Danielle Smith in 2014, around the time she led many of her Wildrose Party MLAs across the floor to join the Progressive Conservative Party; disaster followed (Photo: Dave Cournoyer, Creative Commons).

This week politically attentive Albertans began to realize that Danielle Smith really is likely to win the United Conservative Party leadership race and will soon be sworn in as premier of Alberta.

Travis Toews, still in the game, but barely (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

If that gives you a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach, you’re not alone. 

Nevertheless, it’s now sinking in across the political spectrum that the former Wildrose leader who came close to becoming premier in the 2012 provincial election has finally done something right and is about to fulfill her ambition. 

What comes after that, of course, remains a topic of conjecture. 

So far, Ms. Smith has never had a political triumph that wasn’t followed by a political catastrophe. She seems to possess a sort of reverse Midas touch. 

Back in 2012, as is well remembered, Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Alliance Party appeared to be on the brink of success when it was sunk by a sudden storm on a Lake of Fire brewed up by an evangelical candidate who didn’t know when to keep his lips zipped.

Brian Jean, reduced to chopping taxes with a plastic axe in the company of a guy supposedly dressed up like a Norse god (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The revelation enabled Ms. Smith, who failed to condemn Pastor Allan Hunsperger’s words, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

In 2014, Ms. Smith seemed to pound the final nail into the coffin of her political career when as Opposition leader she persuaded most of her caucus to cross the floor to join the Progressive Conservative government of then-premier Jim Prentice.

In the spring of 2015, her career looked dead on arrival when voters in the Highwood Riding she had represented imposed the supreme political penalty for what they saw as the betrayal of her own party. She lost the battle for the PC nomination, knocked off by an Okotoks city councillor

“I am leaving public life,” she texted to a reporter who asked her about her political future on the night of the nomination vote. She followed up by telling the reporter to “piss off” when she dared to ask a follow-up question. A month and a half later, Albertans elected a majority NDP government and sent Rachel Notley to the Premier’s Office.

Now we’re about to have to get used to talking about Premier Danielle Smith. 

You can sense the other UCP leadership campaigns giving up, even former finance minister Travis Toews’s effort, which had legs. 

Labour Minister Kaycee Madu, doing his best to persuade Ms. Smith to keep him in cabinet (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Even poor old Brian Jean, the other former Wildrose leader who more than anyone else was responsible for successfully undermining Premier Jason Kenney’s campaign to survive last spring’s leadership review seems to be fading from the scene.

The MLA for Ft. McMurray-Lac La Biche, elected in March in a by-election on a campaign of getting rid of Mr. Kenney, already appears to have absorbed the lesson that “the hand that wields the knife shall never wear the crown.”

Yesterday he posted an amateurish video on social media pretending to chop taxes with a large plastic Viking axe while yakking with a guy supposedly dressed like a Norse god.

You can see conservative mainstream media – the only kind of mainstream media there is in Alberta – trimming its sails to accommodate the not-very-fresh new breeze. 

On Monday, a well-connected political columnist published a piece suggesting talk of the government melting down or splitting up if Ms. Smith is elected was all just political pish-posh. 

Don’t worry, folks, Ms. Smith will forgive her enemies, hinted Don Braid. The United Conservative Party will remain united. “Recently Smith’s campaign has been privately sending out conciliatory messages to other candidates,” he said soothingly.

Rachel Notley, victor in the 2015 provincial election, Alberta’s once and future premier? (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

On Tuesday, another well-connected political columnist with the same employer reported vague details about an internal poll done for Ms. Smith’s campaign that showed her far ahead among UCP members eligible to vote in the leadership election.

If Rick Bell’s numbers were right, the only question remaining is whether she’ll win on the first ballot or will have to wait for the second or third. 

Details were scarce, and there was some scoffing. But by yesterday there was a low buzz that polls by other campaigns were netting similar results. 

Conservative politicians formerly aligned with other candidates are starting to slip over to Ms. Smith’s side too, trying to repair any damage from their earlier critical comments about the economic harm the frontrunner’s promise of an unconstitutional “Sovereignty Act” will do.

Senior campaigners for other candidates are switching their allegiance to Ms. Smith as well.

And even some of Mr. Kenney’s ministers are obviously thinking about what they’ll have to do to stay in Ms. Smith’s good graces, and her cabinet – Kaycee Madu, c’mon down! 

Yesterday, the same columnist published a fanciful column suggesting Ms. Smith’s separatist legislation will have no impact on business investment.

