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.
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including the introduction of a new curriculum for kindergarten to grade 12 that many education experts say includes outdated and retrograde terms and ideas.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).
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:
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.
There ain’t no party like a fringe right-wing Alberta separatist party.
Less than two months after Paul Hinman was ousted as leader of the Wildrose Independence Party and replaced by interim leader Jeevan Mangat, it appears that a counter-kudatah (known outside Alberta as a “coup d’état”) has pushed out Hinman’s opponents.
An online statement and email to WIP members from former Wexit Alberta interim leader Kathy Flett, who identifies herself as the WIP VP Communications, says a false narrative is being put out by the former Provincial Board after a well-attended annual general meeting on July 23, 2022 in Red Deer.
“There have been repeated claims that a “Minority Group of 40 or so” members “Took Over” the AGM,” Flett writes. “The Facts tell a different story.”
“This weekend in Red Deer, history was made as Wildrose members stood steadfast for what they knew was right. Their tenacity and persistence forced those who thought they should remain on the board to finally walk out in shame.”
“What occurred yesterday is a sad example of what happens when a small group of individuals completely lose touch with the will of the majority.”
“The Wildrose Independence Party belongs to its members, not the Party Board of Governors, and, therefore, Rick Northey, Wes Caldwell, Bill Jones, et al, are no longer Governors of the Wildrose Independence Party.”
“As of this moment, they still control the party’s website and email system. As such, we advise you to disregard any communications originating from “Wildrosenation.com” until we’ve confirmed with you that it is, again, from us.”
According to Flett’s statement, the newly elected board includes President Angela Tabak (the party’s president in Cardston-Siksika), Chief Finance Officer Allan Wesley, and Secretary Gord Elliot (who until recently was President of the United Conservative Party constituency association in Calgary-North West).
The takeover appears to have pushed out President Rick Northey (the former President of the Wildrose Party association in Airdrie) and CFO Bill Jones.
As of this afternoon, the party’s website showed most of the party’s Board of Governors positions as vacant but still listed Northey and Jones, as well as former Conservative MP Rob Anders and separatist activist Bob Lefurgey as members of the party’s board.
It appears as though Hinman has been reinstated as party leader but Elections Alberta still lists Mangat as the party’s interim leader, so it’s not totally clear.
Hinman originally stepped into the role on an interim basis in 2020 but later became the party’s permanent leader when no one else ran for the leadership. He was leader of the Wildrose Alliance from 2005 to 2009 and was elected to the Legislature twice – as MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner from 2004 to 2008 and MLA for Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012. He briefly mounted a campaign for the UCP leadership in 2017 but withdrew before the nomination deadline and endorsed Jason Kenney.
The Wildrose Independence Party was created in 2020 as a merger of the Wexit Alberta group created after the federal Liberals were re-elected in 2019 and the Freedom Conservative Party, which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, Separation Party of Alberta, and the Western Freedom Party.
The WIP has suffered from poor fundraising returns in recent months, raising a measly $7,613 in the second quarter of 2022, and low support in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
A recent push by UCP leadership candidates Danielle Smith, Brian Jean and Todd Loewen toward all out separatism or some form of provincial autonomy has given a second wind to Alberta separatists but sucked the wind out of the sails of the actual separatist parties.
Recent merger talks with the competing Independence Party of Alberta fell apart in June 2022. A statement on the IPA website lists Northey and Jones as key negotiators for the WIP in those talks.
The IPA, formerly known as the Alberta Independence Party, went through its own internal drama after the 2019 election and is now in the process of choosing its second new leader since that election. Former federal Liberal candidate and anti-COVID restrictions activist lawyer Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race.
All this ongoing drama is almost par for the course for Alberta’s small cottage industry of right-wing separatist parties, but it raises the big question: How do they plan to fight Ottawa when they are so busy fighting themselves?
Her campaign chair, Rob Anderson, is founder of the Free Alberta Strategy and was one of two Progressive Conservative MLAs to cross the floor to Smith’s Wildrose in 2010 (he later crossed the floor back to the PCs with Smith in 2014).
Smith declared Alberta will never ever have a lockdown again (we never *really* had a lockdown).
The other candidates responded.
She made wild statements about any cancer before Stage 4 is a result of poor personal choices.
Postmedia columnist Don Braid wrote that her “dabbles in quackery” are sometimes almost funny but “this one is dangerous.”
