EDMONTON—Danielle Smith thinks she has the runway needed for a smooth landing in the Alberta premier’s office should she win the United Conservative leadership race this week.
No need for a snap general election, Smith said during a media availability Monday.
The reason? She’d potentially lose to the NDP.
Smith is the perceived front-runner in the UCP leadership race that will wrap up this Thursday in Calgary with the coronation of a new party leader who will also get keys to the premier’s office.
But questions have swirled for Smith. Will she call an election right away? How soon would she run in a byelection to obtain a seat in the legislature? Technically, a politician can be premier and not be an elected representative in a riding.
“I think that when early election calls occur, the public is suspicious,” said Smith in response to a question Monday about a snap election.
“Oftentimes when you hold an early election — it’s happened at the federal level and at the provincial level — you either lose, or lose ground, or end up getting a reduced majority.”
Alberta has a legislated fixed election date in May 2023, but there is nothing prohibiting a snap election before then.
“I think people want the precedent as well that we’re going to stick to the commitments that we made,” Smith said.
Smith pointed to examples of leaders calling early elections and failing, including a former colleague of hers, Jim Prentice, who was premier of Alberta and leader of the Progressive Conservatives until 2015. Prentice went to the polls early and got swept out by the NDP, ending a 44-year dynasty held by the PCs up until then, and stunning many in the province.
Smith also noted that the UCP has a long way to go in getting candidates in place and said she believes the months leading up to May will allow enough time for the party to do so.
Not mentioned by Smith was a recent poll from the Angus Reid Institute which found that Smith was the most unpopular front-runner in the UCP leadership race among Albertans, with 42 per cent saying it would be “terrible” if Smith became premier. The poll was done online with 598 people randomly selected from members of the Angus Reid Forum between Sept. 19 and 22 and had a margin of error of plus/minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
But only UCP members get to vote in the party’s leadership race.
THE MOST POWERFUL SALE & AFFILIATE PLATFORM AVAILABLE!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.Create Your Free Account Now!
Meanwhile, Smith said a “number” of MLAs have said they would leave their seat in the legislature so that she could run in a byelection soon after winning on Thursday.
She said she had some work she wants to get done in the months before a general election. Most notably, introducing the Alberta Sovereignty Act, which she says would allow Alberta to ignore federal laws it doesn’t like, and also starting to reform health care.
Constitutional law experts have warned the sovereignty act would like be shot down in court.
But Smith wants to go toe to toe with Ottawa for a while before taking on the Alberta NDP.
The NDP came to power in 2015 in the wake of a calamitous floor-crossing including Smith when she was leader of the Wildrose Party. She and eight other Wildrose MLAs joined the governing Progressive Conservatives. It was widely condemned as a betrayal by Wildrosers and a move Smith herself has since acknowledged was a mistake.
Since the UCP won under Jason Kenney in 2019, the NDP has polled favourably, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the United Conservatives have seen a bit of a resurgence in support in recent polls since Kenney stepped down. The NDP has still out-fundraised the UCP and is gearing up for a battle in the next election that some observers predict will be close.
Smith could try and grab a seat that’s open in Calgary-Elbow, although it is a more progressive riding and may not be an overly friendly spot for her.
When asked why she wouldn’t run there, Smith said “we’ll have to see” after Oct. 6 but that she likes “the dynamic of the rural riding that I am in.” She lives in the town of High River, just south of Calgary.
Smith owns a restaurant there with her husband. She previously spent years hosting a popular talk radio show after she left politics.
When asked about who she would have as cabinet ministers, Smith said that people shouldn’t be surprised if they see some of her fellow UCP leadership contestants in those positions should she become premier.
Travis Toews was finance minister before stepping down to run in the race along with Rebecca Schulz, who was the children’s services minister. Rajan Sawhney is also vying for the top spot after she served as transportation minister under Kenney.
Leela Aheer was kicked out of her cabinet position overseeing culture after she criticized Kenney, but she’s also running. Also running are Brian Jean, another former Wildrose Party leader, and Todd Loewen, an Independent MLA who was booted from the UCP caucus for his comments about Kenney’s leadership.
Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe