Danielle Smith, expected to win the United Conservative Party leadership race on Thursday, has neither the temperament nor the right ideology to lead a united party for long.

Former Premier and NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Her ideological views are too far from the mainstream not to frighten voters and worry her own MLAs even for the short time required to bind up the wounds inflicted on the party during the second half of Jason Kenney’s tenure.

While she possesses a certain charm, Ms. Smith lacks the patience to implement her ideology incrementally, as Stephen Harper did over his decade in the Prime Minister’s Office.

She demonstrated this most strikingly in December 2014 when – influenced by Preston Manning, the old Svengali of the Alberta right – she famously led most of her Opposition Wildrose Caucus across the floor of the House to join Jim Prentice’s doomed Progressive Conservatives. 

The resulting outrage from her own supporters made a significant contribution to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in May 2015. 

So while Ms. Smith will now doubtless pivot as soon as possible to trying to portray the UCP as a party of the centre-right – something it will never be under her leadership – her own likely actions are bound to undermine that effort. Sovereignty Act, anyone?

Alberta pollster Janet Brown (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Promise made. Whether it is kept or broken hardly matters! 

So assuming her victory is in the cards on Thursday – not a certainty, but a likelihood – one big question is whether she’ll have enough gas to carry on to election day before the whole increasingly rickety contraption falls apart, or if it will take a victory by Ms. Notley and the NDP to re-expose the big rifts in the party?

A recent poll by Janet Brown Opinion Research suggests the NDP could well win in 2023. Swirling rumours hint at the existence of other polls by partisan organizations that indicate the same thing. It sounds like the UCP wouldn’t do much better, though, with either Travis Toews or Brian Jean at the helm.

Still, UCP insiders may now wish they could go back and change the rules of their leadership election again to ensure a last-minute sprint by another candidate. Alas for them, and maybe for the province, it’s too late. Whatever the outcome is, most UCP members who are going to vote have presumably already done so. The die is cast. 

Blogger Susan Wright (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Either way, the survival in Alberta of a united conservative party – whether or not it’s the one that Jason Kenney managed to create in his own image and then lost control of – appears problematic.

As Susan on the Soapbox blogger Susan Wright asked in an email to her readers yesterday, while indicating she was “draped across her fainting couch anxiously awaiting the outcome” of the vote: “Will Danielle Smith become the next UCP leader? … If yes, how long before the UCP breaks apart?” 

That’s an excellent question. 

Was Saturday’s bizarre flurry of nine feel-good news releases, as unseasonal as Alberta’s hot late-September weather, an augury of a party establishment trying to get it on the record that it really did want to implement policies that match the apparent mood of an increasingly NDP-leaning electorate more closely than the harsh separatist rhetoric by Ms. Smith that dominated the leadership campaign? 

The catastrophic Liz Truss, U.K. premier (Photo: Simon Dawson, No. 10 Downing Street, Open Government Licence).

On a day when zero news releases could be expected most weeks, bar a natural disaster, the government announced funds to stop human trafficking, that a new treatment centre in Red Deer for people with addictions is “almost complete,” a new website dedicated to raising awareness of palliative care, more funds for addiction services in Calgary and Edmonton, funds for a project to reduce homelessness, the beginning of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Day of Older Persons in Alberta, the beginning of Foster and Kinship Caregiver Month, and of Islamic Heritage Month.

All this for a government that has less than a week to exist! 

Surely this suggests the party establishment assembled by Mr. Kenney is preparing – and perhaps hoping – for Ms. Smith’s first few days in power to be about as successful those of Liz Truss, the new British prime minister. 

That is to say, a rolling catastrophe

Meanwhile, the NDP has been having no trouble nominating credible candidates with excellent credentials, often after competitive nomination races. These have included a former vice-president of Calgary Economic Development there, a renewable energy expert here. Even in presumably rock-solid-UCP rural ridings, the NDP is finding candidates with solid resumes and real jobs. 

Preston Manning, maker of not necessarily successful right-wing political matches (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Meanwhile, there have been a few announcements by UCP MLAs that they won’t be seeking re-election – so farewell Michaela Frey in Brooks-Medicine Hat and Richard Gotfried in Calgary-Fish Creek. 

So far, the numbers of departing MLAs have not been unusual, but pay attention to what happens after Thursday.

And count on it, smart political operators in the UCP know that they can’t go on blaming COVID for all their problems forever. 