When Smith hosted a popular radio talk show she promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure to COVID-19. She even touted ivermectin as a treatment. Now she wants to appoint chief medical officers of alternative medicine.
Rehn was briefly expelled from the UCP Caucus in 2021 after taking a hot holiday to Mexico while most Albertans respected the government’s own COVID-19 travel advice and stayed home, and local municipal leaders called on him to resign after spending more time in Texas than his own riding.
Kenney said Rehn would not be allowed to run for the UCP nomination in the next election but he was quietly allowed to rejoin the UCP Caucus last summer. But now Kenney is on his way out.
Some might say I’m playing into the Smith-comeback narrative by writing this article, but she’s the only candidate saying anything interesting – even if it’s quackery.
She’s drawing crowds and appears to be hitting the right notes with a motivated segment of the UCP base, which says a lot about who the membership of the UCP is today.
This isn’t your father’s Progressive Conservative Party, folks.
The other candidates in the UCP race better get their acts together, because the membership sales deadline is on August 12.
Hinman has been replaced by Jeevan Mangat, who ran for the Wildrose Party in Calgary-Fort in 2012 and 2015.
The WIP was created in 2020 through the merger of the Wexit group and the Freedom Conservative Party (which was previously known as the Alberta First Party, the Separation Party of Alberta and the Western Freedom Party). The party has struggled with fundraising and Hinman placed a distant third in the recent Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
Before his time as WIP leader, Hinman served as a Wildrose MLA from 2004 to 2008 and 2009 to 2012, and as leader of the Wildrose Alliance Party immediately before Danielle Smith was chosen as leader in 2009.
Meanwhile, the IPA is still looking for a new leader. Past federal Liberal candidate Katherine Kowalchuk is the only candidate in the race, so far.
Tawadrous ran for town council in the 2021 Sylvan Lake municipal elections. UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smiththanked Tawadrous on Twitter for organizing a 300-person event for her campaign in Sylvan Lake on June 28.
Dreeshen was first elected in a 2018 by-election to replace Don MacIntyre, who resigned after he was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference.
Sylvan Lake town councillor Kjeryn Dakinannounced her candidacy in June but was disqualified by the party when it was revealed she also held memberships in the NDP and Alberta Party.
First NDP race in Central Peace-Notley since 1984
Environmental scientist, registered agrologist Lynn Lekisch and Northern Alberta Development Council analyst Megan Ciurysek are seeking the Alberta NDP nomination in Central Peace-Notley. A vote is scheduled for July 20, 2022.
December 8, 1984 was the last time the NDP held a contested nomination in this riding, well technically in its predecessor riding of Spirit River-Fairview.
At a 400-person meeting, School principal Jim Gurnett defeated Fairview school board chairperson Betty MacArthur, farmer Dave Ross and college instructor Bill Stephenson to win the nomination to replace the current riding’s namesake, Grant Notley, who died in a plane crash in 1984.
According to a Canadian Press report from Dec. 10, 1984, many delegates at the nomination meeting credited a rousing speech Gurnett delivered for his victory in which he attacked the Tories as “Robin Hoods in reverse.”
“We don’t need a government that increases taxes for ordinary people and then gives it back to the oil companies,” Gurnett said.
The Tories would dominate the riding for the next 29 years, with the exception of near-wins for the Liberals in 1993 and the Alberta Alliance in 2004, until New Democrat Marg McCuaig Boyd won in the 2015 Orange Wave.
Current UCP leadership candidate Todd Loewen unseated McCuaig Boyd in 2019 after the Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley riding was merged with the Grande Prairie-Smoky riding to form the current Central Peace-Notley riding.
NDP race in Calgary-Cross
Gurinder Gill and Denis Ram are seeking the NDP nomination in Calgary-Cross at a July 25 candidate selection meeting.
Gill is a two-time federal NDP candidate in Calgary-Skyview, improving the party’s standing in the north east Calgary riding from 8 per cent in 2015 to 16 per cent in 2021.
Ram is a student-at-law and founder and executive director of the Complete Complaints Foundation. He is also a former intern editorial writer for The Hill Times in Ottawa.
UCP MLA Jackie Lovely will face Beaver County Reeve Kevin Smook in a nomination vote in the Camrose riding on August 4, 5 and 6, 2022.
Lovely was first elected in 2019 after defeating four other candidates to secure the UCP nomination in 2018 and went on to win the 2019 election with 65 per cent of the vote. She previously ran as the Wildrose Party candidate in Edmonton-Ellerslie in 2012 and 2015.
