Premier Danielle Smith as she was sworn in this morning (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

When Danielle Smith was sworn in this morning as Alberta’s still-unelected United Conservative Party premier, there can be no doubt she has executed a remarkable comeback.

NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But has one remarkable comeback set the stage for another? 

Way back, in 2010, I predicted in this space that Ms. Smith was one of two talented young women politicians who had an opportunity “to remake Alberta’s political history.”

Ms. Smith had become leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party seven months earlier and hadn’t yet won a seat in the Legislature. 

The other candidate to make history was a young lawyer serving her first term as a New Democrat MLA. 

Her name: Rachel Notley.

Ms. Smith in 2008 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“The most engaging and promising politicians in Alberta today are two women at opposite ends of the political spectrum,” I wrote in April that year. “If they both succeed, they will make Alberta politics more interesting than those of any other province in Canada.”

Here we are, a dozen years later. Who can argue with that conclusion? 

Ms. Notley has won and lost the Premier’s Office and is fighting hard to win it back. Ms. Smith has survived an epic political disaster of her own making is about to move into the same office. 

And they are about to face off for a high-stakes round. 

Ms. Smith has only a few months to ensure today’s events are not the beginning of the end for her.

Ms. Notley in 2008 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Either the United Conservative Party under Ms. Smith, still showing signs of disunity after a grinding leadership campaign, or the disciplined and energized NDP led by Ms. Notley, could form the government in the general election expected next year. 

It’s going to be an interesting election campaign, to say the least, and it starts now.

As leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party, Ms. Smith came close to becoming premier in the 2012 provincial election before her party was sunk in the final days 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.

In the weeks before the election, Alberta’s right-wing mainstream media had all but campaigned openly for Ms. Smith against premier Alison Redford. 

But on election night, smoke from the Lake of Fire still lingering, Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservatives were re-elected with a comfortable majority.

Ms. Smith’s party captured only 17 seats with 34 per cent of the popular vote. 

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

Ms. Smith finally had a seat in the Legislature though, and as leader of the Opposition was not in a bad place to make the case she was a suitable premier in waiting. 

But Ms. Redford’s premiership disintegrated too quickly for Ms. Smith to have a chance to challenge her in another election. 

Instead it looked as if she would have to face Jim Prentice, a polished federal Conservative brought in to save the party who was widely expected to sweep to victory in 2016.

Instead of rolling the dice on an election, Ms. Smith – pressed by Preston Manning to patch up the Wildrose-PC rift on the right to ensure the survival of the four-decade old PC dynasty and obviously in doubt of her own chances of defeating Mr. Prentice – tried another gamble.

On Dec. 17, 2014, she led eight members of her Wildrose Caucus across the floor of the House to join the PCs. A couple had already crossed. 

This turned out to be a disaster for Alberta conservatives of all stripes. Not only did a diminished Wildrose Caucus survive, but Ms. Smith was viewed as a traitor, disdained by the Wildrose base.

The next spring, Mr. Prentice foolishly called an early election. More Conservative voters were annoyed, some of them enough not to bother voting. 

Conservative operative Ken Boessenkool (Photo: Ken Boessenkool).

In March 2015, Ms. Smith lost the battle for the PC nomination in her own riding. She was knocked off by a local city councillor. 

“I am leaving public life,” she texted that evening to a reporter who asked her about her political future. She followed up by bitterly telling the reporter to “piss off” when she asked another question. 

A month and a half later, possibly even to the astonishment of the NDP, which had entered the campaign hoping to become the official Opposition, Albertans elected a majority NDP government and sent Rachel Notley to the Premier’s Office.

Since then we’ve seen former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney come and go – first to reunite the right in the “United Conservative Party” and win a thumping victory in 2019, then to be sent packing by the party’s increasingly Trump-adjacent base this year for not being radical enough in his response to the pandemic. 

Brian Jean, the former federal Conservative who returned to lead the Wildrose rump after Ms. Smith’s 2014 defection and returned again after a by-election this year in Ft. McMurray-Lac La Biche to try to lead the fight to remove Mr. Kenney, was all but ignored in the UCP leadership contest. 

The message to Mr. Jean, I guess: “The hand that wields the knife shall never wear the crown.”

When Ms. Smith joined the UCP leadership race, it was widely assumed the memories of 2014 would sink her campaign. They barely caused a ripple. 

How did she turn it around? 