They can sure blame Ms. Smith, though, if she turns out to be another Liz Truss. 

Jason Kenney has been much criticized for calling the opponents who drove him out of office before his term was over “lunatics.” 

By now the UCP establishment must be thinking the only way to save the party may be by splitting with the lunatics before it’s too late!

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33 Comments

  1. Danielle Smith, like the rest of the UCP lot, simply cannot be trusted to be in power in Alberta. The UCP has already done far too much damage in Alberta, with very pricey shenanigans, cuts to municipalities in Alberta, and their Covid-19 responses ended up costing many people their lives. In addition, the UCP has made anyone on AISH, the retired, our public healthcare system, and our public education system, along with the teaches and the students they teach, suffer. Furthermore, Danielle Smith is a staunch admirer of Ralph Klein, who also did many bad things which never helped Alberta. Ralph Klein’s astronomical reduction of oil royalty rates, and likely natural gas rates, and corporate tax rates, lost Alberta hundreds of billions of dollars. Also, Ralph Klein did many pricey shenanigans, which lost Alberta even more money. Public healthcare was butchered, and it also cost people their lives. The public education system also was underfunded, and had cuts made to it, making things worse. The nurses and teachers that were laid off had to relocate to other places, or were made to retire early. Utility and insurance costs in Alberta spiked. Infrastructure was not properly tended to in Alberta, making a very costly backlog of repairs that still exists to this day. The orphan well issue still lingers in Alberta, and is $260 billion that we do not have to rectify this. Municipalities had their funding cut, compounding problems in Alberta. Peter Lougheed wasn’t joking when he called it a horrific mess, and we will definitely see this again, under Danielle Smith, as well as with the UCP. This is absolute madness to support these things. However, dealing with the issue of human trafficking is one credible thing that is happening, but that’s about it. Everything else isn’t something to get behind.

  2. I suspect many of the UCP MLA’s will fall in line, at least publicly, much like they did when Kenney was leader. However, below the surface, like with Kenney, it will not be so pleasant.

    If she wins, Smith will have to make some choices, whether to keep some prominent ministers or not. If not, expect more retirements and loss of incumbents in some key ridings that will then be even harder for them keep.

    Another challenge is what Kenney will do. The last minute flurry of activity by someone who supposedly only wanted to stay on for the Popes visit is a sign of someone very concerned about his own legacy. It would not be a good thing if it all collapses after he leaves, but it could.

    However, Kenney has consistently been against some of Smith’s initiatives so I think he will continue to be while publicly talking about unity and trying to appear supportive. Based on his leadership review vote, he still has around half the party behind him.

    I see Smith potentially doing with the UCP what she did with the Wildrose party – turning it into a perpetual rural rump that was loud and at times influenced the political agenda, but ultimately was not successful, despite such a great deal of light and noise. Her strength is that she is a great communicator, her weakness is the message she has chosen as a vehicle to return to politics doesn’t really resonate that well with most Albertans.

  3. With apologies to Cook Cleese et al.

    Smith may be “ruthless opportunistic dishonest shallow evasive and unprincipled… but I’m still not sure [s]he’ll make a good leader”

    From “The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer”

  4. Juxtapose the likely coronation of Ms Smith with the feel good messages of those “Move to Alberta….it’s cheap” ads plastered all over Ontario. Sure a box in Okotoks is cheaper than one in Etobicoke or Mississauga but factor in the costs of a single occupant vehicle versus the GO Train and it’s a wash. Not to mention that everyone on the Deerfoot will soon have an Uzi! Sell your Civic and buy a Ram, kids.

  5. I don’t have a fainting couch, so I await news of October 6th and celebrate the unusually warm weather with a traditional UCP activity: shovelling manure. For real. Might as well ready the ground for new growth and new beginnings in spring 2023.

  6. The upcoming October 21-23 NDP Convention in battleground Calgary is going to be critical. Hopefully the party can avoid giving the UCP election fodder by passing any ill-advised policy resolutions. The convention is also an opportunity to introduce to Albertans not only the experienced NDP MLA team, but also all of the diverse and talented newcomers whose names will be appearing on ballots across the province next Spring.

