The woman who replaces Jason Kenney as premier and leads the United Conservative Party Government into the next Alberta provincial election needs to be mindful of the fact she won’t have a mandate to implement radical change before the next general election.

Jason Kenney, in costume as usual, as he heads for the exit (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

I’m being tendentious putting it this way, of course. Brian Jean or Travis Toews could still pull off a win. If they do, the same advice applies to the boys.

Still, it seems quite possible, even likely, that the UCP leadership race could come down to a contest between former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, the candidate with the wildest and most dangerous ideas, and former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz, the candidate the party’s remaining moderate members will conclude is the most likely to succeed against NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

Indeed, when people wonder who the Kamikaze candidate is in this race – a reference to the role Jeff Callaway played in 2017 to help Mr. Kenney cheat Mr. Jean out of an honest loss in the first UCP leadership election – I’m inclined to think it’s more likely Messrs. Jean and Toews will end up playing that role for Ms. Schulz.

That is, they’ll be forced to attack Ms. Smith’s most extreme ideas, popular with the UCP base, in ways that allow Ms. Schulz to stay close to the high road without alienating too many Conservatives in either wing of the party. 

There’s a smidgeon of evidence for this in the recent Mainstreet poll of how likely the current three leading UCP leadership candidates are to beat Ms. Notley, the Opposition NDP leader and former premier the poll showed leading all possible UCP candidates, although by margins too thin to make an NDP victory a sure thing.

UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The poll – which was in the field last weekend asking Albertans how the UCP led by Ms. Smith, Mr. Toews, or Mr. Jean would fare against Ms. Notley’s NDP – shows the NDP in the lead with between 37 and 38 per cent support regardless of which of the current Big Three candidates becomes UCP leader. 

It suggests the UCP would do the best at closing the gap with the NDP with Ms. Smith at the helm rather than Mr. Toews or Mr. Jean – with 33-per-cent support compared 29 per cent under Mr. Toews and 26 per cent with Mr. Jean. 

To be clear, it also seems to suggest Ms. Schulz is barely registering with voters at the moment, but shows the party doing better with none-of-the-above as leader than any of the Smith-Toews-Jean trio – a gap of only four points. 

With the Conservatives’ traditional structural advantage in rural ridings, that’s like the fine print on your car’s side mirrors – closer than it appears. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Smith and Ms. Schulz are moving in dramatically different directions in the policies they advocate. 

UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Smith has not only adopted Mr. Kenney’s bad habit of picking fights with everyone at the same time, she’s doubling down on it. 

Disagree with a federal law? She vows to forget about the rule of law and actively try to obstruct enforcement of federal laws she disagrees with. 

She wants to break up Alberta Health Services, whose leaders she accuses of secretly plotting to sabotage Mr. Kenney’s COVID policies, a guaranteed recipe for even more chaos in health care.

In her broadcast career she was a vocal proponent of quack cures for COVID. Now she advocates running the health care system like a ride-sharing service and wants to give cash to voters to spend on naturopathic remedies and acupuncture.

She wants to bust up public education and touts the idea of “micro-schools,” which she says it would be OK for teachers to run out of their homes. 

She told a journalist last week she has 17 pages of policies she wants to implement when she becomes premier – most of which her advisors have told her not to talk about. 

Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Meanwhile, Ms. Schulz put out a press release on Thursday advocating a plan she says will improve access to health care for Albertans by focusing on training and recruitment of doctors and nurses. 

There’s not a lot that’s new in Ms. Schulz’s proposals, some of them are more aspirational than practical, and a few points smack of the incremental privatization we’ve seen under past Conservative governments  – but it does demonstrate she’s looking in the right places to fix health care, like emphasizing recruiting doctors and nurses instead of fighting with them.

In a recent column by Calgary Herald political commentator Don Braid, Ms. Schulz called Ms. Smith’s platform “a car crash waiting to happen.”