He trotted out an announcement about an airplane plant planned east of Calgary – obviously a decision made long ago and quite possibly intended as a union-busting strategy – as proof passing the Sovereignty Act, which will supposedly allow Alberta to ignore federal laws, will do no economic harm. 

Wednesday, just in case, Mr. Braid wrote a column suggesting Mr. Toews is still a player. But at this late hour you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. 

Despite knowing she will have been chosen for the job by less than 3.5 per cent of the province’s voters, Ms. Smith is still vowing to press ahead with her Sovereignty Act – or, as Mr. Kenney’s former principal secretary recently called it, the Alberta Suicide Act

Once her selection is official, UCP MLAs, even those who have been very critical of the crazier aspects of her campaign, will close ranks. Count on it, she will have no trouble passing the Sovereignty Act, no matter who said what about it. 

Her post-victory strategy will likely involve trimming her own sails to sound more moderate. 

But it seems likely she’ll nevertheless press on with her Sovereignty schtick and stick to her plans to throw the province’s health care system into chaos through decentralization and a politicized inquisition into its conduct through the pandemic, revenge for to public health measures to control COVID-19 hated by the UCP base. 

Ms. Smith is, after all, both a COVID skeptic and a utopian market fundamentalist. 

She will have lots on money on hand to distract us from the harm she plans.

Still, the potential for a political or economic catastrophe is high. 

Well, you have to give Ms. Smith this much: If she pulls a victory off on Oct. 6, it will rightly be regarded as the most remarkable political recoveries in Alberta history.

Fasten your seatbelts!

Join the Conversation

48 Comments

  1. How foolish would Albertans be to have Danielle Smith as premier of Alberta. Danielle Smith has very wacky and far out ideas that would harm the well being of Albertans. She will privatize healthcare and education in Alberta. The pensions of seniors will be compromised. Those on AISH will likely have their benefits reduced even more, or worse, putting them into more despair. Oil royalty rates, and corporate tax rates would be made even lower, than the abysmal rates the that Ralph Klein, and also the UCP got, losing Alberta billions of more dollars. Danielle Smith would also pick fights with Ottawa, and make Alberta the loser, at a great expense to Albertans. One of Danielle Smith’s political heroes is Ralph Klein. He also sabotaged public healthcare in Alberta, costing people their lives, and got nurses laid off in droves. Doctors were treated disrespectfully under Ralph Klein. Nurses and doctors had to leave Alberta. Many people also nearly lost their lives, or did lose their lives in Alberta, because of what Ralph Klein did to the public healthcare system in Alberta. Teachers were also laid off in droves, and the public education system in Alberta was not looked after properly. Ralph Klein reduced the oil royalty rates of Peter Lougheed to such a miniscule amount, losing a whopping $575 billion. His corporate tax rates also lost Alberta very large sums of money. Ralph Klein also did many very pricey shenanigans, costing Albertans billions more. Utility and insurance costs increased under Ralph Klein. Seniors have certainly been duped by these pretend conservatives and Reformers in Ralph Klein, and in the UCP. They brainwash their younger relatives to support these pretend conservatives and Reformers. Nobody is better off. When I see Danielle Smith, I see another Ralph Klein. Peter Lougheed was warning us about these types, but when Albertans are stubborn, and don’t listen, and will pay the price. There is no sense in that at all.

  2. Ms. Smith has quite a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, so I am not quite sure she will prevail this time. However, she seems to have captured the sentiment of the moment, in at least a significant part of the UCP, so perhaps this time she will.

    Being in power does tend to make a party unite, with perhaps the end of the Kenney era being a glaring exception to the rule. Of course not everyone will be behind her, but those that are not will either go relativelty quietly or stay on and keep their reservations to themselves, at least for a while. If she wins, perhaps Mr. Toews will do the former and Mr. Jean the later.

    In the end her success will depend on whether she can reinvent herself as a more reasonable moderate leader, without alienating all those that supported her because she was not these things. This could be one of the tricky parts, as the loud and powerful right wing of the UCP does not take it well when their leaders do not live up to their previous rhetoric.

    So, there will be a bit of a honeymoon, but it may not last that long. I am not sure she will be any better in the longer run in bridging the divides in the UCP. If not, then it could unravel quickly.

  3. There’s this interesting claim floating around the Twitterverse that proposes that Danielle Straitjacket’s bid to become premier has more to do with grifting more funding from government coffers than Alberta sovereignty.