There was the excitement generated on the far right of the UCP by her Sovereignty Act proposal, of course, notwithstanding the fact no one has ever seen a draft, if one even exists.

“There is her wild buy-in to arguably anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, her anti-scientific support for health-care quackery rather than vaccinations, and her blanket denunciations of even the most critical kinds of protections of vulnerable populations should we find ourselves in another pandemic.” 

Don’t blame me for that assessment, by the way. It’s from an essay published last Friday by Ken Boessenkool, the well-known Conservative operative and aide to the likes of former prime minister Stephen Harper and former B.C. Premier Christy Clark. He managed Rajan Sawheny’s UCP leadership campaign. 

The trouble is, as a worried Mr. Boessenkool argued, Ms. Smith’s adoption of what he accurately terms the Trump playbook “is a kamikaze mission against conservatism itself.”

Whether Ms. Smith follows through on her agenda or abandons her original supporters, he concluded, “only Rachel Notley can win.” He left the impression, with me anyway, he doesn’t think that would be such a bad thing. 

I’m not so sure he’s right Ms. Smith is doomed to lose. A lot of Albertans habitually vote Conservative without too much thought. 

And no one should underestimate either of these women. 

But that said, Ms. Smith’s choice as leader of the shaky UCP coalition undoubtedly sets the stage for another remarkable comeback: that of Rachel Notley as premier of Alberta.

NOTE: This story, written and filed before Ms. Smith was sworn in, has been updated to reflect the fact that has now happened.

Join the Conversation

27 Comments

  1. These are definitely interesting times in Alberta politics, and there were undoubtedly interesting times before, but these times are much more so. I still wouldn’t count on Danielle Smith to endure beyond eight months. This is based on how Danielle Smith continues to conduct herself, which doesn’t put her in a positive light. Her mouth off goes before her brain does, and then it’s damage control mode, which is by then too late. Also, Danielle Smith thinks that she can point fingers at others, such as Rachel Notley, and also Justin Trudeau, for things that they are not responsible for, such as financial problems caused by declining oil prices, and the Alberta PCs getting abysmal oil royalty rates, that were very different from what Peter Lougheed knew we needed to be getting for them, other very large amounts of lost revenue, from having the worst corporate tax rates, and a constant barrage of very pricey shenanigans, that cost us extreme amounts of money. The UCP have basically been doing the same things the Alberta PCs were for all those years, and it has already cost Alberta a fortune. Furthermore, Danielle Smith thinks that she can overstep federal government laws, rules and regulations, which she doesn’t agree with, but then had to realize that she can’t do that, because she’d be put back in her place, and very quickly by the Supreme Court of Canada. We’d be picking up the tab for her fruitless battles. What’s the other issue, is that there is an enabling media outlet, Postmedia, that enables politicians like Danielle Smith. They never question her, the UCP, or even other Conservative parties, and politicians, even though they are involved with things that do not help Alberta, or Canada, for that matter. Pierre Poliveire also has ideas that defy being beneficial, let alone practical, for Canadians, yet Postmedia columnists think he is amazing. This has been seen before, where newspapers, like The Sun, thought that Danielle Smith was the greatest thing since the invention of the automobile. They were hoping she’d become premier. Alas for them, their hopes were dashed. You can bet that before the next provincial election in Alberta, that The Sun will once again want Danielle Smith to become premier. When that doesn’t transpire, they will be very unhappy. Albertans will be better off though, by having a premier who was very much like Peter Lougheed. That premier is Rachel Notley.

  2. Notley wont ever win again because of her stance on vaccines, period. I voted for her. So did my friends. I know TONS that did, but ALL of them, myself included, felt betrayed by her stance on vaccines, and will never vote for her again. You can’t stick up for nurses then call for unvaxxed nurses to be fired. Singh didn’t help her brand by propping up Trudeau either. Just the facts. Smith may be terrible, but Covid killed Notley’s chances of ever winning Alberta again.

    1. No, wannabe plague rat, you never voted for Notley. Funny how anti-vaxxers from within their bubble believe themselves to be in the majority. Alberta may attract more than its share of far right regressives but the majority of the province and population is still progressive. Ironic, because had Kenney stood up to the anti-vax crowd and taken Covid seriously as did Doug Ford, JK would probably be still Premier and heading towards a second majority government in Alberta.

    2. People need to control what health interventions they accept. Having big government determine such things and the slipper slope to autocratic rule hand a couple degrees.

