Danielle Smith and premier Jim Prentice on Dec. 17, 2014 (Photo: Fave Cournoyer/Flicker).

She’s baaaaack!

Apparently Danielle Smith – the other former leader of the Wildrose Party – has made it official that she intends to make a run to lead the United Conservative Party.

Danielle Smith in 2008 on the day she announced she was running to lead the Wildrose Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It must be true. After all, it was in the Calgary Herald today. 

“Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith returns to politics with eyes on UCP leadership,” proclaims the headline in Calgary’s website of record, formerly one of the great metropolitan daily newspapers of Canada, where Ms. Smith worked for a spell as a strike-breaking writer of right-wing editorials. 

To paraphrase Karl Max paraphrasing Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, somewhere all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice … the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. 

You know, Jim Prentice for Peter Lougheed, Jason Kenney for Ralph Klein, the Danielle Smith of 2022 for the Danielle Smith of 2014.

Or, actually, considering the way Ms. Smith’s gambit to unite the right in Alberta unfolded in 2014, it’s more like the first time was a farce and the second time promises to be an even bigger farce. 

Who can forget Ms. Smith’s 2012 campaign when, if you believed the Calgary Herald at the time and the journos from away who took their cues from its pages, her Wildrose Party was about to finally consign the Progressive Conservative Party, by then led by Alison Redford, to the dusty tomes of history. 

Then came the notorious Lake of Fire, that most farcical of stumbles, and it was the Wildrose Party that began its swift march into history with Ms. Redford’s convincing victory.

Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Come 2014, with premier Redford driven out of Alberta politics by her own caucus, and Opposition leader Smith, beguiled by the whispers of Preston Manning, godfather of the Canadian right, thought she’d found a way to unite the right.

The plan to lead her entire Wildrose caucus across the floor of the Legislature into the arms of the governing Progressive Conservatives had already come partly askew on Dec. 17, 2014, when she managed to convince only nine of her MLAs to join her in premier Prentice’s caucus – and not without a good deal of opposition from his own government MLAs.

Five Wildrose MLAs refused to budge, and eventually Brian Jean showed up to breathe a few more months of life into the damaged party.

Still, right wingers in Alberta can remember what they were doing that day they heard the shocking news. You know they’re thinking about it when the expression of a deer in the headlights passes across their faces. 

They will never forgive Ms. Smith for what happened next. Voters were furious. The optics were horrible for both the Wildrose and the PCs. Mr. Jean may have saved the Wildrose Party for a while, but on May 5, 2015, Albertans cashiered Mr. Prentice and elected an NDP majority. Rachel Notley became premier. 

We Alberta New Democrats thank you, Ms. Smith!

Ms. Smith, a former Fraser Institute apparatchik, later rebranded herself as a right-wing radio host, after that as an even more right-wing blogger enthused about COVID cures and other questionable theories. Hydroxycholoquine, anyone? 

So, how serious a candidate is Ms. Smith? If I ran this commentary tomorrow morning like I usually do when news breaks in the afternoon, you’d think it was an April Fool joke!

She has zero appeal to the left, where she’s viewed as far to the right and a dangerous crank. She has zero appeal to the right, which remembers Dec. 17, 2014, like the rest of us remember 911 or JFK’s last day in Dallas. It’s doubtful she has much appeal to the centre, which knows her ideology is both rigid and situational.

Speaking of situational, her official announcement only applies if UCP Leader and Premier Jason Kenney loses his April 9-though-May 11 party leadership review. 

All she has are some of the followers of her paywalled blog and the Calgary Herald, which has always carried a torch for her.

She’s been dropping hints about this for weeks and the uptake among voters has barely registered a heartbeat.

In addition to her leadership aspirations, Ms. Smith is seeking the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. The riding in Alberta’s southwest corner is now represented by another UCPer, Roger Reid. In 2015, after the floor-crossing project turned out to be a debacle, she lost the PC nomination in the Highwood riding she had represented for the Wildrose Party.  

Well, as I’ve said before, you can’t count Ms. Smith out completely. She’s a hard worker. If you don’t think about the dangerous implications of her hard-right neoliberal beliefs, she’s congenial and pleasant. She’s got plenty of well-heeled friends willing to provide money.

She might even unintentionally play the role of a Kamikaze Candidate 2.0 to Mr. Kenney’s benefit if, having lost, he runs again as some have speculated – although her ego is too big to do that intentionally. 

But becoming leader of the UCP and premier of Alberta? Forget about it. 

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13 Comments

  1. So…what Circle of Hell are we in now?

    Danielle Smith has decided to emerge and declare herself the leader who never crossed the floor to join Prentice’s PC caucus. See, even Smith has her own reality distortion field.

    The interesting thing is that Smith has also been vocal about the crazies in the Wildrose/UCP. Unlike Kenney, her displeasure was not in a leaked audio recording — she came right out and said it. And then, she walked from the ‘Lake of Fire’ crowd and straight into obscurity.

    Who does Smith appeal to? Day-drinkers whose first and only time they heard of her was when she was being a talk-radio crank on CHED AM.

    ‘Berta iz stoopeed.

  2. Let’s hope your surmise is correct, David, that Ms. Smith’s ascent to the premiership of the province is unlikely. She has some dangerous ideas, informed by the usual kooky theories that currently are in vogue in conservative circles. Her opinion pieces that appear in the Journal, Herald, and elsewhere generally are not worth the electrons that are used to display them.

    I know that the left has some kooks and conspiracy nuts, such as Glen Greenwald to name one of the most notorious. But, the conservatives and the right wing have more than their fair share of them. Here is one of the more recent examples or right-wing lunacy:

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/senate-basic-income-conspiracy-theories-1.6403777

  3. Just when we thought it was safe – she returns! I suppose technically only to run as an MLA, but it seems fairly obvious she has bigger ambitions. Interestingly, she has generally been fairly pleasant to Kenney, unlike many other Wildrosers, but I suspect she now sees an opportunity if he falters.