    There is a movement among certain business entities to see Alberta’s oil and gas royalty program abolished. Yes, abolished. This is a scheme that was in the works from some time, but it crashed hard when, for reasons that are hard to fathom, Kenney, Sonya Savage and others in the UCP government decided to be responsible (for once) and protect the province’s finances from grifting O&G interests. Using the province’s pandemic public health restrictions as their leverage, Smith joined in the orchestration of a campaign by industry insiders to take over the UCP, drive out Kenney and his loyalists, and elevate compliant MLAs, like Kaycee Madu. Once Smith becomes premier, she starts a political war with PMJT and Ottawa that will provide cover for the final and complete takedown of whatever is left of Alberta’s financial infrastructure. This is the part where the lunatics takeover the asylum and break everything.

    A recent attempt at a viral video, where Brian Jean and, get this, Thor the God of Thunder, promote the notion that ALL taxes in Alberta should be eliminated. Among the evil taxes mentioned was the O&G royalty program, which Jean declared was, in reality, a massive transfer of Alberta’s wealth to Ontario and Quebec. Of course, declaring Alberta a tax-free zone would be hilarious and chaotic, but it establishes nicely the zany lengths one has to go to get any kind of attention in this insane UCP leadership race.

  4. An airplane factory? Next to urban commuter cars aren’t aircraft the single biggest and most wasteful use of fossil fuels and source of greenhouse gas emissions going? And you urbans want farmers to cut back on fertilizer to grow less food?
    While the rest of the world is investing in battery factories, Dani and the UCP continue court dead-end losers. They obviously enjoy the company of their own kind. I don’t want a seat-belt Dave, I want a parachute.

  5. Just because a person can run for office doesn’t mean they should. Case in point, Donald Trump,arguably the worst President in History. I heard Jason Kenney crowing about the planned new aircraft plant. He could’nt control his enthusiasm. It was embarrasing to listen to his quavering voice and his mind seemed to be racing 2 or 3 sentences ahead.Jobs,jobs,jobs…good paying jobs. It was vindication. It was, it seemed Jason T. Kenney’s finest moment.

  6. I hope she wins. Quebec does WHATEVER IT WANTS and we deserve the same. Notley had 4 years to fix things (including AHS) and she couldn’t pull it off. Kenney couldn’t either, if he even tried. I say give Smith a chance. If she fixes things, hooray, if not, exile her like Canada is about to do to Trudeau. I’d rather 4 terrible Smith years over the decade we’ve had with Trudeau. I mean, if it wasn’t for Trudeau’s misuse of the Emergencies Act, Smith would have no chance.

    1. Ah, yes, Québec envy, always rampant in Oilbertastan. It actually conceals — poorly — a deep streak of anti-French bigotry that dates back to the initial Pearson-era B&B Commission and resentment of French on boxes of corn flakes.

      Let’s be clear: Québec existed long before Canada, first as New France, then as the post-conquest British colony of Lower Canada, later renamed Canada East. Québec was one of the four founding provinces of Confederation, a federal union entered into in response to an increasingly assertive United States as it emerged from the trauma of the Civil War. The territory we now call Alberta was occupied only by Indigenous peoples and fur traders; much of it was then part of Rupert’s Land, de facto ruled by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

      Québec has always sought more autonomy within Canada out of a desire to protect its unique — in the Western Hemisphere at any rate — island of French society & culture surrounded by a sea of English. After the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s unshackled it from the stultifying rule of the Roman Catholic Church, it began a wave of progressive political and cultural reform that left the rest of Canada in the dust. Separatism emerged out of a sense that it could not achieve its aspirations as a part of Canada. However, in the decades since, what Quebec has learned is that, in fact, it can and it has, and much of Canada has rolled along behind it and at times even caught up.

      From secularizing public education to marriage equality to affordable public child care to autonomy at the end of life, Québec has always led the way. And the unique aspects of Québec’s economy and governance, such as its own income tax system and its own pension plan, are part of the “maîtres chez nous” (masters in our own house) strategy of the 1960s and 1979s

      Alberta does not have that unique culture. Alberta separatism is really just a fit of pique, the kind of “I don’t like the score, so I won’t play the game anymore” tantrum we’d expect from a spoiled, rich, only child. Albertans think the only government in Ottawa that can have any legitimacy is a conservative one, regardless of what the rest of the country’s electorate thinks. Anytime the voters of Canada don’t return a conservative majority, Alberta clenches its fists, starts to stomp its feet, and holds its breath until it turns even bluer than it already is. That’s not a “distinct society” or a ”nation within a nation”, it’s just naked entitlement and bad sportsmanship.

