It took Premier Jason Kenney a couple of years and plenty of fallout from a deadly pandemic and a series of policy flops to become the most unpopular provincial politician in Alberta.

NDP Opposition Leader and former Alberta premier Rachel Notley (Photo: Dave Cournoyer/Creative Commons).

It looks like Danielle Smith may achieve that status the instant she’s declared to be the province’s unelected premier by the United Conservative Party later this week.

Ms. Smith will still need to be sworn in before we can officially call her premier, but she’ll be an unpopular and divisive figure with large swaths of the population right from the moment she’s named as Mr. Kenney’s successor.

Mr. Kenney himself has all but declared her to be a “lunatic,” along with everyone who supports her – and he’s on her side!

This, of course, assumes that the UCP will announce on Thursday that Ms. Smith was in fact the winner of the party’s leadership race. If she’s not, pretty well every political pundit in Alberta will have egg on their face.

Not that the other two leading contestants – former finance minister Travis Toews and Brian Jean, the other former Wildrose Party leader – are all that popular themselves according to an Angus Reid Institute poll published at the end of last week. A lot of Albertans think they’re all terrible, according to the poll’s assessment of the mood of the province. And that includes NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley. It’s just that they seem to think Ms. Smith is the most terrible of them all.

Departing Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

A clear majority, the pollster said, 55 per cent, think Ms. Smith would be either bad or terrible for the province. 

This may explain why Ms. Smith said she wouldn’t be calling a general election any time soon at a virtual news conference she held yesterday. It was the first time she’d talked to media since May, and she said it would be the last until after the ballots are tallied. Reporters were limited to two questions each. 

As the Toronto Star put it cruelly but probably accurately in its headline, “If crowned Alberta premier, Danielle Smith says she won’t call an Alberta election because she might lose.”

“I think that when early election calls occur, the public is suspicious,” Ms. Smith told the reporters. “They think there’s some advantage that the person is trying to gain.”

Well, duh! That is how Parliamentary democracy tends to work. And have no doubt, dear readers, that should the polls change, Ms. Smith will change her mind about the efficacy of an early election.

Livingstone-Macleod UCP MLA Roger Reid (Photo: Roger Reid/Twitter).

Remember, Mr. Kenney said that a 51-per-cent vote in last spring’s leadership review would be good enough. In the event, he changed his mind too. 

That was then, and this is now is the motto of all politicians and, count on it, Ms. Smith is no exception.

Indeed, if her polls are still disastrous closing in on May 29, 2023, you can take it as given that she will have no trouble finding an excuse to postpone the next provincial election, notwithstanding the fixed-election-date law now on the books. 

Which brings us to the other election that Ms. Smith doesn’t really want to call because she might lose.

As previously noted, if chosen by UCP members as anticipated, Ms. Smith will be a premier without a seat in the House. Parliamentary tradition allows that state of affairs to exist for a spell. For her part, Ms. Smith told the reporters yesterday she wants to have a seat in the Legislature as soon as possible, so she can introduce her own Sovereignty Act. 

Now, there’s a perfectly good vacated seat awaiting a by-election: Calgary-Elbow, from which former justice minister and jobs, economy and innovation minister Doug Schweitzer resigned on Aug. 31. 

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

Why doesn’t Ms. Smith run there if she wants to be in the Legislature so badly? The answer is, for the same reason she doesn’t want to fight Ms. Notley and the NDP in a general election just now: because there’s no guarantee she would win. 

Indeed, given her low approval ratings in Calgary and Calgary-Elbow’s history of cautiously electing more progressive candidates now and again, there’s a real chance she’d lose. 

So Ms. Smith said she’d really rather run in a rural riding because she prefers “the dynamic of the rural riding that I am in” – that is, Livingstone-Macleod, which includes the town of High River where she resides. 

That would require MLA Roger Reid to give up his seat, which he didn’t seem to want to do not so long ago. Mind you, things change when the person who wants to run in your riding is the premier. 