Smook was the Alberta Party candidate in the riding in 2019.
And here is some more nomination news:
First-term MLA Miranda Rosin has been acclaimed as the UCP candidate in Banff-Kananaskis.
There’s not much of anything that is constant in Alberta politics these days, maybe except for the Calgary Stampede.
At least in some non-pandemic years, it’s the Northern Star of Alberta politics. It’s the must attend event for political aspirants of all stripes, from Prime Ministers to aspiring future Premiers.
The Stampede is back in full force this year, with last year’s disastrous “Best Summer Ever” disaster unfortunately an almost distant memory, even though its a big reason why we are where we are today in Alberta politics.
And for anyone watching the Stampede, even this writer from his perch in Edmonton, the race to replace Jason Kenney as Premier and leader of the United Conservative Party was on display as urbanites of all stripes dusted off their cowboys hats and plaid shirts for the week of pancake breakfasts and beer tents.
The big talk of the town this week is Danielle Smith’s unexpectedly strong comeback in the UCP leadership race.
Most political watchers will remember her downfall after a treacherous floor-crossing nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party and helped created the conditions for Rachel Notley to lead her NDP to sweep the province in 2015. (Real political nerds will remember her time on the disastrous Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999, but that’s for another column).
But what we politicos may have missed is that a lot of Albertans, including the thousands who have signed up to support her and are showing up to her campaign events in droves, remember her from her more recent role as the host of a popular talk radio show.
Smith has always been a talented political communicator, despite some high-profile flameouts.
She knows how to talk to conservatives, and it just happens there are a lot of those in Alberta.
It’s not clear how many UCP MLAs support her separatist-leaning “Alberta First” campaign or her dipping into COVID conspiracy theories, but she has nabbed at least one endorsement from the governing caucus – Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie.
Smith hasn’t held a seat in the Legislature sine 2015 but she’s challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. And recently she said she would reopen nomination contests some party activists believe were unfairly stacked in favour of Kenney loyalists, a move that is unlikely to endear her to most current UCP MLAs.
Her comeback would be the political story of the year, and while Premier Danielle Smith is far from a sure thing, she is certainly driving the narrative of the UCP leadership campaign. She’s tapped into a motivated group of Alberta conservatives unhappy with the status-quo.
Those are probably the people Kenney referred to as “lunatics.”
And they might just be the mainstream of the UCP right now.
Even the perceived frontrunner is responding to Smith.
Establishment favourite Travis Toews followed Smith’s lead with a milquetoast “Enough is Enough” social media meme opposing COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s not clear what message he was trying to telegraph.
It was the kind of vague response you would expect from a frontrunner campaign, wanting to respond and not offend but failing at both.
Toews also released a list of autonomist policies that read like they were copied and pasted from 2020’s Fair Deal Panel report.
Smith and Toews aren’t alone.
Brian Jean is hitting the same notes, though he’s running a sleepier than expected campaign. Still, Fort McMurray’s Golden Boy shouldn’t be underestimated.
Independent MLA Todd Loewenis also hitting the same notes on separatist and anti-COVID health measures but his chances of winning appear much less likely than the others in this pack.
Smith’s extreme positions are probably leaving Rachel Notley’s NDP salivating at the opportunity to run against an extremist right-wing UCP that would leave a lot of Albertans alienated.
Two months ago, Notley’s victory in Alberta’s next election looked like a sure bet, but Kenney’s resignation announcement gave his party a bump in the polls and now it’s a race.
Notley and her MLAs have basically decamped to Calgary for the summer, showing up at every event and taking every chance to door knock with their growing slate of local candidates that includes former city councillor Druh Farrell in Calgary-Bow, energy analyst Samir Kayande in Calgary-Elbow, sustainable energy expert Nagwan Al-Guneid in Calgary-Glenmore. Canadian Forces veteran Marilyn North Peigan in Calgary-Klein, and physician Luanne Metz in Calgary-Varsity.
It’s probably the closest thing Calgary has seen to a Progressive Conservative slate since 2015 but the NDP still have a lot of hard work ahead of them to convince Calgarians to vote for them en masse in 2023.
But the UCP leadership candidate the NDP might fear the most so far hasn’t been playing the same cards as Smith, Toews, Jean and Loewen.