“It would get the NDP elected in 2023, no question,” she said. (Some of us, naturally, would think that’s a pretty good idea.) She went on to observe of the UCP that “too many people see us as arrogant, entitled, out of touch, and not listening to regular Albertans, or even our own party members” – a statement that rings true because it is true. 

Mr. Braid’s column read like a paean to Ms. Schulz. But remember, the man’s a political commentator with a very long history of sniffing out trends before they’re apparent to almost anyone else, and getting on the right bandwagons when most of us didn’t even know there was a bandwagon there.

Which gets us back to where we started: Whoever wins the UCP leadership race isn’t going to have a mandate to implement new policies, let alone 17 pages of separatist and market fundamentalist craziness, without a general election. 

Naturally, some bright spark is bound to point out that whoever wins and gets sworn in as premier does have a mandate because the UCP under Mr. Kenney won a strong majority in 2019 and holds it still.

This is true enough in a technical sense, although hardly democratically valid in a system we Canadians have consciously presidentialized for decades in slavish imitation of our American next-door neighbours.

The reality in 2022 everywhere in Canada is that it is party leaders most people are voting for in their ridings even as they choose the name of their local candidate. A party with a new leader morally and practically needs a new mandate before making big changes. 

So all Albertans need to have the chance to decide which woman is going to get to lead this province for the next four years – Ms. Notley, or the new UCP leader. 

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21 Comments

  1. Of course, the candidate with the most crazy in their tank will win. So, let the bidding begin …

    Since Danielle Straitjack has decided that, with the bizarre legislative agenda he intends to pursue, it will be Alberta Uber Alles all the time. Now that naturopathy and faith-healing are likely to be fully funded under Smith’s proposed public healthcare model, it will only be a matter of time before the stupid masquerading as policy will even more support and ideas.

    Here’s one … since the Second Amendment has served the US so well (because everyone is armed, free, and everyone has stopped dying) Ginger Kenney or Mr. Toes will come up with something equally attractive to the rural/FreeDUMB crowd. How about something like the ‘Alberta Militia Act’? It’s a great idea. All it means is that every resident of Alberta is officially deputized as a member of this militia and MUST carry a fire arm at all times. And in regard to firearms, there will be something equally kooky called the ‘Alberta Self-Defence Asset Program’. Under this program, every firearm available to humanity will be imported into Alberta for use by deputized militia (everyone) via something called the Red State Corridor. No one is really sure what any of this is or how it will work, but details are details and whatever.

    Now that the right-hand lane as been pushed that much further toward the ditch, it should be pretty wild to see how many people in Alberta don’t mind being moderates…or shudder…liberals.

    In the end, the only thing that will separate Smith from Jean and Toes will her uterus and ovaries, and it’s well-known having that sort of anatomy gets you disqualified from leadership in Alberta.

  2. The question is do Albertans want more pretend Conservatives, and Reformers inflicting serious damage to Alberta, and to Albertans? Either financially, due to continuing to do the most priciest shenanigans, which cost Alberta billions of dollars, having a disregard for the environment, including with open pit coal mining in the Rockies, with bad healthcare decisions, including allowing private for profit healthcare, and mismangement of Covid-19 and omicron viruses, from higher municipal property taxes, caused by improper corporate tax rates, having substandard oil royalty rates, neglected public services, and infrastructure, and higher insurance and utility costs? Or do we want a premier who was doing what Peter Lougheed was doing, by collecting the proper oil royalty rates, and corporate taxes, caring about the environment, looking after Albertans equally, and taking proper care of infrastructure and public services in Alberta? If it’s the latter, then Rachel Notley is the right choice.

  3. Well first UCP members will decide on who is our next Premier and then Albertans will make their decision. We and pollsters should not forget these are two different groups.

    The recent poll of UCP supporters was interesting with Ms. Smith and Mr. Jean neck and neck, Mr. Toews in third and almost everyone else barely registering. Of course no one is anywhere close to getting majority support, so it will come down to everyone’s second choice and that is still a bit of a mystery.

