Rarely have I talked with such a relaxed politician. Well, Ralph Klein usually put forward a semblance of being relaxed. But there was always his at time sarcastic, smart-alecky humour you had to watch out for. Smith doesn’t seem interested in making fun of anyone. She pointedly talked about her political opponents and doesn’t pull critical punches, but she doesn’t seem interested in mocking them.
Premier Ed Stelmach has, over the years, just seemed more difficult to get close to in order to run a few questions by him. Handlers carefully measure the time he has for media engagement, then he’s swept away.
Brian Mason, of the NDP, seems to be generous with his time. But the problem is it seems like he is rarely around this area. David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberals, does make himself available regularly. It’s an appreciated attribute to be sure, but of course I haven’t seen him in the busy, hectic setting that I saw Smith in this late last month.
Also, it’s not the first time I’ve seen Smith on the local front. She was at Red Deer College earlier this spring for a talk and a question and answer session.
Not all the questions were sweet and flattering, but Smith didn’t waver in explaining herself in a sophisticated yet down to earth manner. There was also that thing about time – she seemed to have lots of it. I’m not sure if this causes her handlers constant stress, but she seemed unfazed by it.
On that particular day at RDC, myself and another reporter sat down with her and it felt like we could have talked for hours. That seems to be her style, and hopefully, as the Wildrose continues to become a more serious contender in Alberta politics, it will remain so.