The first-term MLA from Calgary-Shaw and former children’s service minister had already nabbed an endorsement from Rona Ambrose but the former interim Conservative Party leader is now chairing her campaign.
Schulz and her husband were political staffers in Wall’s government before moving to Calgary seven years ago and her husband worked for McMillan as VP Communications of CAPP.
It’s hard to tell where her politics are. Schulz seems more moderate than the rest of the pack, which isn’t saying much, but how much more moderate is not clear.
Along with her political establishment connections, Schulz might become a pretty appealing candidate if there are enough UCP members left who don’t want to fight the next election on COVID conspiracy theories and Alberta separatism.
At the very least, there might actually be enough Saskatchewan expats alone living in Alberta to win a leadership race.
And I would be remise if I failed to mention the other candidates who are also busy yahooing their way through the Stampede.
Rajan Sawhney is running an outsiders campaign, leaning on her years of business experience. She is also a candidate to watch.
“…there have also been squabbles that have erupted in the pages of national media, public meltdowns, nearly missed physical fights, coups, smear jobs, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus turfings, people harassed to the point where they resign roles, and hours long meetings where members have been subjected to hours of public castigation,” Rempel wrote.
It was a brutal critique of Alberta’s main conservative party.
She’s not wrong.
Affable Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfriedagrees.
But while her criticisms are stingingly on point Rempel Garner doesn’t offer solutions to how to fix the UCP.
In fact, she basically reaffirms what NDP leader Rachel Notley has been saying for months: the UCP is too caught up in their own internal fights to do what’s right for Albertans.
The UCP wanted Rempel Garner but the White Knight from Calgary-Oklahoma will not be riding into this breach.
And the candidate the party didn’t want is in, well, kind of.
Sherman is one of the most eccentric people in Alberta politics.
He was elected as a Progressive Conservative MLA in 2008, was pushed out in 2010, and won the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2011. Narrowly re-elected in his Edmonton-Meadowlark seat in 2012, he left the party before the 2015 election.
He’s mostly stayed out of politics since then but in 2020 he spoke out about COVID-19 and last year he gave $4,000 to the Alberta Party.
It’s no wonder the UCP doesn’t want him in the race.
Sherman is persistent if anything, so he says he’s going to keep campaigning anyway.
Back in 2012, Sherman’s Liberals lost Official Opposition status in 2012 to Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party.
Now Smith is making waves as a candidate in this leadership race.
She also promises to never again “lockdown” Alberta.
Never mind that we never really had a lockdown during the pandemic, but her message plays well with an extremely motivated and well-organized group of conservative activists who oppose everything from face-masks to mandatory vaccinations.
Ten years ago it might have been described as a bozo-eruption.
But not today.
Anything goes in Alberta politics, or at least in the UCP, so it would seem.
Meanwhile, the perceived frontrunner and establishment favourite, former finance minister Travis Toews, is running a safe and low-energy campaign.
The most controversial issue he has tackled is opposing health safety labels on beef packaging.
Toews’ campaign held a rally just outside of Edmonton at the River Cree Casino on the Enoch First Nation a few days ago. Watching the live-stream it looked like a big crowd but there were still enough chairs for everyone.
It was nothing like the massive barnburner put on by Pierre Poilievre‘s campaign a few months ago to which all future political rallies at River Cree will be compared to.
Maybe safe and steady is the right strategy for Toews.
It didn’t work for Jim Dinning or Gary Mar but the old PC Party was a very different political beast than today’s UCP.
The same poll that had Rempel Garner in the lead showed the top two issues on Albertans minds are the cost of living and health care.
It’s not hard to see why.
The price of everything has been skyrocketing, hospitals across Alberta are temporarily closing or diverting patients because of a nursing shortage crisis, and EMS is stretched past its limits.
So what did UCP leadership candidates gather online tonight to discuss?
Yeah, that’s right.
Former PC-turned-Wildrose-turned PC MLA Rob Anderson’s Free Alberta Strategy group hosted the first online candidates panel of the UCP leadership race.
It’s too bad Rempel Garner wasn’t there tonight.
She was the champion of the manifesto known as The Buffalo Declaration, named after Frederick Haultain‘s never formed mega-Province of Buffalo – a century old bad idea that has recently reached mythical status in some conservative circles.
Rempel Garner and 3 other Alberta MPs described the Buffalo Manifesto as a final attempt to make Alberta an equal partner in Confederation. They said without it a referendum on Alberta’s independence is an inevitability.