Anyway, Ms. Smith told her news conference that several rural MLAs have said they’d give up their seats to accommodate her, in the event, I guess, that Mr. Reid proves recalcitrant.

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

Of course the real reason isn’t that Ms. Smith likes “the dynamic” of the rural south more than that of battleground Calgary, where the next election will be won or lost, it’s that it’s a safe bet she can win there. 

So does she propose to call by-elections in two vacant ridings, one just vacated that she can win and another that might produce an embarrassing loss for the UCP?

Or does she plan to find some flimsy excuse to defy Parliamentary tradition and not call an election at the same time in Calgary-Elbow, leaving it without a representative in the Legislature for months?

The latter course would be a troubling indicator of a lack of commitment to democratic principles, but I doubt it would trouble Ms. Smith all that much. 

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23 Comments

  1. Oh, so many interesting issues raised that Smith will have to deal with that may also reveal much about her character. If she wins, I suspect she will try a huge charm offensive to convince Albertans she is not so scary and she is quite a smooth talker, but of course actions often speak louder than words.

    First, I expect she will avoid Calgary Elbow as if it is toxic, which it probably is to the image of political success she wants to try project. Her best hope is to somehow entice the MLA in her chosen rural riding to step down. Given he was not so enthusiastic before, it will may involve something lucrative for him, but not such a good deal for Alberta taxpayers, which could then come back to bite her. Likewise for getting Kenney, who is skeptical about some of her key ideas, off the Alberta political stage. She needs to handle him very carefully, after all slightly over half of the party members supported him in his recent leadership review and he still has quite a few friends and supporters in the UCP.

    However, I suspect she will find a fairly safe rural seat somewhere to run in and win. A bigger challenge after that will be to pass the key but questionable parts of her platform that she has no real mandate for and no citing the equalization referendum as some sort of mandate for this doesn’t quite cut it. She also might want to keep a lot of the Kenney ministers in place, but do they really want to stay or get out before disaster strikes?

    Yes, I could imagine that fixed election date not being so fixed, particularly if things don’t look good enough headed into spring. It will be interesting to hear what the smooth talking Smith comes up then to justify that. Of course, she doesn’t want an early election now as the UCP has spent the last year and a half consumed with internal politics, so they will need some time to nominate candidates for the next election. It is easy to sound principled on that. On other things, not so much.

  2. Danielle Smith should never be taken seriously, as her policies would only be of a detriment to Alberta, and the well being of Albertans, but there are people who are easily fooled by her. Unfortunately, there are people who never learn. Rachel Notley was going in the direction that Peter Lougheed was going, and the UCP have been going in the direction of Ralph Klein, which wasn’t good at all.

  3. What can be said of the UCP, apart from that they are a cult with a death wish?

    Actually, no. They are not that at all. To reasonable, level-headed people, they certainly and clearly are exactly that. But to a certain vocal and energetic constituency of voters, they are the last bastion against the Klaus Schwab/George Soros/Bill Gates globalist onslaught. And Danielle Straitjacket is their uncompromising leader.

    Yes, Smith cannot be sold. She is true in thought and spirit, and always, ALWAYS honest in her intentions. Well, there was that time when she was leader of the WRP, and she crossed the floor to join the defunct Alberta PCs, but she did that because she was trying to take out the globalists from within one of their Trojan Horses. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

    Being unpopular has never been and issue with this weird faction of the UCP. They were always the outsiders and never trusted the mainstream and the ‘sheeple’. No. They are the freest of thinkers and do exactly what Jesus intended for all people, to own lots of guns and carry them around. And kill off the globalists, of course. Don’t believe this? It’s all in Revelations, that part of the Bible that never mentions Jesus, but we all know he was thinking about it the whole time he was alive. So, being unpopular has never bothered this bunch; because they know that when they are this hated, they must be doing something right.

    Right?

  4. It would not surprise me if some current rural UCP MLA resigns in order for Danielle Smith to have a better chance and better optics.