    I could be wrong, but personally I don’t think Ms Smith will be, nor will Mr. Toews despite his great effort to be innocuous and a bunch are just too far back to win. So that leaves just a few, and one of them as Mr. Braid has noticed, is Ms. Schulz.

    I suspect in a general election Ms Schulz could be a more formidable opponent than Ms Smith, who is once again rediscovering her rural roots on her anger 2022 tour. However, Ms Schulz is relatively unknown at this point. Winning the leadership could be the easy part. If she wins the leadership she will face a lot more scrutiny after that.

  4. When will Jason Kenney, the once and future eminence grise of Alberta politics, fade off into the sunset, free to cosplay in whatever Village People outfit he desires? If that ever happens (I’m not ruling out an undemocratic “January 6th” seizure of the next premiership yet), may I suggest a line from “YMCA” as his parting quote? Better yet, he could choose all of them. I hardly think “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” fits.

    Speaking of the UCP leadership race, I understand a big brawl broke out at Disney World recently. Some people were banned for life from entering the park. Interesting.

  5. Ahh, what a nice way to start a beautiful summer Sun’s Day: politics from Venus rather than the same old from Mars—patience, diligence, generosity, devotion…

    …then, as the first cuppa reawakens the brittleness of our collective condition, the hardline chiaroscuro of the cat-fight starts un-mirthing and the bow of feminine virtues fades from halo to dog, realizing that, as Alberta’s partisan jenny spins the twine of fate into taught yarn, among the women involved in this service is a spectrum from relatively wise to absolutely batshit crazy.

    Time for a second cuppa before heading off to practice in our Island’s only C&W band? Dare I ponder the scenario cast here on the rising curtain of another Sun’s Day, there being only so much time? Well, maybe a short one…for the “Lost Highway”…

    Now, I don’t know if “Kamikaze” properly appends to women (I’d have to look up the etymology of eponymous wind), but ‘stalking horse’ does come to mind when one of the UCP candidates—presumably a possible challenger for the premiership of the great province of Alberta in the fast approaching ‘soon’—garners so much attention (I’m reticent to say committed support) with such hyper-orbital rhetoric and truly absurd proposals (some in a magician’s top hat, no less) which are altogether and literally preposterous. A stalking horse, in political contest, is of course deployed to make another candidate run better.

    Could than be the intent of the lunar-lander Danielle Smith’s platform with respect Rebecca Schulz’s—to make the latter appear more sensible by comparison? If so, I should think it’s amight overstated, but that, of course, is the jam the UCP has jarred itself into.

    NDP Loyal Opposition leader and former Premier Rachel Notley does not, of course, have to run this kind of dopey, crooked, hyped-up horse race to qualify for the general sweepstakes—she’s ready and well-groomed for whenever it happens. The UCP’s main problem now (all a matter of sortition amongst so many) is the effect of exhaustion, first past the finishing post of this party race, as ‘t were, since, as we’re reminded, they ain’t much time betwixt the two campaigns. And Ms Notley doesn’t need a stalking horse who, for the UCP, risks staining the party worse ‘n Ms Schulz could scrub out before saddling that dodgy blanket up.

    But it’s a great way to start the day. Yippee Ki-Yo Ki-Yay

  6. IMO the two of the biggest reasons Trash Can Dani seems ascendant are the imported (American) mindset of politics as a sports team, what you really care about is your team winning, the policies are almost immaterial, and thus never closely examined. Very much like the presidentialization, but very much a new phenomenon as the internet has pulled a whole bunch of folks into following what they would describe as politics, but is closer to brainwashing. It’s one of the main reasons why the far right has gone completely bonkers with the hate speech and violence, and there’s plenty of people north of the 49th that want to join in. It’s not really Trump, but it’s definitely the current he plugged into.

    The other reason is really just ignorance. They want the ability to oppress and attack their (perceived) cultural enemies, and they do believe somehow that electing someone like Trash Can Danilo a four year mandate is all they need to do to completely remake the country. It’s magical thinking entirely based out of having no idea how any of these institutions work, the power they wield, or the history behind them. When you don’t know what is impossible, a huckster like Trash Can Dani can tell you what you want to hear and it sounds pretty great. Until you realize she’s lying , doped up on her own hubris again, and COMPLETELY incapable of self sabotage.

