Former Spruce Grove city councillor Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie defeated former Parkland County mayor Rod Shaigec to secure the NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain.
“My parents still live here in the same house they bought in 1969. This community is in my DNA, and I will ensure it has a strong voice in the legislature,” Saramaga-McKenzie said in a statement. “I will work to ensure this community will have access to quality healthcare, long-term job growth and opportunities for our children, housing for all – especially our seniors, and to tackle the affordability crisis head on. I am ready to get to work.”
Saramaga-McKenzie is an engineer and business owner and served on city council from 2017 to 2021.
The riding is currently represented by United Conservative Party MLA Searle Turton, who is also a former Spruce Grove city councillor. He currently serves as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Energy and as the private sector union liaison for the Ministry of Labour and Immigration. He is nominated to run in the next election.
Michaela Frey not running for re-election
Brooks-Medicine Hat UCP MLA Michaela Frey announced that she will not seek re-election after serving one term in the Legislature. “I’ll continue to serve until an election is called, but my motivation is that ultimately there are some things in life that are too precious – having kids is one of them,” Frey, 29, told the Medicine Hat News. “I want to focus on that … I want to be at home in Medicine Hat to do that.”
Former Newell County councillor Mara Nesbitt has already announced her plans to seek the UCP nomination. The NDP have nominated retired teacher Gwendoline Dirk. And Alberta Party leader and former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita is hoping he can reclaim a seat in the Legislature as the candidate in this riding.
Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin was nominated to run for re-election under her party’s banner at an outdoor nomination meeting in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood yesterday.
“Every day I meet people who share their stories with me, and I know that they and their loved ones deserve a representative and a government that is going to be there for them. I am so grateful that this community has put their faith in me, once again, to be their representative,” Irwin said in a statement.
A former school teacher and curriculum expert, Irwin was first elected in 2019 with 63.4 per cent of the vote. She succeeded former NDP leader and longtime MLA Brian Mason, who had represented the east central Edmonton riding since 2000.
Former Alberta Party President wins NDP nomination
Rhiannon Hoyle defeated Nasim Boroumand to win the NDP nomination in Edmonton-South. Hoyle a long time community league volunteer who was narrowly defeated by Jennifer Rice in last year’s City Council elections. She also served as President of the Alberta Party from 2017 to 2019.
Teacher and information technology consultant David Cloutier was nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Shaw.
“I grew up in south Calgary, and when the UCP was elected it was the first time my family and I ever questioned if we wanted to stay in the province. I was worried about the direction they were taking Alberta,” said Cloutier. “I asked myself how I could get involved, and work towards a better change for my family and my community, and that led me straight to the Alberta NDP.”
The south Calgary riding is currently represented by UCP MLA and leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz.
The NDP have now nominated candidates in 49 of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts. The United Conservative Party has 35 nominated candidates and the Alberta Party has three.
Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul: Former Municipal District of Bonnyville Reeve Greg Sawchuk is seeking the United Conservative Party nomination. Sawchuk served as Reeve from 2017 until he was unseated in a rematch against Barry Kalinski in the 2021 election.
Incumbent MLA David Hanson has announced his plans to run for re-election. Hanson was first elected in 2015 as a Wildrose Party MLA and was re-elected in 2019 under the UCP banner.
Calgary-Shaw: David Cloutier is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate at a candidate selection meeting today.
Edmonton-Castle Downs: NDP MLA Nicole Goehring defeated Nurmaiya Bradyto secure the NDP nomination. Goehring was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019. Former city councillor Jon Dziadyk is the nominated UCP candidate.
Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood: MLA Janis Irwin is expected to be nominated at a meeting on September 25 at the Bellevue Community Hall. Irwin was first elected in 2019 with 63.4 per cent of the vote.
Edmonton-South: Nasim Boroumand and Rhiannon Hoyle are seeking the NDP nomination in a vote today.
Lacombe-Ponoka: Paramedic and Alberta Paramedic’s Association president Dustin Marshrall is seeking the UCP nomination. Teacher Dave Dale is running for the NDP nomination at an October 19 nomination meeting.
Withdrawals: Usman Sadiq has withdrawn from the NDP nomination contest in Calgary-Foothills and Vivian Mills from the NDP contest in Sherwood Park.
Chris Brown and I discuss the last month in the United Conservative Party leadership race, Danielle Smith’s unexpected rise to the top, and how a Smith led UCP will do against Notley’s NDP in 2023 (or sooner) on the latest episode of the Cross Border Interviews Podcast.