    Seems to me there must be some UCP MLA out there who in his or her heart wants out…..as long as the out involves a reciprocal high paying appoint to a position or board, or an sweet employment contract. Nice way to cap off a retirement.

    This is how it has always been.

    1. Seems to me she doesn’t actually HAVE a job rn, that’s why she’s campaigning for this one. Being disliked by vast majorities of the voting public is certainly A tactic, I’m not sure how it will work out in this case.

  5. Well you can bet the fools electing her are seniors. I can’t find anyone who gives a damn about any of them. They can’t wait to vote Notley back in and that scares me. I haven’t forgotten what happened with Ralph Klein when people I counted on to help us vote him out used the excuse that “I only vote conservative and Klein isn’t a conservative so I didn’t vote”. He was getting majorities with only 32% of the vote and look at the mess he created.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: Albertans certainly will be in for the shock of their lives if Danielle Smith becomes premier of Alberta. These pretend conservatives and Reformers are up to no good with their backwards policies.

  6. Here’s a hypothetical scenario:
    1) Smith gets selected as Premier
    2) Smith wins a by-election
    3) Smith government introduces & passes her Sovereignty act, which goes to Lt. Gov. Lakhani somewhere around mid April of 2023.
    4) Lt. Gov. Lakhani finds it unconstitutional, even after having warned Smith earlier this year that she will scrutinize it very closely.

    What does Lt. Gov. Lakhani do? She could refuse assent, or refer it to the Supreme Court for testing.

    The crux, however, is that Smith’s & her government have knowingly passed an unconstitutional act, after being warned about it.

    Remember the mid April 2023 part? Seems to me a better option, and entirely within Lt. Gov. Lakhani’s reserve powers, is dissolving the legislature and forcing an election.

    1. Gerald, your scenario is plausible, but the risks of political blow-back are high if Lt. Gov. Lakhani refuses to sign the Alberta Sovereignty Act; even higher if she declares the Smith UCP government null and void. The precedent set in 1930’s Alberta is probably the best—least bad—way to proceed, refer the bill to the Supreme Court of Canada and let THEM reach the obvious conclusion.

      The stated purpose of the ASA is to start a constitutional crisis; Smith has already backtracked, somewhat, after pointed and vocal opposition to the legality of the stated intention. (She said, if I recall right, that the Act would be written to comply with the Constitution, in consultation with the UCP caucus. Decide for yourself whether that’s likely to succeed.) Smith is right about one thing: the outcome will depend totally on how the ASA, and other legislation mentioned by the Free Alberta Strategy cabal, is ultimately written.

      If Smith and her fellow idealogues keep to their plan, we’ll have the constitutional confrontation they claim is their goal. (They’ll lose.) But Smith’s current waffling over when and where to try for a seat in the Legislature are pretty cautious for someone with radical political leanings.

      Time will tell. If caution prevails, Smith will dilute the ASA to barely more than wishful thinking, not a daring assertion of autonomy. To her Base, that’ll be like throwing a rubber steak to a hungry dog. Will they turn on Queen Dannie? Or howl at the Supreme Court? Much will depend on whether Queen Dannie is as stupid as she is noisy.

  7. Danielle Smith is a snake in the grass who’s finally figured out how to win the spotlight—after destroying two parties of the right with her duplicity. The fact that she’s attracted UCP moths back to get burned again in the flames licking her lips says heaps about the K-chimera her predecessor created, but it’s more likely she will turn on them than they on her—not like they did before. That could only happen if she loses the next election, presuming she wins the premiership.

    The High River Harridan knows defeat and she will avoid it if she can. That means more stock should be put in the parameters she’ll be watching very closely—particularly the UCP standings in popularity polls which currently show the party enjoying the expected blip of relief at the departure of soon-to-be ex-premier Jason Kenney—than in whatever nostrums she offers up. She might promise not to call an early election but then go ahead and do it if she feels the winds blow fair. As Jimi Hendrix or, for that matter, Brian Jean might observe: she makes love, she breaks love—it’s all the same.