    3. Never Notley: Alberta has had record breaking levels of Covid-19 in Canada, and that is due to one thing, and one thing only – which is how bad the UCP looked after the pandemic in Alberta.

    4. I would enjoy seeing if you are correct or not, but judging by the name you have chosen to display it’s clear that you’re not serious and likely just planting disinformation. Anyone who purports that if you support a particular vocation that you are unable to establish rules, guidelines, standards, etc. for that vocation or else you don’t support them seems more like a political operative than a good faith critic. Keeping Albertans safe was the goal of those standards and I have a hard time believing that you would vote for Notley if it weren’t for her stand on vaccines, the very topic that toppled JTK because MOST Albertans felt let down by the premier listening to the fascists instead of the medical professionals!

      I am surrounded by people who would be expected to vote for Rachel Notley and yet I can’t say that I know TONS of people who voted for her. It seems that you’re trying to create your own narrative, the “I was an atheist before I saw the light” argument, except you can’t stand elected officials who listen to experts instead of fascists, and they need to know that there is no way that the people that voted for her the first time will ever vote for her again because you know TONS of them!

  3. Ms Smith seemed to be tapping the keg of the F*ck Trudeau crowd resentments. I have no doubt she would have been at the Coutts blockade showing her support. The stand up to Ottawa, stand up for Alberta…I am a “tough cookie” pantomine. Sadly she is not tough enough to run in the vacant Calgary seat or as it turns out even have the election there.She is obviously afraid of losing …and so it begins.

  4. I find it hilarious how Smith thinks rural Albertans are morons and are a lot easier to fool than Calgarians. She has literally insulted the intelligence of all of them and I think she is going to get a big surprise. The fact that it took six rounds to win proves she isn’t as popular as she thinks, and the fact that she was defeated in her own riding of High River -Okotocks years ago proves it.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: It would be something to see if Danielle Smith was defeated in the riding she is trying to run in. With voter apathy being so high, anything can still happen.

  5. As much as there is some effort to dress this up as calling Alberta “progressive” because women lead the two major political parties, nice try.

    On the side, you have Danielle Straitjacket, a grifter inclined to rage farm, while keeping policy an afterthought. And when the matter of policy comes up, its intention is to make the 1940s great again. Sure, Smith flip-flops on the ASA because the idea is insane to begin with.

    As for Rachel Notley, the concern is she’s not that progressive. She did pull the teeth out of her own labour equity legislation because she got scared of the rural folk. I have a suspicion if the matter was over an issue like women’s reproductive rights, I’m not sure she will do the right thing.

  6. It was always plausible Rachel Notley would run again for Premier, however until recently it was almost unimaginable that Smith would.

    Smith in particular seems to be fighting past battles to redeem herself and the battles about COVID restrictions that partly did in her UCP predecessor Kenney. Yes, there is an audience for this, but you have to wonder as COVID becomes more of a past issue whether this will resonate that much, particularly given that most Albertans were ok with the rules in place during COVID. As for Smith redeeming herself, who cares except maybe a few close to her.

    I suspect Smith like Kenney will try to turn things into a choice between her and the currently unpopular, in Alberta, PM. However, the PM is fairly good in not taking the bait, so I am not sure that will work. Anyone recall how the last attempt to provoke the Feds went – that referendum on equalization? It was mostly ignored to the UCP’s frustration. If Smith tried to put in laws that may not be constitutional, the fight will be in mostly in the courts and the Federal government will not say too much. If she waters her proposals down to make it more likely for them to pass and stand up in court, this will disappoint her supporters.

    I think the UCP needs to move beyond the past and its grievances if it is to have much of a future. Toews and Jean, while not spectacular leaders, at least did not seem as focused on picking unproductive fights and more on governing. I doubt they would have won the next election, but they probably would have left an opposition party in fairly good shape. With Smith, it is going to be double or nothing. The UCP sure can pick its leaders.

    I do think there are a lot of people who almost automatically vote conservative in Alberta, so we should not underestimate that, but Smith has a remarkable ability to put of potential friends as well as enemies.

    1. I think the rote right vote is questioning the habit more and more these last few years because of the dichotomous partnership between moderate paleoCons and far-right neo-rightists who are so unconservative as to be repellant.

      The new guys were invited in partly because some moderates have already been repelled, partly because of natural attrition in a generally geriatric party, and partly because the parties have neglected to appeal broadly to new, younger recruits. Shoring-up with radicals has been a stop-gap measure, successful only under special conditions (cƒ the CPC’s gradual decline to the whipsawing of the UCP, for example: both because of the same basic schizophrenia, both downward, but under different circumstances).