      1. Accurately said, Jerry. Since I am in a reminiscing mood tonight, you have reminded of a perpetually dissatisfied Alberta relative of mine who complained constantly through his life about the Bi & Bi Commission, wondering aloud at family dinners why the people of Quebec couldn’t just be reasonable and speak English like everyone else in the world. Or, on the same theme, the doubtless apocryphal Canadian Press report that quoted a farmer south of High River, spotted by a reporter assigned the task of getting the Alberta view of the B&B Commission, who delivered exactly what the story required: “Why, Sir, I reckon that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for Canada too!” DJC

        1. Still triggered that I got called anti-French, despite being VERY French, simply for saying the province who banned religious symbols gets to do as they please. But I’m the problem. I’m “anti-French”……… your side has a name-calling problem. Nice to see your true colours on display.

        2. Anti-French sentiment in Western Canada goes back much further than the B&B Commission (1963-69). Candace Savage has done a great deal to unearth the rampant bigotry against French Canadians in Saskatchewan in the 1920s in her excellent book *Strangers in the House: A Prairie Story of Bigotry and Belonging* and a related research project. See https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/not-easy-being-french-in-saskatchewan-author-takes-on-history-of-french-english-relations-in-sask-1.5079657

        1. Oh I suspect you’re the kind of Albertan who hates Quebec because of entitlements, not because of the language they speak. There’s also plenty of anglicized folks with French names out here in the west; you aren’t special.

          Also LOL at you doxing yourself, pride goeth…

      2. Your spot on about the deep and inexhaustible well of anti-French sentiment in Alberta. I think you’re missing something about the unique political culture which Alberta has; it’s just the origins are shameful. The origins are confederate renegades coming up the cowboy Trail from the south accompanied — I believe —
        by Mormons fleeing persecution for polygamy.
        I’m not sure where the rural fundamentalists came from but probably from the states as well, would be my guess.

      3. I get where this is coming from and I fully agree that Albertan “Separatism” is a bunch of deranged toddlers holding their breath and stomping their feet but this take strikes me as incomplete at best. The history you mention is real, but I see a lot of parallels between intolerance in Quebec and Alberta.

        Quebec hasn’t made it illegal to speak English but it very much seems they would if they could. Quebec has been attempting to drive out non-white/non-Quebecois citizens for years if not decades, and has developed tendencies that can most accurately be described as Fascistic. Quebec claims to value “secularism” when it allows them to discriminate against female Muslims, but Quebec also has a cross on their flag, and I am not aware of a single person who lost their job for wearing their crucifix. It is explicitly illegal to have signs up in English in Quebec, by contrast, Edmonton has an area where street and business signs are in French.

    2. Give her a shot, Alberta sucks anyway Did you honestly think Notley could fix in only 4 years what these fools created in 25? I bet you expected her to do it without spending any money either like the rest of the Reform Party fools didn’t you? Apparently you haven’t been talking to any of our lawyers, accountants , oilmen, bankers or former MLAs who aren’t that stupid. They know it couldn’t be done and they knew Notley inherited a horrible mess and it can’t be fixed without spending a lot of money. Road workers tell us our road repairs could cost another $20 billion alone and then there is the $260 billion orphan well clean up mess these reformers dumped in our laps or weren’t you listening?

    3. One thing I think we can all learn from Quebec is the folly of cutting one’s own nose off to spite one’s face. The thing is, your face may or may not be spited at all, but your nose is gone.

      If and when the people of Alberta decide to do a bunch of stupid self-destructive nonsense, it will be the people of Alberta who primarily experience the consequences.

  7. Thanks for another great column, David.

    During the UCP’s initial rise to power it was obvious that big money was involved. We saw lots of billboards, and even full page ads replacing the covers of our daily newspapers. I have wondered where the big money is during what appears to be Danielle Smith’s development of UCP 2.0. Is Ms. Smith, and her ideas, economic suicide as Jason Kenney (truth is optional) suggests, or is Kenney just blowing smoke?

    Long of the tooth political observers will remember that Danielle Smith’s version of the Wildrose Party was largely motivated by Ed Stelmach’s review of the royalties the Alberta government collected from the oil industry. At the time, then, it is pretty safe to say Ms. Smith was an ally of the oil industry. Is she still? Most of the promises I am aware of her making seem targeted at the same kind of base she engaged with on her radio show, but perhaps it is possible she has had backroom conversations with industry leaders.

    One business group that is decidedly concerned about Danielle Smith’s leadership is the PAC Shaping Alberta’s Future, who have been running ads badmouthing Ms. Smith, as well as publishing articles on their website.

    https://shapingalberta.com/#commentary

    Assuming Ms. Smith does prevail on the 6th of October, it will be interesting to see what Shaping Alberta’s Future has to say during the election campaign.