    I’m not inclined to believe anything she says, but her words do seem a tell, inadvertent, perhaps, but notable by any armchair gambler. Me, I was struck by her comment that one of the reasons she says an early election is out is that such risks getting a “reduced majority.” What on earth does that mean?

    With the understanding that Smith is a separatist—oops!—did I just say that?—gosh! Well, at very least her proposed “Alberta Sovereignty Act” (ASA) appears to be anti-federation: never mind what federal laws she intends to cherry-pick for ignoring, the Westminster parliamentary system is itself one of those “federal laws” and, as such, a majority is a majority is a majority. It allows the government whose party has a majority of seats to pass whatever legislation it tables. If the party whip and house leader do their jobs, even a slim majority works, but I suppose a number of seats greater than a one or two-seat margin makes their jobs easier.

    Still, her demonstrated history of duplicity and current, unconstitutional legislative proposal is either naive or diabolical—and I pick the latter.

    What I find most disturbing is the possibility that she would treat seats won by opposition parties differently than those of her majority, existing now in headless and seatless caretakerdom for a few more days, and maybe just seatless for some undetermined time in some undetermined time (I would bet anyway). A ready-made majority, no less (I get the chills when I remember Christy Clark winning the same, then, despite losing her by-election bid for a seat in the Assembly —to David Eby, current heir apparent Premier of BC—finding a way by way of a seat somewhat begrudgingly vacated for her in Kelowna. Christy was an astoundingly bad caretaker premier and even worse when she won a mandate of her own—one nobody though she could. And that’s what scares me about Smith, particularly since, unlike Christy who hadn’t a policy bone between her ears, Danielle has some pretty crazy plans that apparently appeal to enough to achieve this office—if she does—she’s been angling around for years.

    It took a party with a built-in crisis like the UCP to do it, but, you know, sometimes it’s just about being there.

    I don’t believe there’s enough quiescence in the population right now to survey accurately or for the longterm. First there’s tomorrow. Then the next few days or weeks. Then the by-election thingies. Then the ASA. each will convulse the mood and the polls. All will predicate the future of Danielle Smith.

    Then the general Alberta election.

    1. Scotty on Denman How is it you know so much about Alberta Politics? I always agree with what you say and I know of my B.C. relatives don’t give a damn. Are you a former Albertan?

      1. I lived and worked in Alberta many times whenever the BC forest industry went into hibernation. I used to have blood relatives who lived in Alberta—now all semi-retired and settled in Upper Canada, Vancouver and the Big Island of—but I still have friends in the Wild Rose Province.

        I too have BC and Ontario friends and family—including those who used to live in Alberta—who don’t give a darn about what happens there. They probably never did because when they resided in that great province politics was in a longterm steady state of ProgCondom that didn’t require a lot of partisan decision-making. I might have been the same—hard to say because whenever I was eligible to vote for anything in Alberta there were no contests happening. My interests, though, included labour union politics such as it affected workers I knew or my own employments—the whole thing was much different than in BC where unions were much more radical and assertive (in other words, we went on strike more often in BC whereas I never had the pleasure in Alberta).

        Today in retirement, one of my biggest interest is about the rise and fall of nominal conservative parties in Greater Anglo-Saxony and Europe—with a little India thrown in. The process I see is basically the top-down usurpation of these traditional Tory parties by globalizing neoliberalism while this “neo-right” movement was in ascent from 1980, a zenith somewhere around 2000 when failed trickledown and climate change denial discredited the movement, thence the increasing radicalization and rearguard reaction to the neo-right’s democratic-demographic decline to this day.

        It’s a phenomenal global psychodrama with a cast that includes Alberta in, I think, a starring role; multiple parallel plots involving the two biggest-ever bilateral traders and the former partner in holding that position; the French-English Canadian cultural fact; Western Reform’s (in various pupal permutations) 9-years of federal power firmly rooted in Alberta, and its eventual redoubterism, post-Harper, in the Wild Rose province where the drama now plays out on a smaller but intensely lit screen.