Watch the interview here:
Subscribe and listen to Chris Brown’s Cross Border Podcast on Apple and Spotify.
United Conservative Party MLA Mark Smith has publicly confirmed that he will not seek re-election in Drayton Valley-Devon. He made the announcement while speaking at an event for UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews in Devon on Sept. 9.
Smith was first elected as a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015 and was re-elected under the UCP banner in 2019. The former social studies teacher was the center of controversy during the 2019 election over comments he made about gay people.
Despite the controversy, Smith was re-elected with 71 per cent of the vote.
Carol Vowk and Andrew Boitchenko are already seeking the UCP nomination in Drayton Valley-Devon, located southwest of Edmonton, and rumours have been circulating in political circles for months that Enoch First Nations Chief Billy Morin could seek the nomination. Morin has endorsed Toews for the UCP leadership and previously endorsed Pierre Poilievre in the federal Conservative Party leadership race.
NDP members acclaimed Kathleen Ganley in Calgary-Mountain View and Marlin Schmidt in Edmonton-Gold Bar. Both MLAs were first elected in 2015 and served as cabinet ministers during the NDP’s time in government.
“This is sure to be a pivotal election for Alberta, and I am honoured that my community has put their trust in me to continue being their representative,” Ganley said in a statement. “I hear from folks every day about how they don’t trust the UCP, and how their families are struggling more now because of them.”
MLADavid Shepherd is seeking the NDP nomination to run for re-election in Edmonton-City Centre at an October 11 nomination meeting. Shepherd was first elected in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019 with 66 per cent of the vote.
Also in Edmonton-City Centre, Zak Abdi announced on Twitter that he is no longer running for the Liberal Party nomination and will instead will seek to become the Green Party candidate in Edmonton-City Centre.
And in Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright, Dawn Flaata running for NDP nomination at an October 15 meeting. Flaata is a local author with a long history of involvement in the chamber of commerce in Vermilion. She is also a former Constituency Assistant to former Conservative MP Leon Benoit. Vermilion Public Library.
Upcoming nomination meetings:
September 20 – Edmonton-Castle Downs NDP
September 24 – Calgary-Shaw NDP
September 24 – Edmonton-South NDP
September 25 – Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP
September 27 – Spruce Grove-Stony Plain NDP
September 28 – Sherwood Park NDP
September 29 – Chestermere-Strathmore NDP
October 1 – Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills NDP
October 2 – Calgary-Foothills NDP
October 5 – Red Deer-North NDP
October 11 – Edmonton-City Centre NDP
October 15 – Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright NDP
Provincial NDP President and teacher Peggy Wright defeated former public school board trustee Michelle Draper to secure to Alberta NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
“I have watched the thoughtful discourse Rachel Notley and the NDP have been having with Albertans to develop proposals for a better path forward,” said Wright. “Right now, Albertans are facing the biggest affordability crisis in decades, our healthcare and education systems are struggling, and we need a change.
Incumbent NDP MLA Deron Bilous, who was first elected in 2012, is not seeking re-election.
And there are more nomination updates:
Calgary Firefighter lieutenant Jason Curry joins past candidate Amanda Chapman in the race for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Beddington on October 17, 2022. Curry is the Director of Government Relations for the Calgary Firefighters Association.
Retired teacher Tim Gruber is seeking the NDP nomination in Cypress-Medicine Hat. Drew Barnes, the Independent MLA for the south east Alberta riding, has asked to be allowed to rejoin the United Conservative Party Caucus.
MLA Rod Loyola defeated psychologists association president Dr. Judi Malone and ETS driver Manpreet Tiwana to become the NDP candidate at a September 10 nomination meeting.
MLA Heather Sweet was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Manning at a September 8 nomination meeting. Sweet has represented the riding since 2015.
MLA Shannon Phillips was acclaimed as the NDP candidate in Lethbridge-West at a September 11 nomination meeting. Phillips was first elected in 2015 and served as Minister of Environment and Parks during the NDP’s term in government. She is currently the Official Opposition Finance critic.
Upcoming nomination meetings:
September 14: Former public school board trustee Michelle Draper and NDP provincial president Peggy Wright will face each other at a nomination vote in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
September 15: MLA Kathleen Ganley is running for the NDP nomination in Calgary-Mountain View.
September 17: MLA Marlin Schmidt is seeking the NDP in Edmonton-Gold Bar.