    What’s going to be interesting is to see how much further this struggle between the reactionary and “moderate” (as if you can call any of them that) UCP factions splits the right in Alberta even further.

    Times like this I wonder what parties SOUTH of the 49 are up to

  7. I expect Danielle Smith to crash and burn prior to October. Sooner or later many of her current UCP supporters will realize that she is selling nothing more than snake oil.

    I do not think that Brian Jean is as popular as it appears. Especially with the Kenney establishment crowd. Does he have enough support or will he gain enough support to get him over the line. I doubt it.

    Travis Toews….well he will be the darling of the UCP exec and was hand chosen by Kenney to keep the status quo for the boys. But will he have enough votes to make it? I do not think so. Besides, he was a key part of an administration that proved itself to be a collective abject failure. Anyone with a shred of integrity would have resigned.

    So…perhaps Ms. Shulz will be recognized as the only neutral one who could go up the middle and grab the gold. But anyone who thinks she is not part of the establishment is smoking BC bud.

    It could end up being a vote for the person who has the least amount of baggage, is disliked the least by the majority of voters, or the one they dislike the least.

    Either way….not a very promising bunch of candidates. Says a lot about the state of Team UCP.

    Lelah

  8. As much as Rebecca Schultz shows that she is likely the most intelligent of the bunch she was only able to attract 30 people to her rally in her own constituency in Medicine Hat. I think it’s hilarious how the ignorant seniors have bought into Danielle Smith’s stupid lies . They are so stupid they haven’t a clue as to what her stupid ideas would do to them. As a lawyer friend used to say “I wonder what its like to be that stupid”. It doesn’t matter how many facts you show them proving that you are right and they are wrong they refuse to believe it and think they are a lot smarter than the rest of us. They still believe the lie that Notley put us in financial ruin. When you ask them how they would have built 55 schools we were short of, like Notley did, without spending any money they have no answer. I can show them four in my area of Edmonton. You can bet she is going to have spend a lot more if we are ever going to get our roads repaired. These pot holes are still destroying our vehicles. Of course they would rather we didn’t mention the orphan well cleanup mess that they helped these fake conservatives create, starting with their hero Ralph Klein.

  9. Has anyone noticed Conservatives have a strange habit of electing female leaders and then losing power? Rita Johnson, Kim Campbell and rather more slowly Christie Clarke come to mind. Just saying. At any rate, could this be a possibility? And no I don’t know why this appears to be so.

    1. It’s not limited to Conservatives or political parties. Corporations in desperate trouble sometimes elect female CEOs. The rationalization seems to be, “We’re in so much trouble, how can it hurt?”

      Then the company collapses and the woman in charge gets the blame. The truth is, by that time nobody can save the damaged organization.

      I can’t quote an example (I’ve seen at least one analysis in the Guardian) but the tendency has been described before.

    2. Unfortunately for BC, Mrs. Clark was re-elected. She was the province’s problem from 2011-2017.

      Still absolutely blows my mind that the federal Liberals don’t seem to think that having a conservative party named the BC Liberal party is bad for their brand.

    3. Your question risks looking prepossessed of the generality that the same might be said of all parties—at least historically. It’s the inference that’s dodgy: that it’s always the case when a party elects a women leader, it is fated to lose because of her gender.

      I think it safer (especially convinced after consulting this arcaneness with my politically experienced and engaged partner—she is possessed of a certain strength of character) to ask the question more generically: is it true that care-taker, clean-up premiers tend to lose power—like Christy Clarke (after she won a single incumbency as BC premier), or Jim Prentice, or Ontario’s Ernie Yves, or BC’s Ujjal Dosanjh?

  10. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So I guess ds’s ideas are dangerous, dangerous to those who have benefited from the current majoritarian mess.

  11. Couple quick thoughts:
    When your campaign advisors are telling you not to talk about the policy changes you want to implement, that should indicate they think your policies will be unpopular, ineffective, insane and/or unworkable.

    “too many people see us as arrogant, entitled, out of touch, and not listening to regular Albertans, or even our own party members.” Correct but incomplete quote from, apparently, the closest thing left to a grown-up in the UCP party. It should also include the terms “immoral, dangerous, lunatic, christofacists.” I get that would require a level of honesty I haven’t seen from a Conservative since…. hmmm… Mulroney? At least we got to vote on whether to have free trade or not, and he tried to deal with real facts, and had a coherent ideology he was willing to say out loud in public. Ironic when a guy immortalized as Lyin Brian is the most honest Conservative leader I have ever seen. (If you want to jump to Harper’s defense don’t bother, he obsessively hid his values and agendas from Canadians because he correctly knew we wouldn’t vote for him if he said the quiet part out loud.)

  12. My nightmare…

    Pierre Poilievre as Prime Minister and Danielle Smith as Premier.

    Emigration might be the only alternative.

  13. Just when you think you have heard it all it gets a lot more stupid. The idiotic comments made by Smith about cancer has really got people exited including me. My daughter just had a colon cancer surgery. I lost my mother to cancer and my wife lost her father . Brian Jean is really attacking her because he lost a son, but forgets that he was such a great liar as leader of the Wildrose Party Albertans decided to take a chance on voting for Jason Kenney as leader of the UCP instead of him, but apparently he learned nothing from it. Maybe he thinks he is Donald Trump and the election was stolen from him and we should feel sorry for him. I think he should have been smart enough to save his $150,000. I still can’t get the former MLAs from the Lougheed era , out of my head , warning me about these reformers and boy were they right. You can’t trust any of them and they continue to prove it. Let’s hope these ignorant seniors will finally wake up but I doubt it.

  14. “She wants to break up Alberta Health Services” … well, as a matter of fact, wasn’t this a campaign plank for the Wildrose not too long ago? I can’t recall now whether that was the 2012 or 2015 election, but it most definitely was.

    Of course, when AHS was first created — on the back of a napkin by then Health Minister (now Calgary MP) Ron Leipert — many of us both inside and outside the health care system were highly critical of that move. None of the stated goals for that merger were unachievable with the previous Regional Health Authorities system, and those old Health Regions were far more responsive to local communities than AHS is.

    But, as many — including our host — have said, the last thing our health care system needs right now is chaos, and each and every restructuring since Ralph Klein set up the initial 17 Regional Health Authorities back in the mid-90s has been followed by a year to 18 months of chaos and indecision. So leaving AHS is it is, is probably the least of a number of possible evils that could befall or be foisted upon the system.

    1. As usual, Jerry is quite right. As it happens in this case, so am I. At the time the health regions were rolled into Alberta Health Services, there was widespread concern that the AHS was too big to respond to regional needs. What Ms. Smith proposed in 2012, however, was rolling back health care governance beyond the 17 and then nine health regions created by the Klein Government to hundreds of individual hospital boards. This would have been an utter disaster – whether that was desired maliciously to create the conditions for privatization, from ideological purblindness, or from simple stupidity and ignorance of the complexity of health care in Alberta. That said, while the AHS experiment took time to work out the bugs, it has worked better than imagined when Ed Stelmach implemented the amalgamation in 2008 and 2009, as the response to the pandemic clearly shows. The procurement of PPE in particular would not have been possible at the scale and speed managed by AHS had there been more than 100 hospital boards trying to compete with national entities for limited supplies. That said, that might not have mattered to Ms. Smith, because it sounds very much as if she doesn’t believe COVID-19 is a real disease anyway. As to her present intentions, her comments at her July 14 rally in Airdrie made it quite clear still thinks it would be a good idea to go back to 100+ local hospital boards. As another commenter here has noted, almost everything Ms. Smith touches she destroys. We don’t need her to destroy health care in Alberta. DJC

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