        How do I know about politics in my neighbouring province? Well, site’s like this excellent one, for starters, and also by discussion with acquaintances, former and current Albertans, with this shared interest. We find this story important for our country as well as a fascinating cautionary tale.

        Thank you for your interest!

  8. The most frightening thing about “Premier Danielle Smith” is the situation in the UK today. After 10 days of Prime Minister Liz Truss, she managed to make Boris Johnson, that disgrace and embarrassment to honest, competent politicians, look good. (No, don’t laugh. An honest politician is “one who stays bought.” Competent people make rubes say with contempt, “Aw, I could do that.”) Liz Truss and her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, are so spectacularly stupid that their own MPs are in open revolt:

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/oct/04/kwasi-kwarteng-fiscal-plan-date-thrown-into-confusion

    The parallels to Oilberduh’s current plight are worrying. Truss is an unreformed libertarian, indoctrinated in the “government bad/ business good,” “taxes are evil” propaganda of the American billionaires’ club. Smith’s guiding light, the “Free Alberta Strategy,” is a mishmash of anti-government rants, deluded fantasies of freedom from Ottawa “interference,” and willful ignorance of constitutional law. Look up the FAS yourself, I won’t deface our host’s web page with such a link.

    For a sober review of the FAS by actual lawyers, see the blog of the U of C Faculty of Law, called “ABlawg.ca”, here:

    https://ablawg.ca/2022/06/22/the-alberta-sovereignty-act-and-the-rule-of-law/

    I fear that the UCP backbenchers will never be brave enough to openly defy Queen Dannie, no matter how disastrously bad her policies prove. She won’t have to face the kind of caucus revolt that brought down (will bring down, some time after 6 October) Jason Kenney.

    Unless Queen Dannie is a LOT more cunning than she seems, we’re going to get the constitutional crisis she and the FAS crowd say they want. If her other policies are as asinine as the Alberta Sovereignty Act–assuming it gets written–Kenney may actually end up looking like the better–the less bad–choice. I’m gonna have to retire my old insult “Lord Jason the Worst.”

  9. Unelected Premier of Alberta and for a 9 month term too.

    Congratulations Alberta, you’ve finally become a lawless totalitarian state. Happy?

    Can anyone, besides me, imagine the damage this batshit crazy lady will visit on us? Nine months gives her a lot of time to do a lot of damage, some will be irreversible.

    Just think, we had a perfectly capable, honest, caring woman as premier, and what did ungrateful Albertans do? This has to be karma. It’s the only way it makes sense.

    1. Rachel was a nightmare…..point blank.

      People are still paying for the more than plenty mistakes she made.

      Look up Bill 96 Quebec Legault etc. If you want to look at totalitarianism.
      Heck, why stop there Trudeau and Jagmeet’s idea of democracy makes Xi Jingping look like a liberal.

      So NDP…. No thanks ….you dropped the ball on the very people you represent.
      Liberals….No thanks….you plunged us into such inflation because of your deceptive abuse of Canadian taxpayer money and your spitting on the most sacred Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  10. Someone I know, a mother of daughters, said she voted for Jason Kenney because a woman should never be in charge of a province. It’s a classic case of voting against your own interests, and that of your children. Albertans do like to do this. I don’t know what she’s going to do in 2023, with two women vying for the premiership. Could it be that a certain religion popular in the Milk River area will have to change its talking points? All I know is that her educated and independent daughters do not share her views in any way. Are we heading into the Smithian era of divided and alienated families?

    1. Yeah Abs, Albertans can be counted on to shoot themselves in the foot. There was the woman in central Alberta, years ago, who hated Don Getty but intended to vote for Ralph Klein. Her reasoning? “They made the mess, they should clean it up!”

      “Workers and peasants tend to be out of touch with their own best interests.” — FIRST CYLCLE by H. Beam Piper (with Michael Kurland), Ace Publishing 1982

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