  7. The interesting thing about this is, if Smith gets the nod, she still needs to win a by-election to get a seat in the Legislature. Wouldn’t that be just so much fun if she lost a by-election?
    What’s up with Kenney these days??? No where to be found in a Covid summer and now all of a sudden he woke up and trying to deal with some stuff he totally ignored for the last 3 years?

    1. The by-election issue is even more interesting than that. Doug Schweitzer’s old riding, Calgary Elbow, which is definitely not a safe UCP seat, is vacant. Does she take a chance and run there, or ask one of her MLAs to step aside and have to explain why she didn’t just run in Calgary Elbow?

  8. It didn’t take my conservative friends and I long to figure out what a lunatic Smith was when she was trying to become premier as leader of the Wildrose Party and nothing has changed. She is the same fool she was then , with idiotic ideas that won’t be good for anyone. Once again who are the fools supporting her, seniors of course. But as we know seniors are famous for being easy to fool and they insist on proving it. While the polls show the major support for the UCP still comes from rural Albertans, apparently the major support for reformer Pierre Poilievre came from southern Albertans, what a surprise ? As a beef producer stated , it doesn’t matter what Ralph Klein does to us my friends and relatives still support him. I’ve got fence posts that are smarter than them.

  9. The problem I’ve found with the many libertarians I’ve known over the years is that they tend to live in a fantasy universe of their own creation. Of course, all of them had the means to insulate themselves from the ravages of the real world, be it fat trust funds or happy circumstances that allow them to indulge in their ideological highs. In the case of Danielle Straitjacket, apart from talking about how she would remake the world and tell everyone how to live, I have no idea how she lives. It’s great to be able to make a living off of giving everyone a piece of your mind, but come on! Every time Smith has attempted to do something that even remotely resembled something constructive, everything collapsed into an embarrassing and catastrophic oblivion.

    Smith’s tenure as WRP leader should serve as a pointed warning for the nonsense to come.

    1. But they won’t split the party because they like power more than integrity. The likelihood that this brings the UCP down is as likely as the Republicans breaking with Trump after his election.

      The only ones who might not go along with Smith are Kenney and Brian Jean.
      Kenney not because he is so committed to his ideals but because he has had his ego attacked by the part of the party that Smith represents and he has no viable route back to power (unless he is hoping for his successor to be such a failure that he can make a comeback from the back benches when it all goes to shit because of Smith, much like Boris Johnson surely is fantasizing about doing in the UK. Though I imagine this is not likely because Kenney doesn’t have the ideological flexibility nor ability to shrug off shane that Johnson has. As for Jean, I imagine him keeping his powder dry so that he can pick up the leadership after Smith flames-out, much like he did with the Wild Rose Party back in the day.

      I foresee the next election being like the mid-term elections when Trump was president. Those MLAs that disagree with Danielle Smith will opt not run (see Schweitzer and I’m willing to bet Travis Toewes), others will try to have it both ways by not commiting to either wing (inevitably being attacked by the far-right for being insufficiently supportive of Smith’s unconstitutional ideas. These fence-sitters will also serve as a convenient scapegoat when Smith’s plans blow up in her face).

      A third group will make a dash for the far-right in order to maintain power and position, like Madu and the ever failing Tyler Shandro (is he not the Canadian version of Britain’s Chris “Failing” Grayling?).

  10. I think that the conservative movement in Alberta has already fractured with the Wildrose far right winning control of the UCP. Jason Kenney figured this out during the leadership vote and choose to step down. Although he did manage to stick around another 5 months and lock in a number of policy and spending decisions.(not very democratic) The two Calgary MLAs + Doug Schweitzer probably are not aligned with the new direction and have chosen to abandon ship.

    It really shows the flaws in our current system where a minority of 100K voters with some very fringe views will select the next premier. Danielle Smith has already had two massive failures with the general electorate. Why does she get another shot? Here she is back again promoting a bunch of wacky separatist and anti-vax ideas this time. These viewpoints do not represent mainstream Albertans as polls consistently show.

    I actually think that Jason Kenney could have become premier by leading the old PC party and leaving Brian Jean and the old Wildrose party alone. It would have been more difficult given the vote splitting but he at least would have ended up with manageable government. Maybe it is good that his leadership ended prematurely short. You could argue that he would have imploded anyway as a result of his many other shortcomings. It will interesting to see if a new center-right party emerges and if they are able to attract corporate funding. Most business leaders will definitely not care for the uncertainty caused by policies that purposely destabilize our political institutions.