[Insert eye-roll emoji here]
Sometimes it seems like the faster Alberta politics moves the more it stays the same.
Michelle Rempel Garner isn’t the only person starting a Substack – sign up for the Daveberta Substack.
It appears that the UCP will allow Calgary MP Michelle Rempel Garner to enter the leadership race, if she chooses, even though she has not had a current party membership for the full past six months as required (there is no doubt she is a committed Conservative partisan).
A similar request for an exemption by former Liberal Party leader Raj Shermanwas denied.
Kenney’s caretaker cabinet shuffle
Outgoing Premier Jason Kenney announced a cabinet shuffle to fill in the spots left by ministers leaving to run in the race to replace him.
Changes to the caretaker cabinet, which will be in place until a new Premier takes office after the October 6 UCP leadership vote, include:
Minister of Environment and Parks and Acting President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Jason Nixon becomes President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.
Associate Minister of Status of Women Whitney Issik becomes Minister of Environment and Parks.
Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones becomes Minister of Children’s Services.
Minister of Infrastructure Prasad Panda becomes Minister of Transportation.
Calgary-Currie MLA Nicholas Milliken becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong Homeniuk becomes the Associate Minister of Status of Women.
Deputy Government Whip Brad Rutherford becomes Chief Government Whip and Minister without Portfolio.
Unsurprisingly, everyone on the list is considered a loyalist, and a few, notably Issik, Milliken, and Rutherford, are considered vulnerable to strong NDP challenges in the next election.
Issik, Jones and Armstrong Homeniuk have publicly endorsed former finance minister Travis Toews for the UCP leadership, who is widely considered the establishment favourite in the race.
The cowboy hat wearing former Finance Minister from Beaverlodge, Travis Toews, launched his campaign last week with endorsements from 23 UCP MLAs, including Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.
Savage and Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin are co-chairing his campaign.
Toews is seen as the establishment favourite, which isn’t always a blessing.
Former Transportation Minister Rajan Sawhney launched her campaign yesterday with a whistle-stop tour down the QEII, starting with media events in Edmonton, Penhold and Airdrie before ending at a +700-person rally in north east Calgary.
It was a strong kick-off.
Sawhney’s campaign is being run by well-known political strategist and conservative thinker Ken Boessenkool, who worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former BC Premier Christy Clark.
Her former chief of staff (and former Daveberta Podcast co-host) Ryan Hastman is her deputy campaign manager.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt is Sawhney’s campaign chair.
It’s an odd fit for a leadership candidate who appears to be trying to position herself as a political moderate (no word if South Tyrol-like autonomy for Alberta will be in her platform).
Pitt endorsed Brian Jean for the UCP leadership 2017, and even have him credit for her entry into politics.
This time she’s backing Sawhney.
Jean is launching his campaign at a hotel in west Edmonton tomorrow.
Autonomy for Albertans is Jean’s slogan, not Anatomy for Albertans, as this writer first thought he read.
The former Wildrose Party leader launched his second political comeback in last year’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election with the singular purpose of defeating Kenney in the leadership review and run to replace him.
He’s met half his goal so far.
Another former Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith is also trying for her second political comeback after a short and disastrous stint on the Calgary Board of Education in the late 1990s and as Wildrose Party leader from 2009 until she infamously abandoned her party to join Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives in 2014.
For many conservatives, especially those of the Wildrose-variety, it is a betrayal that will live in infamy.
The leadership is only one-half of Smith’s comeback attempt.
She’s also challenging MLA Roger Reid for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod, which appears far from a safe-bet.
First-term south Calgary MLA Rebecca Schulz stepped down as Children’s Services Minister to jump into the race.
Schulz wants to take on what she describes as “the boys club.”
She has the backing of Calgary City Councillor Dan McLean, Health Minister Jason Copping, UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Jeremy Nixon, MPs Laila Goodridge and Stephanie Kusie, former federal Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall.
The Wall endorsement might seem odd, but he endorsed Schulz in her bid to win the hotly contested Calgary-Shaw UCP nomination race back in 2018.
The Saskatchewan native was a spokesperson in Wall’s government before moving to Alberta in the mid-2010s, and her husband, Cole Schulz, was a ministerial chief of staff in Regina (he’s now the Vice President, Communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary).
Northern Alberta UCP MLA-in-exile Todd Loewen also jumped into the race, as did Village of Amisk Mayor Bill Rock, another former Wildrose Party candidate.