September 20: MLA Nicole Goehring is facing a nomination challenge from Nurmaiya Brady in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
September 24: Former city council candidate Rhiannon Hoyle and University of Alberta researcher Nasim Boroumand is seeking the NDP nomination in Edmonton-South.
September 25: Teacher David Cloutier is seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Shaw.
September 25: MLA Janis Irwin is seeking the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.
September 27: Former Spruce Grove city councillor Chantal Saramaga-McKenzie and former Parkland County Mayor Rod Shaigec are seeking the NDP nomination in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain.
JASON: Hi there, it’s Premier Jason Kenney calling to tell you about how affordable houses are in Alberta.
CANADA: Ok, cool, eh.
JASON: Salaries are higher and we have mountains and a big mall. We also…
CANADA: Just a minute Jason I have another call.
DANIELLE: Hi, this is Danielle Smith the front runner to become the next Premier of Alberta. I’m calling to warn you that Justin Trudeau, international bankers and Greta Thunberg are building an army of climate change police to take away your trucks.
CANADA: Sorry, what?
DANIELLE: That’s why I’m going to pass a law that lets Alberta ignore federal laws.
DANIELLE: We need your vote, except if you’re a secret communist, then you’re not welcome in Alberta.
CANADA: Danielle I’m going to put you on hold.
TRAVIS: Hi, this is Travis Toews. I’m calling to tell you that Justin Trudeau’s climate change police are trespassing on your farm.
CANADA: Uh, I think that’s what Danielle Smith already called me about.
BRIAN: Hi, this is Brian Jean. I want to talk to you about Alberta Autonomy.
CANADA: Sorry, you want to talk to me about your anatomy?
BRIAN. No. Autonomy.
CANADA: Um, ok. Like separatism?
BRIAN: No, autonomy.
CANADA: Um, ok…
JASON: Hi, it’s Jason Kenney calling again. Have you thought about moving to Alberta?
CANADA: Uh, yeah, about that, I think we’re going to wait to see how things turn out next May. Do you have Rachel’s number?
LaGrange has been the face of the government’s controversial education system reforms, including the introduction of a new curriculum for kindergarten to grade 12 that many education experts say includes outdated and retrograde terms and ideas.
LaGrange was first elected to the Legislature in 2019 when she unseated NDP MLA Kim Schreiner in a 60.6 percent to 23.1 per cent vote. She previously served as a trustee on the Red Deer Catholic School board from 2007 and 2018 and was president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association from 2015 to 2018.
Former city manager Craig Curtis and recent school board candidate Jaelene Tweedle are seeking the NDP nomination in Red Deer-North. The NDP have not announced a date for the meeting.
NDP candidates target Nate Glubish on rural broadband internet
Edmonton-Manning NDP MLA Heather Sweet joined Strathcona-Sherwood Park candidate Bill Tonita and Morinville-St. Albert candidate Karen Shaw at a press conference to criticize the UCP government for lack of progress on rural broadband internet expansion.
“Access to high-speed, affordable internet is essential for diversifying our economy and creating jobs, but the digital divide is growing under the UCP and hundreds of thousands of Albertans are at risk of being left behind,” said Tonita.
Strathcona-Sherwood Park is currently represented by UCP MLA and Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, who responded in a tweet saying “…Alberta’s Broadband Strategy is a fully-funded plan to eliminate the digital divide in 5 years. We are making sure we invest tax dollars wisely to achieve the best possible result for rural Alberta.”
The NDP have set September 14 as the nomination date in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview. Four-term MLA Deron Bilousis retiring and, as of this morning, party president Peggy Wright is the only candidate in the race.
“This Leadership Race is an exciting opportunity to build our party, debate ideas, discuss strategy and reach out to Albertans,” wrote Alberta Liberal Party president Helen Mcmenamin in a June 13 statement on the party website.
“They are looking for leadership they can trust to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow.”
Albertans might be looking for leadership to tackle the issues of today and the challenges of tomorrow but they won’t find it from the Alberta Liberal Party, at least not right now.
Last Friday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline for candidates to enter the leadership race came and went without any announcement. Anyone who was watching assumed there were just no candidates in the race.
That proved to be the case.
Mcmenamin issued another statement yesterday.
“As no candidates have stepped forward the Leadership race has concluded with no permanent Leader being selected,” she wrote.
It’s a blow to an already much diminished political party.
It’s not something I take pleasure writing about. It’s actually kind of sad.
Some current and former Liberal activists I’ve reached out to over the past few days point to in-fighting and a party executive controlled by a small group of people. Some say the current group is too loyal to the former leader and not open to new ideas. Some say they will just appoint a new interim leader of their choice.