  11. I think our gracious host is perhaps giving the UCP more credit than they deserve, especially in assuming that any of the lot possess any morals or ethics. These con artists are in in for the power, full stop. For them to dump Smith would mean that they would have to have members with at least a portion of a conscience. My predictions are as follows:

    -Smith wins in a landslide. Entire UPC party rallies behind her and going forward she has 100% party support no matter how batshit crazy she is
    -Riding high on another oil-fueled wave of prosperity, Dear Leader calls an election while the going’s good. Due to election boundary gerrymandering (from successive Con governments), and easily fooled rural rubes, the UPC will form another solid majority. Queen Dani will have her mandate and goodbye to any semblance of Alberta as we remember it.

    Friends, I truly hope that I am wrong and I will gladly eat my words if I am. Unfortunately this is Alberta….’nuff said.

  12. I listened to Janet on 630 ched. Had to turn it off. Obviously an ndp shill, with a penchant for polling with fixed questions. Ds is talking about what Albertans are worried about. The federal government pillaging the Alberta tax payers while destroying their ability to make a living is priority number one for being able to afford healthcare and all of the rest of the government payroll.

    1. Bret Larson: The federal government isn’t responsible for the UCP’s epic ability for screw ups, which are ending up costing Albertans quite a lot of money. Now, we have a mining company from Australia, who is suing the government of Alberta for almost $4 billion, because the UCP didn’t honor their contract. You can’t get any dumber than that. Danielle Smith isn’t going to solve anything, and we will end up paying for her poorly thought out policies. It wouldn’t make sense to go down that road.

      1. The ucp have done a good job. Just ask the nurses who got a raise. Ndp politics would have necessitated a contraction and a pay freeze for the foreseeable future, just like what they gave them the last time the were in power.

    2. That last sentence is a HELL of a sentence, what are you even trying to say? We only have healthcare because of alberta taxpayers ? Alberta does not pay a larger share of federal taxes, everyone pays the same federal rates.

      You should really look into one of those fainting couches, you’re always working yourself up.

      1. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but Alberta pays significantly more income tax per capita than most other provinces.
        The % rate may be the same (duuh) but the absolute amount is higher.
        Also pretty well-known that Alberta receives a lot less from the feds.

        1. Nope. What you’re trying to say is alberta has more wealthy folks per capita than some other provinces, we all pay the same federal rates, where you are living is completely irrelevant to what your tax burden is. There’s just a lot of libertarian assholes in alberta who think they should pay ZERO federal taxes, they’re whiners. Is this a virtue that elevates alberta above the other provinces ?

          What you’re saying is you would prefer if more people in this province made less money and therefore paid less federal tax. I’m sure albertas millionaire class does not agree with you.

          Or maybe you just think alberta millionaires should stiff the feds, cool, what about millionaires in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, should they do it too ?

        1. Again, if there is a higher percentage of wealthy people per capita in this province we will see less entitlements from the federal government, it’s just basic math. I’m not sure how buying a fucking pipeline is the feds “getting in our way” but you are a fountain of nonsense.

    3. No, sir. Take the blinders off. Those are minority UCP views, not the views of all Albertans. Danielle Smith has no intention of representing anyone but her rabid rural base. When she manages to tank the Alberta economy as Liz Truss has done, what then? The UK is learning how costly these mistakes are. Will Smith back down in such an event? Doubt it. Full steam ahead on the Alberta Titanic. If she tries hard enough, she might be able to drive enough urbanites (oops, hated human capital) out of this province to turn it into the rural hinterland of her dreams. If you think the lack of skilled workers is bad now, just give it a few more months. Why would any sane premier want to drive a province into the ground?

      1. You speak for Albertans now? As to urbanites leaving, that is actually foremost on my agenda. Currently my kids are in Toronto making boat loads of money off the liberal gravy train. I don’t think it’s good for them . They should have to work harder and grow alberta. Which is why I am proselytizing for a growth government, rather than a pillaging government like the ndp.

        1. Bret Larson: I think you are mistaken on who did the pillaging. The pretend conservatives and Reformers in Alberta did the pillaging, by going against the great things that Peter Lougheed has done. This has cost us hundreds of billions of dollars. The UCP were ready to lay off hundreds of registered nurses in Alberta. The UCP, as has Ralph Klein, did extreme cuts to healthcare in Alberta, which compounded problems.

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