But one of the big potential contenders, Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, is playing coy.
Maybe she’ll run. Maybe she won’t.
Her text message reply to Press Gallery Dean Don Braid was “hahahaha!”
And the hot gossip in political circles today is that erratic former Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman is thinking about joining the fray.
Sherman was first elected as a PC MLA in 2008 but was driven out of that party and scooped up the Liberal leadership in 2011. He left politics in 2015 and returned to being full-time ER doctor.
He also donated $4,000 to the Alberta Party last year.
So it’s a scramble. It’s a dog’s breakfast.
And there could be more.
We’ll know soon enough.
July 20 is the deadline for candidates to pay up if they want to stay in the race.
The high-entry fee will quickly weed out candidates who can’t raise enough money.
August 12 is the deadline to buy a membership.
No time for the two-minute Tories who wreaked havoc against the establishment candidates in the old PC Party leadership races.
The party is also organizing debates and attendance by all candidates is mandatory.
Stragglers will risk be fined or disqualified, or both.
It’s no Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but it’s bound to be entertaining to watch.
Liberal Party seeks new leader
The Alberta Liberal Party also announced that it will be holding their own leadership vote and choosing a new leader on September 25, 2022.
Former party leader David Khanstepped down in November 2020 after failing to win a seat in the 2019 election, marking the first time since before 1986 that the provincial Liberals not represented in the Legislature.
Travis Toews: Finance Minister since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti since 2019. Former president of the Canadian Cattleman’s Association. Looks comfortable in a business suit or Carhartts. Sounds like the adult in the room but is connected to a northern Alberta Bible college with some fairly backwards views about yoga and same-sex relationships. Probably one of the more hardline fiscal conservatives in the UCP cabinet. Grand champion of the 1976 4-H calf show in Hythe. Likely UCP establishment favourite.
Brian Jean: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2015 to 2017. Target of a kamikaze campaign during the 2017 UCP leadership race. MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche since 2022. MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin from 2015 to 2018. MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca from 2004 to 2014. Toyed with COVID skepticism and Alberta separatism. Jason Kenney’s worst enemy. Lawyer, businessman and Golden Boy of Fort McMurray.
Danielle Smith: Leader of the Wildrose Party from 2009 to 2014. MLA for Highwood from 2012 to 2015. Crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservative Party in 2014. Calgary public school trustee from 1998 to 1999. Alumna of the Fraser Institute, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Calgary Herald, Global TV, and Chorus Radio. Current President of the Alberta Enterprise Group. Running for the UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod. Embraced COVID conspiracy theories.
Todd Loewen: MLA for Central Peace-Notley since 2019. MLA for Grande Prairie-Smoky from 2015 to 2019 and Wildrose candidate in the riding in 2008 and 2012. Resigned as UCP Caucus chair in 2021 after calling on Kenney to resign and was kicked out of caucus the next day. Formed a UCP Caucus-in-exile with fellow ousted MLA Drew Barnes. Drove his motorhome in the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa. Renowned in the UCP Caucus for his pancake cooking skills.
These four have registered others are expected.
Transportation Minister and Calgary-North East MLA Rajan Sawhney has tapped longtime conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool to run her exploratory committee.
“[W]hat this race needs right now is just not more of the same,” Sawhney told reporters in a statement.
Children’s Services Minister and Calgary-Shaw MLA Rebecca Schultz isn’t in the race yet but already has an endorsement from former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. Schultz worked for Wall’s government before she moved to Alberta in 2016.
So are former cabinet ministers Leela Aheer and Devin Dreeshen.
And Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner is rumoured to be testing the waters. She would be an interesting addition to the race, though recent history has not been kind to federal politicians jumping into provincial politics in Alberta.
The party has appointed a committee that is expected to release rules, entry requirements and timelines for the leadership race before the beginning of summer.
UDPATE! Village of Amisk mayor Bill Rock has registered with Elections Alberta to run in the UCP leadership race. Rock was the Wildrose Party candidate in the Wetaskiwin-Camrose riding in the 2015 election. He was parachuted into the riding after previously nominated candidate Gordon Hatch withdrew from the race and endorsed PC MLA Verlyn Olson following Danielle Smith‘s floor-crossing.
Note: Registering as a candidate with Elections Alberta does not mean automatic approval as a candidate by the UCP. Registering with Election Alberta allows the candidates to fundraise under Alberta’s current political finance rules.