The smaller the stakes the bigger the fight, right?
The Liberals have no MLAs and got less than 1 per cent of the province-wide vote in 2019.
That’s the party’s worst result since 1940, and even then they managed to elect 1 MLA.
They have struggled raising money and have been without a permanent leader since David Khan resigned in 2020.
Being leader of the Alberta Liberal party right now is not even a thankless job, it’s whatever the next level is after thankless.
And the party has really been without a purpose for a while.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Liberal Party formed the Official Opposition in Alberta. This was the party of Nick Taylor, Laurence Decore, Grant Mitchell and Kevin Taft. And it’s MLAs included Bettie Hewes, Sheldon Chumir, Mike Percy, Gary Dickson, Frank Bruseker, Howard Sapers and Laurie Blakeman – people who’s impact on politics is still felt today.
The space occupied by the Liberals shifted quite a bit over the decades.
Decore’s Liberals witnessed the party’s greatest success in 75 years when it came within a whisker of forming government in 1993. A record 32 Liberal MLAs formed the largest official opposition in Alberta history.
But an informal alliance with socially conservative Reform Party activists and its deficit hawk policies made for an awkward transition to an opponent of some of those same policies when they were implemented by Klein in the mid-1990s.
The party recalibrated under Mitchell in 1997 and was able to hold on to its seats in Edmonton, but 2001 represented a major blow when the party then led by Klein rival Nancy MacBeth was reduced to 7 MLAs and saddled with a million dollar debt.
The party rebounded under Kevin Taft’s leadership in 2004 when they regained much of their support in Edmonton and made important breakthroughs in Calgary.
Albertans were tiring of Klein and shopping around.
Despite winning an important by-election in Calgary-Elbow in 2007, the Liberals lost a lot of ground when facing Ed Stelmach’s PCs in 2008. It turned out the PCs brilliant “Change that works for Albertans” message did a better job of capturing the Obama-theme than “It’s Time.”
It was all downhill for the Liberals after that election.
By this point the Alberta Liberal Party had become less of a cohesive political party and more a coalition of independent-minded and locally popular MLAs.
Former PC MLA turned Liberal leader Raj Sherman was squeezed out of 2012’s two way race between Alison Redford’s PCs and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose.
Liberal voters flocked to the PC Party.
Then they flocked to the NDP in Orange Wave of 2015.
Party leader David Swann survived on the strength of his personal popularity but the Liberals were washed out.
And today any political territory the Liberal Party once occupied is now held by Rachel Notley’s NDP and, to a much lesser extent, the Alberta Party.
It’s hard to point to any laws or policies passed by Notley’s NDP in government and now proposed in opposition that would be meaningfully different from what the Liberals (and in some cases from the old PCs) would do.
And most federal Liberals in Alberta are supporting Notley or have abandoned provincial politics entirely.
It’s difficult to see how the Liberals can dig themselves out of their current hole, at least in the foreseeable future.
Maybe they are waiting for the NDP to collapse?
They might have to wait a while and every day they wait they sink into further irrelevance.
The Liberals are in the wilderness now.
Note: I was a member of the Alberta Liberal Party from 1999 to 2009. I sat on constituency association boards, I organized fundraisers, I knocked on a lot of doors, and worked for the party in various roles, including as Communications Coordinator from 2006 to 2008. During the 2008 election I worked with a group of MLAs and former cabinet ministers who were preparing the Liberal Party’s transition plan to form government (we were nothing if not optimistic).
Alberta NDP provincial president Peggy Wright is the first candidate to declare plans to enter the NDP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview. Her announcement on Facebook comes only days after third-term MLA Deron Bilous announced he will not seek re-election.
Wright has served as the party’s provincial president since 2016 and previously served as president of the NDP constituency association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, where she was involved in Bilous’ election campaigns. She previously served as president of the NDP’s youth wing.
And Wright has deep connections to the NDP.
Her father Keith Wright helped Grant Notley found the Youth Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Club at the U of A in the 1959, which was nicknamed “Notley’s Motley Crew,” according to Howard Leeson’s biography of Notley. Her father ran as the CCF candidate in Strathcona-Centre in the 1959 provincial election and was elected president of the national NDP youth wing in 1961.
Wright’s mother, Kathleen Wright, was a longtime NDP activist and stood as a provincial candidate in Edmonton-Gold Bar in 1979 and Edmonton-Avonmore in 1982.
They were both awarded lifetime memberships in the party in 2018.