      Given that Canadians are generally middle-of-the-road and that the extremist factions are ascendant, it would appear a dilemma: the extremists would have to radicalize more of the otherwise naturally moderate voters to turn the decline around AND keep the support of such moderate conservatives as there remain in the fold. The contradiction is compounded by geriatric attrition and insufficient recruitment—which kinda leaves the future to the past. That is, the moderates are the lynchpin of the only change that will turn around the popular decline the extremists have caused.

      In this circumstance, such a party is irredeemable: moderates cannot profitably clean house, yet there’s fear of abandoning the one hope, small as it appears, of winning the next election by up and creating a moderate, centre-right party. As stuck with the UCP as many centre-right-minded voters might feel, the facts that the NDP did break the ProgCon spell (for which reason K-Boy had to kill the PCs) and that under Notley’s leadership it did retain an opposition several times larger than the NDP’s traditional parliamentary status when it lost after a single term suggest that at least some moderates have lost that fear. Smith just might be the solvent to get enough of the reminder unstuck from a totally dysfunctional party.

      Evidently K-Boy didn’t fully exterminate the Wildrose faction: they keep coming back, the scent of victory absolving many internal grudges—and anyway, Kenney felt he needed the Soldiers of Odium as insurance (in retrospect, he probably didn’t and would have been better off without them). They dominate the UCP now —even with about 3% freeboard in the party and 1% approval from the whole electorate. To avoid the lingering throes that appear thus assured, moderates need to take a bold risk—in the immediate sense—to redeem themselves and leave the extremists behind. Might “cost” a one-term loss but avoid a certain and prolonged doom—and I’d bet
      It’d be surprisingly successful.

      I hope Smith will continue to do her best in this endeavour.

    2. She’s fighting for Albertans by making sure the feds don’t have their hands in your pocket or forcing injections on you. Everything else flows from that.

      1. Bret, multiple-posting is a cry for help. Why so agitated? Your candidate won. Danielle Smith is premier of Alberta—for now.

  7. It seems weird to say—except that it’s Alberta—but the NDP is the more experienced governing party, the hapless UCP not yet finished its very first term. And Rachel Notley is still the more experienced at governing, and that will remain true even if Danielle Smith leads the UCP to victory in the next scheduled election about seven months from now. Smith would have to govern until about this time of year in 2026 to accumulate the same four-year governing experience as Notley already has. But it seems unlikely in the extreme that even four years, let alone a mere seven months dead ahead, would bring Smith up to par with the qualities Notley used to win the astounding NDP-upset and lead a pretty good government during very challenging times when she was tested by both economic decline and fire and proved she could maintain public services for all Albertans. But of course the sorry state to which, say, health services have fallen under the subsequent (and still incomplete) UCP term can, at this very moment, only compare Jason Kenney’s performance with his NDP predecessor’s. And he’s forgotten now, if not actually gone. Yet, anyway.

    Notley and Smith naturally invite comparison because they will almost certainly vie for the same office next spring. One can appreciate that both had remarkable breakthroughs, some by virtue of their shared gender in terms of firsts (for example, they are both the first female leaders of their respective parties), but proceeding to a wider scope of comparison, starting virtually at the next stop, the two couldn’t be much more different. So, despite the fact that Notley will hardly bother laying a glove on K-Boy, the has-been, in terms of comparing terms, her own party’s first, and as yet only mandate is recent enough (unusually so in the most unusual of political circumstances) for voters to remember as by-and-largely superior to the ongoing UCP gong show, we may reasonably presume Smith will provide—in her strange, Joker-faced way—plenty of comparators against which the NDP will surely rate better, even much better. Holy sovereignty, Batman! Probably even much, much, much better.

    But that’s a freebie the wild-card premier Smith seems maniacally happy to deal out. The comparisons become more sharply focused in broader pan with regard how each leader got to where she is and how that projects either into Alberta’s future.

    Notley, the 2015, underdog approached the campaign with the focused organization one would expect from a lawyer, team altogether together and ready to campaign against the foundering ProgCon party —which, it just so happened, Smith helped defeat by turning coat on the Wildrose loyal opposition party and crossing the floor to run as a PC herself.

