Hanni: "I learned from that experience that politics is not a sport for the faint of heart."

Two years ago, Wilf Hanni was acclaimed leader of the provincial Conservatives. But this isn't the first party he's headed. On August 30, 1997 Mr. Hanni was elected leader of the Reform Party of British Columbia. But many critics gave his performance in that job two thumbs down.

For example, three months later, the party's sole legislator Jack Weisgerber quit Reform, telling Mr. Hanni in a letter, "It is painfully evident that you are incapable of rejuvenating the party or earning the confidence of most members, myself included."

And, in an interview with The Canadian Press, the party's former southern Vancouver Island regional director, was paraphrased as saying party executive are "fed up with Hanni's heavy-handed style."

Asked about those criticism, Mr. Hanni said, "I learned from that experience that politics is not a sport for the faint of heart. And if you want to be at the table and participate, you have to participate. Now the accusation that I was a heavy-handed leader was absolutely false. I'm anything but. And I'm still anything but."

"Our party is a populist grassroots party. It takes its direction from the members. Any of the senior members of the party will tell you that I am always seeking advice and trying to build a consensus," he continued. "I'm not a dictator. I'm the farthest thing from a dictator. But I'm quite willing to defend my right to lead this party. And as long as I have the support of the majority of the members of this party, I will lead it."

"Some people said I was heavy-handed. Some said I wasn't heavy-handed enough. The party was divided at the time. Jack Weisgerber certainly didn't help unite the party - nor did (former Reform legislator) Richard Neufeld. There were a number of people in the party who thought I didn't have the experience to lead - and perhaps I didn't. That was 11 years ago. I've got a little more experience now. But it's interesting. They replaced me with a fellow that had lots of experience - Bill Vander Zalm. And the party continued to go downhill under his leadership as well."

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