The NDP had held Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview since 2012, when Bilous was first election, and past NDP MLAs for the riding include Ray Martin (2004-2008) and Ed Ewasiuk (1986-1993).
UPDATE: The NDP have scheduled a nomination meeting in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview on September 14.
Other nomination updates:
MLA Shannon Phillips will seek the NDP nomination to run for re-election in Lethbridge-West at a September 11 nomination meeting.
With Danielle Smith‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership appearing to pick up momentum, and recent endorsements from Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen, Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, Edmonton-South West MLA Kaycee Madu, and Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn suggesting the mood in the UCP caucus is shifting in her favour, some people have been sharing links of a series of articles I wrote 13 years ago about Smith’s time on the disastrous 1998-1999 Calgary Board of Education.
Reading it now, I see it’s a little awkwardly formatted, so please forgive this young blogger from 2009.
It’s also important to recognize that the Calgary Board of Education in those years wasn’t a gong show just because of Danielle Smith. It was a real group effort.
The board of trustees was so dysfunctional that it was fired by the provincial government.
Smith’s current beliefs and past record on public education became more relevant after last week’s UCP leadership candidates forum at the Alberta Teachers’ Association summer conference in Banff, which you can watch here:
And other former leader David Swann appears comfortable with returning to his roots as an environmental activist. Swann was the party’s last MLA when he decided to retire from elected politics in 2019.
The Liberal Party formed official opposition from 1993 to 2012, but I’ll leave the story of its quick rise and fall for another day (I have a lot to say).
Now, I guess we wait to see what happens at 5:00 p.m. today.
UPDATE: It appears as though the Liberal Party did not accept any nominations for its leadership race by today’s 5:00 p.m. deadline. The party has removed the “Leadership” section from its website drop down menu and has not made any public statements about the leadership race yet.
Lovely has served as MLA for the central Alberta riding since 2019 and was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Associate Minister of Status of Women in November 2021. She previously ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.
Smook was first elected to council council in 2013 and was the Alberta Party candidate in Camrose in 2019.
Lovely admitted today that she was the only other person to join MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk on an awards committee that selected a sexist and racist essay for a third place prize. In a written statement Lovely said she regretted the decision but was not available to answer any questions about why she chose the essay (or whether she actually read it before giving the $200 prize). There were only 5 essays submitted for the Her Vision Inspires essay contest.
Response to Lovely’s nomination on social media was largely muted, with the notable exception of Haydn Place, the acting chief of staff to Minister of Infrastructure Nicholas Milliken, who tweeted: “Glad the former Alberta Party candidate was defeated by a long-term UCP/Wildrose activist like Ms Lovely.”
Deron Bilous not running for re-election
After three-terms in the Legislature, NDP MLA Deron Bilous announced today that he will not run for re-election in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview. The former NDP economic development minister was first elected in 2012 by unseating Progressive Conservative MLA Tony Vandermeer.
“It has been an honour to serve as the member for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview for the past 10 years, but after much consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election,” Bilous said in a statement.
“I am incredibly proud of everything the NDP has accomplished during our time in government and as an opposition caucus, but the time has come for me to pursue new adventures in the private sector.”
“I would like to thank my constituents, volunteers, and party members for their support over the last decade. Together, we have built a stronger community in Beverly-Clareview.”
The working-class north east Edmonton riding has a long-history of NDP representation, with former party leader Ray Martin representing the riding from 2004 to 2008 and former city councillor Ed Ewasiuk holding the riding from 1986 to 1993. Bilous was re-elected in 2019 with 50 per cent of the vote.
No candidates have declared their intentions to run for the NDP nomination but names that immediately began circulating in political circles include former school trustee Michelle Draper, city councillor Aaron Paquette, recent city council candidate Cori Longo, and past federal NDP candidate Charmaine St. Germain.
Kathleen Ganley running for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View NDP
MLA and former justice minister Kathleen Ganley is seeking her party’s nomination for re-election in Calgary-Mountain View.
Ganley was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2015 and hopped across the river to run in Mountain View after the riding boundaries were redrawn for the 2019 election (allowing former Calgary-Fort MLA Joe Ceci to run for re-election in Buffalo). She was re-elected in 2019 with 47.3 per cent of the vote.
Applications to run for the UCP nomination in Highwood close at 5:00 pm on August 12.
Someone named S. Silver won the third place prize in the “Her Vision Inspires” essay contest that was championed by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville UCP MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, now the Associate Minister for the Status of Women.