    As mentioned, Notley went on to win an run a pretty good administration; Smith lost her own seat in the route and later failed to win her party nomination for 2019 when the newly welded UCP came roaring back as, it turns out, another in a series of partisan convulsions that Smith now adds to for whatever the party of the right is these days. A dead fish? A half-eaten dead fish? A bottom-feeding lunker snagged on a colourful Joker-plug?

    Smith, in contrast to Notley, is an opportunity feeder whose accomplishments are nourished by the wounded partisan animals of the murky deep. She was sure to sense the struggling and almost (or probably) hopelessly divided UCP, now only three and a half years old and as two-headed as a tumour-addled trout downstream from the Athabasca tar sands, such a cross-eyed bass that the identifiable “Wildrose faction” has completely forgotten all about the turncoat Smith; a missing eye, perhaps; surely not a missing, forgiving brain—it’d be dinner instead of the spiney-dorsalled fish you ever smelt upon which the myopic UCP faction imagines a Nereid on a dolphin.

    Smith hardly needed a worm to land this crappy sucker. The amazing thing is, she used a whole dogfish for bait and now it will follow her everywhere she goes.

    Notley won’t be the only reality Smith will have to contend with these next seven months. Indeed, the issue most damning for the party and, it sounds like from Smith’s rhetoric, will remain—healthcare—cannot easily be spun, not when K-Boy’s Nemesis once again threatens hospital capacity, not when Smith glibly prescribes chlorox or some other quackery, not when winter approaches as it surely must and Omicron cometh.

    Of this there is virtually nothing anywhere in the nation can compare.

  8. Yes, I am beginning to think my old acquaintance from Alberta New Democratic Party Youth days may again have the key to the Premier’s office. If so, a toast brothers and sisters.

  9. Does this mean I can finally be free to set fire to forests with the exhaust pipe on my ATV wherever I wish? Does this me allow my AR 15 as a hunting rifle? Does this mean no more fluoride, or vaccines! Does this mean I can be openly hostile to mask wearers who are trying to protect themselves or people they love trapped in care homes we can’t sue for negligence? Eastern slope coal mining isn’t about intelligence. It’s about money!

  10. “Way back, in 2010, I predicted in this space that Ms. Smith was one of two talented young women politicians who had an opportunity “to remake Alberta’s political history.””

    ??!! Hahahahahahahahahaha and hee hee. Snort!!

    Does she or doesn’t she? Only the Fraser Institute and/or the ‘Calgary School’ clowns know for sure . . . .

    “Smith then claimed smoking cigarettes can actually improve the health of smokers.
    “The evidence shows moderate cigarette consumption can reduce traditional risks of disease by 75 per cent or more,” Smith wrote. “Shouldn’t smokers be told?”

    “Danielle Smith Claimed Smoking Cigarettes Had Positive Health Benefits”

    https://pressprogress.ca/danielle-smith-claimed-smoking-cigarettes-had-positive-health-benefits/

    “Danielle Smith” is a crude joke, but she is a good boot polisher, always knowing whose boots need polishing. Further, she always was and always will be a candidate groomed by and for those individuals that represent the institutional status quo of this society, designed to both placate and distract the fractious, sleep walking masses and maintain the desired social and economic status quo, at any cost.

  11. Danielle Smith is an extremist libertarian. Libertarianism is a political philosophy that only serves the rich & powerful — or the well-armed — and is the very antithesis of social justice.

  12. totally agree, they can decide for themselves, but they don’t get to decide for me. If they don’t want a vaccine, fine. However, I don’t want their disease if they come down with it. So they have to be removed from work places, health care, etc. I don’t go to the hospital to die because some health care worker doesn’t want to be vaccinated I have the right to live as do all the others who were vaccinated. We also don’t want long COVID and neither does the government purse. Its expensive.

    Having lived through polio prior to vaccines, having seen what happened in third world countries which didn’t have vaccines, watched as thousands in Canada died of AIDs or contacted Hep C, I know the value of vaccines. With AIDS, you had a choice to have sex or not to have sex with an infected person or you could use a condom, but with COVID, you don’t always know who has COVID or not and they don’t have condoms for COVID, They don’t work that way.

    Governments insisting people be vaccinated or remain at home, is not going to lead to all sorts of authoritarian governments, etc. Actually authoritarian governments usually are much stricker when it comes to rules regarding personal choices, i.e have a look at China when it had its one child policy and look at all the lock downs they are still having.

    We are a democracy and the majority rules. We are not an authoritarian country ruled by anti vaccers. Go die on your own time, and leave the rest of us out of it.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

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