The problem with taking a break from writing about Alberta politics of a few days is that it becomes almost impossible to decide what to write about.
This week is no exception.
So here I go.
Let’s start with the essay contest.
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 Bellefontaine they 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.
Moving on, for now.
“Premier Danielle Smith. Get used to it.”
Those seven words from longtime political writer Graham Thomson seem to sum up how a lot of people are thinking the UCP leadership will end.
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
— Garnett Genuis (@GarnettGenuis) July 28, 2022
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.