  8. And who is she fooling , mindless seniors of course. They aren’t smart enough to understand how dangerous she is , nor do they give a damn about her track record. I think Notley will have a ball making her look really stupid. It’s likely the best thing that could happen for Notley.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: It will be interesting to watch Rachel Notley defeat anyone who is chosen as UCP leader in the next provincial election debate. Postmedia columnists will try their darndest to make Rachel Notley look bad, and make the UCP look good, but that’s going to backfire. It’s also not surprising how those commenting in The Sun newspapers, on the Calgary Herald newspapers, and on The National Post, still try to defend the UCP. When they are proven wrong, or get challenged, all they can do is hurl childish insults.

  9. This feels like that moment before Donald Trump was elected.

    Also: “Oil Prices Tumble to Their Lowest Level Since January” – The New York Times.

  10. I was going to cry out for reasonable conservatives to do some independent thinking . Then i remembered they were incapable of any thinking at all.
    Everyone of them can drag you down to a bumper sticker level of understanding and then beat you with repetition.
    Fun times.

  11. I should think Rachel Notley’s NDP is elated by this news —if it comes to fruition and the fuming bozo volcano is pitted against the formidable former Premier of Alberta. (Danielle would do well not to tell Rachel that “math is hard” because she’s apt to agree—at least regarding the math of the Alberta Sovereignty Act—hard to believe, that is.)

  12. And another of my brilliant musings…

    Danielle Straitjacket has no intention of seeking elected office. That’s right. Smith has every intention of remaining a premier without a seat in the Leg.

    First off, why bother? It’s not like she has any interest or respect for public offices. Recall her tenures as school board member and MLA to see that she would rather trash and burn than contribute anything worthwhile.

    So, she will be a premier elected only by her party and no one else. Who becomes the Deputy-Premier then? Kaycee Madu, of course.

  13. I’m sure everyone will have a bit of a laugh, regardless of your political stripes, of the image of a certain MLA from the Rocky Mountain House area following the Smith campaign in his truck begging to endorse her. Apparently, as of Friday evening, he did not get his wish.

  14. This is crazy. Lots of lefty’s running away with their fear and loathing. Give me a break. Albertan’s have had it with the political bs from the media and the left. Seriously, go talk to people up North and explain how Notley, Trudeau and even Kenney have fixed the problems. Danielle is merely calling a spade a spade. Read her sovereignty act and tell me where it is wrong. As Kenny Rogers famously sang “sometimes you have to fight to be a man”. Thanks Danielle for showing it is time to fight and to stop this woke bs. Let’s fix this! We need someone committed to to Alberta and I hope she wins!

    1. “Sometimes you have to fight to be a man.” There’s a great scene in The Big Lebowski where the main character is asked “what it takes to be a man” and basically rolls his eyes and says “being born with testicles, can we please talk about something interesting or relevant?”

      The “lefty’s” you are so upset with are centrists. Leftists do not support Trudeau or Notley, leftists oppose capitalism and neither Trudeau or Notley are going to do away with capitalism. Frankly, even Social Democrats (they are as far “left” as you are allowed to be if you want to be platformed in the media) who accept capitalism, but want to use democracy to vote for specific socialist policies, only support those two strategically, in the absence of better alternatives, and not because they are “preferred choices”. Leftists are also almost completely shut out of the media fyi, when’s the last time you read an article anywhere that raised the idea that capitalism is bad and should be stopped? No disrespect intended, just trying to give you some context that might help you shake some of Tucker Carlson’s talking points. Just because Sean Hannity is far right and disagrees with someone, does not mean the person he is disagreeing with is from the far left.

      Also I genuinely pity anyone whose grasp of current events allows them to think Danielle Freaking Smith, of all people, is committed to Alberta. She’s kind of like a genderbent Pierre Poilievre, or a Canadian Sarah Palin.

    2. Stephen, “look up north” ?, that is some serious “70% Colombian gold ” talk,
      ……lefty’s, woke, and the committed to, should be committed in….IMHO …..and what’s wrong with Alberta ‘s sovereignty act.?? ….borders..

    3. It’s low-information voters like you, Stephen, that allow shysters and crankpots like Smith to get into high office to begin with. You’re probably too naive to know that you are being manipulated by her but hey, you can lead a horse to water and all that….

  15. Neil, Northern, Firth— if you Google- Stephen P…I wasn’t kidding about the 70% Colombian gold/oil …but then I could be totally wrong about the name, just a coincidence…‍♀️

    1. lol just googled it and had a laugh. Just guessing but I doubt a real CEO would post under their actual name, especially in the era of consumers financially punishing companies for taking stances they disagree with. Just an inference of course.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.