Danielle Smith announces her Cabinet choices today.
So we’re about to see if Alberta’s still-unelected premier meant it when she told a newspaper columnist three days after she was sworn in that as long as her United Conservative Party can hold the rural ridings of the province she doesn’t really need to worry about what voters in Alberta’s two big cities think.
It wouldn’t be the first time Ms. Smith set out to carve a narrow path to victory by appealing to a small group of motivated voters who hold broadly unpopular opinions.
It’s exactly how she won the UCP leadership vote on Oct. 6 with the support of anti-vaxxers and separatists whose views are scorned by the majority of Albertans.
She made it clear in her interview with the Calgary Sun’s Rick Bell a week ago that she would now pursue a strategy of pampering rural voters at the expense of the residents of Alberta’s big cities.
“I don’t intend to try to win every vote,” she told Mr. Bell. “I recognize if I’m stretching to reach certain seats I’m probably going to lose Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.”
Speaking of stretching, that was a bit of one. The UCP’s Jason Nixon won that central Alberta riding with 82 per cent of the vote in 2019.
Mr. Nixon may or may not be the candidate there in 2023, but Ms. Smith’s candidate could probably win the riding even if the UCP dropped a nuclear bomb* on Caroline.
However, her point is clear. Given the way Alberta’s electoral districts are divvied up, she thinks she doesn’t need very many of Alberta’s urban voters to win, and she’ll do what she needs to do to win.
Alberta was naturally abuzz with speculation yesterday about who Ms. Smith will put in her cabinet.
The smart money says there will be more rural MLAs, and likely more MLAs holding hitherto marginalized and extremist views in cabinet.
The story will be how many more.
Will there be any former Progressive Conservatives, or will we finally have the Wildrose Party government we always refused to elect?
Will there be anyone from Calgary in the cabinet? Well, she seemed to promise a spot to former leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz, MLA for Calgary-Shaw, after the vote results were announced. But that was more than two weeks ago.
Finding a cabinet ministers from Edmonton is a problem, of course, as the only Edmonton seat not held by the NDP is occupied by Labour Minister Kaycee Madu. This gives some credence to the idea Ms. Smith might appoint someone without a seat.
Will Travis Toews, the former finance minister who raced her to the final ballot, be back in cabinet? She’d be smart to leave him there, to demonstrate continuity and unity, but whether such considerations even enter her mind remains to be seen.
We won’t have long to find out, anyway.
Meantime, though, we’ll have to wait till Monday for them to be sworn in – which is weird, unless Ms. Smith has a plan to let lobbyists run wild and make unrecorded pitches to her incoming ministers for 48 hours. That would probably be in tune with the premier’s ideas about “freedom.”
If you’re a Calgary MLA who squeaked into office in 2019, Ms. Smith’s apparent strategy can’t be very reassuring.
Devinder Toor, MLA for Calgary-Falconridge, edged out the NDP’s Parmeet Singh Boparai by 96 votes. Nicholas Milliken, MLA for Calgary-Currie, defeated New Democrat Brian Malkinson by 191. Health Minister Jason Copping beat the NDP’s Anne McGrath by 638. Ms. Smith’s message to those MLAs: I don’t really need you, boys!
Meanwhile, Ms. Smith told the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce yesterday that only Albertans who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations would be protected under the changes she plans to Alberta’s human rights laws.
That will keep the lid on one can of worms – the one full of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and many other vaccinations. It will open another one – legal suits for equal treatment under the law by other kinds of vaccine refuseniks, for example, those with health care jobs.
In the same speech, Ms. Smith told business with vaccine mandates to dump them now – because freedom!
“This is a place that believes in freedom,” she advised the Chamber’s worthies, giving them “fair warning” that her government intends to make a “serious pivot” on such rules soon.
Remember, former associates say Ms. Smith often doesn’t know what she’s going to say until she’s already started to say it, so this talk of a pivot could be another blunder that will require clarification in a few hours, or it could be the real McCoy.
But when the former Fraser Institute apparatchik says “freedom,” she doesn’t mean what most of us do when we utter that word.
She means the sort of freedom that prevails in Hong Kong, where free expression may be illegal, but business can do pretty well whatever it wants.
In 2020, Hong Kong was No. 3 on the Fraser Institute’s “Human Freedom Index,” ahead of Denmark, Australian, Canada, and 156 others. Last year, in a clarification worthy of Ms. Smith’s first week in office, the neoliberal Wurlitzer organ was shamed into moving it down to No. 30, still ahead of South Korea and France.
*Nuclear bombs come under federal jurisdiction, at least until Ms. Smith’s Sovereignty Act passes.