In her award-winning essay, which was given a $200 prize, Silver argued:
“…it is sadly popular to think Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace us, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide…”
“to try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”
“that the best approach would be to reward families for their reproductive service both with financial rewards to offset the financial burden they are taking on and with medals to symbolize their valuable achievement of having 2+ children.”
Pretty gross stuff.
After facing a pretty strong public backlash for choosing a racist and sexist essay for the award, Armstrong-Homeniuk issued a written statement saying she disagrees with it and that it shouldn’t have been chosen.
She led the committee that chose it but we don’t know why it was chosen or who else was on the committee with her.
It’s a secret.
UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Angela Pitt told intrepid CBC reporter Michelle Bellefontainethey had nothing to do with it, as did cabinet ministers Adriana LaGrange and Tanya Fir.
We also don’t know how many essays were submitted to the contest or who “S. Silver” even is.
It’s now been removed but we don’t know how the essay was able to be published on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website without raising some giant red flags.
Speaker Nathan Cooper said he didn’t know anything about it.
The whole thing is a big exercise in passing the buck.
It feels like the most unlikeliest of outcomes, but in Alberta politics, the unexpected is sometimes the most likely.
It’s almost as if the past ten years never happened, said one conservative friend of mine, in reference to Danielle Smith’s near-win in 2012, her spectacular fall in 2014, and the massive political realignments – Rachel Notley’s NDP winning in 2015 and the formation of the UCP in 2017 – that have shaped Alberta politics since.
But she’s back and people think she’s going to win.
She’s drawing big crowds to her events, she’s getting media attention and she just stole another MLA endorsement away from Travis Toews.
It’s possible that other candidates are selling more memberships or that the preferential ballots could tally in a way that helps other candidates but the biggest indicator that Smith is in the lead is that all the other candidates are attacking her.
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean, the UCP prince-in-exile, took aim at Smith’s idea to open the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba to oil exports. It’s a perennially bad idea that never happens but never dies.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt announced on social media that she was quitting her volunteer role as Rajan Sawhney’s campaign chair, saying she needs to realign with her constituents. That feels like code for she’s worried Smith is going to win the leadership and her supporters – notably campaign chair and former MLA Rob Anderson – might be interested in challenging Pitt for the nomination in the riding.
Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is backing Toews, took a swipe at Smith on Twitter after the party’s Medicine Hat leadership debate.
“Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement,” Genuis tweeted on July 27, 2022.
Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement. #abpoli
Not naming but clearly targeting Smith in an online video, Rebecca Schulz described the front-runner as “unhinged and unreasonable” and “lighting her hair on fire.”
Schulz’s video announced that Calgary-Midnapore MP Stephanie Kusie has joined Rona Ambrose as campaign co-chair.
Trying to out-co-chair her opponents is an odd strategy, and is a role that is usually left to the backrooms, but it’s pretty clear that Schulz is trying desperately to position herself as the ABD – Anybody but Danielle – candidate in the UCP race – especially for conservatives not enthralled by Toews beige and boring campaign.
Toews’ establishment-favourite campaign appears to be losing steam.
Having to fight back criticisms about Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s six-figure bonus undermined his claim of being fiscally responsible. And he lost the support of another UCP MLA this week when Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, the Minister of Service Alberta, abandoned Toews and switched his endorsement to Smith.
In almost any other mainstream conservative leadership race, even in Alberta, Smith’s promotion of conspiracy theories and snake oil COVID cures, promises to impose unconstitutional laws, and more would probably disqualify her on the ballots of a lot of conservatives.
But this unruly UCP appears to be a very different beast than the old Progressive Conservative Party it absorbed six years ago. And Smith has used her decades of experience in politics and media to fine tune a message that appeals to a motivated chunk of today’s UCP base.
This most unexpected of outcomes is a surprise when you consider the rules of the leadership race were almost designed to quell an insurgent campaign.
The high entry fee ($175,000), signature requirements (1,000) and early membership cut off date (August 12) were designed for an establishment candidate.
Of course this is all about who sells the most memberships, and some candidates might be out there quietly selling a ton of memberships, but the early cutoff date means the days of the “two-minute Tories” who propelled Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford into the Premier’s Office are long gone.
Ideological conservatives hated it, but anybody being able to walk into the voting station on voting day and buy a membership ensured the PC Party constantly reinvented itself as a big tent party – arguably the biggest success of its 43 years of uninterrupted power.
But Smith isn’t campaigning to lead a big tent and a lot of people think she’s going to pull it off.