    I agree that people on the right are not going to forgive or forget the debacle of 2014 and 2015 which she was a big part of. However she does have some strengths. First of all, she is articulate and a good communicator. She also comes across as smart, but not a complete know it all, like a certain current premier. However, she does not seem to be the best tactician. She was never able to remake her party as a more moderate one and of course the whole merger with the PC’s was a disaster.

    I suspect there is a group in the UCP that knows Kenney is probably too unpopular to win again, but are also not very excited by Brian Jean, who isn’t the strongest communicator or campaigner. She probably appeals to them. Of course, it is possible if the UCP leadership turns into a three way race, Kenney could win it again, so he might actually not mind her jumping in so much.

    In some ways Smith reminds me of an Alberta version of Christie Clark in BC, bidding her time on the radio waiting for her chance. However, I also feel that the high water mark for Smith was sometime between 2010 and 2012. That some in the UCP may now be reaching back to someone who several times snatched defeat from the jaws of victory may not be such a good sign for their future.

  4. As I am writing this on March 31, 2022, the question I have is this. Haven’t Albertans had enough of these pretend Conservatives and Reformers, and the damaging policies they inflict on Albertans?

    1. Anonymous Of course she has all the ignorant seniors in Calgary wetting their pants with excitement , too damn dumb to understand what she stands for. Even her radio station kicked her off the air for being too much of a right-wing extremist. Over coffee retired lawyers and doctors have been pointing out for years that nothing will financially destroy seniors faster that a privatized health care system and my American relatives would certainly agree.

      I will never forget the go around I had with one of her candidates before the 2012 election. She told me she fully supported Smiths plan to privatize health care and education in this province. She had a son in a private school and it was only costing her $1,000. per month . I asked her if she would feel the same way if she had 6 or 7 kids. She said no one has any right to have more that 2 children it shouldn’t be allowed. She got 198 votes and the conservative who beat her got over 25,000 . She was dropped from the party. Of course Redford beat all of them.

  5. I have been watching with considerable interest the recent events surrounding fake donations submitted to Jean Charest’s CPC leadership campaign. It’s a matter of great concern because it exhibits all the marks of the sort of campaign tactics that would be employed by the likes of the UCP. You know harass and assault a campaign with every measure of dirty tricks, because there is strong potential for the campaign to prove to be a real threat to Alberta’s interests.

    While I’m not about to declare that such a tactic bears all the marks of Matt Wolf’s style of dirty tricks, Alberta has seen enough of his sort of trolling from the likes of him for a long time. While Skippy Pollivere is playing the wannabe Convoy trucker angle for the FREEDUMB mob, in the end it’s Quebec, GTA, and Atlantic Canada that thinks differently than the knuckle dragger from ‘Berta. While Pollivere can rage all he wants about taking back Canada (That worked well for O’Toole, until he had second thoughts about the messaging.) he’s playing the extremist True Blue/MiniTrump for all its worth.

    It’s a long time until September and I’m not sure about the popcorn supply-chain.

  6. I am sure that the floor crossing incident by Smith and colleagues eventually did do some damage to the PCs, and it certainly was pretty disastrous for the defectors themselves.

    But I recall lots of commentary at the time that this was a master stroke by Prentice, disarming the one party that seemed poised to take over if he faltered. Throughout most of 2014, Wild Rose was polling better than the PCs.

    Based on polls available, there was not an immediate dip in PC polling after the defections. Although there were not a lot of polls (only 3 I can find) in December 2014 to Feb 2015, all had the PCs well ahead at 44, 42, and 46 %. I think the desire for change was born more out of the following three things: the economy tanking, Prentice’s “Albertans need to look in a mirror” address, and the March 2015 budget. The latter annoyed people because it raised taxes (necessary, but Albertans have a hard time accepting that), introduced a health care levy, and did not raise corporate taxes. It was only after that budget that the PCs began to sink in the polls, and Wild Rose and NDP began to rise. Then the campaign and debate did matter for once, with the last straw being that group of Edmonton businessmen telling us all what a disaster it would be if the NDP were elected.

    1. IIRC it was the “look in the mirror” comment that doomed Prentice. God forbid that a province that has spent decades talking about personal responsibility should be asked to accept personal responsibility.

  7. This was, to me, way less plausible than your actual April fools joke. A person who is a bad punch line is maybe going to run for leadership of a province that is fast becoming a worse punch line.

  8. “…Mr. Kenney’s benefit if, having lost, he runs again as some have speculated”. Actually, I seem to recall hearing — not sure where, perhaps on West of Centre (CBC Calgary’s podcast on Alberta politics) — that under the UCP Constitution, Mr Kenney would not be eligible to run to replace himself if he is defeated in a leadership review. Of course, we’ve all seen how little the party’s Constitution seems to mean to its governing board, but still, that seems a barrier. So, he either has to win by hook or by crook, or quit before the vote so he is eligible to run.

  9. I wouldn’t worry too much about Danielle Smith. She always seemed to me an intellectual lightweight, selected by the Old Tory kingmakers in Calgary for being moderately well-known and moderately telegenic.

    Her chances against Brian Jean are poor. He’s well-known and respected among the Tory Faithful, and popular (at least in Fort Mac). Danielle has her Twitter followers, I guess, but she waited a long time to reappear in public. If, repeat IF poor ol’ Jason should lose the leadership review, THEN dear Danielle will try her luck.

    This announcement of her impending “comeback” is actually pretty tentative. She’s not really tossing her hat in the ring. She’s tossed her hat into the air, to see if anyone shoots it full of holes.

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