Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Former Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, in Nov. 2022, lost his Calgary riding by seven votes, according to Elections Alberta’s unofficial results.JASON FRANSON

Danielle Smith has an unusual problem for an incumbent premier in Alberta: Her team lacks bench strength.

The United Conservative Party held onto power in the province’s general election, but six cabinet ministers lost their jobs as voters reduced the governing party to 49 seats compared with 63 after the 2019 election. The electorate nearly halved the UCP’s standing in Calgary and shut the party out in Edmonton.

Ms. Smith will soon construct a cabinet from the UCP’s shrunken roster of MLAs, and its shortage of experience and urban representation will make this task more complicated. While some cabinet members were re-elected, the politicians who were in charge of some of the government’s thorniest files – health, justice, mental health and addiction – at dissolution were among the vanquished.

The UCP has had only one finance minister, save for a short fill-in stint last summer, during its four years in office and that person did not run for re-election. The government’s most recent environment minister, who previously ran the energy department, also sat out the election.

Rookie MLAs and returning politicians who held junior cabinet positions could soon find themselves at the decision table as Ms. Smith tries to balance the province’s geographical and ideological sensitivities.

“That will test their mettle,” said Faron Ellis, a political scientist at Lethbridge College.

The UCP’s string of defeats in Calgary, the epicentre of the Progressive Conservative dynasty, should give the party’s base more clout in cabinet, if only because urban options are limited.

“It will be a lot more rural,” said Karamveer Lalh, a lawyer and former UCP staff member and Conservative Party of Canada employee. While Mr. Lalh expects cabinet to have greater rural representation, there is still room for nuance.

Ms. Smith, during the UCP’s leadership campaign last year, made it clear she wanted to elevate rural voices and priorities in caucus. But if she selects ministers from suburban ridings around Edmonton and Calgary, she will be sending a different signal from stacking the cabinet with rural MLAs, Mr. Lalh said.

“It is difficult. At the end of the day, she can only work with what she has,” he added.

The UCP held 23 of Calgary’s 26 seats after the 2019 election, although by the time the 2023 race started, it had vacated two of those ridings. The election left the party with 12 seats in Calgary under its control. Three former cabinet ministers from Calgary lost their seats alongside the six who were ministers at dissolution.

Tyler Shandro, who served as justice minister under Ms. Smith and her predecessor, Jason Kenney, lost his Calgary riding by seven votes, according to Elections Alberta’s unofficial results. (The ballots will be counted again and official results will be posted June 8. Official results can be challenged by a judicial recount.)

Mr. Shandro was the UCP’s inaugural health minister and his successor, Jason Copping, lost his Calgary seat by more than 4,000 votes. The NDP also ousted Nicholas Milliken, minister of mental health and addiction, in Calgary-Currie; as well as Jason Luan, a cabinet minister who previously handled the mental health and addiction portfolio in a junior capacity, from Calgary-Foothills.

In Edmonton, voters rejected Kaycee Madu, one of Ms. Smith’s deputy premiers and a former justice minister.

Ms. Smith will have to consider where potential ministers sit on the ideological spectrum. The party is now more rural, as well as more conservative. But if Ms. Smith freezes out moderate and progressive voices in her government, she risks further alienating voters the UCP wants to lure back into the fold.

“It is clearly a divided party,” said Matthew Wildcat, a political scientist at the University of Alberta and Ermineskin Cree Nation member.

Two UCP candidates came under fire late in the campaign after social-media posts emerged of them making transphobic or racist statements. In response, Ms. Smith said the candidate who made transphobic remarks, Jennifer Johnson in Lacombe-Ponoka, would not be permitted to sit with the UCP caucus should she win her seat. The candidate who posted racist statements, Myles McDougall in Calgary-Fish Creek, apologized but was not sanctioned. Both candidates won their races Monday.

“The party didn’t win on the strength of those extreme voices, but those extreme voices are very prominent within the party,” Dr. Wildcat said, when discussing the challenges Ms. Smith faces as she shapes the party’s future.

Ms. Johnson and Mr. McDougall, along with at least three other first-time UCP candidates, are aligned with Take Back Alberta, the loose coalition of libertarians and social conservatives pushing the party to the right.

TBA’s rise and ties to the Premier have stirred consternation in the party. Ms. Smith will have to carefully consider the fallout from picking – or passing on – an MLA with TBA values for cabinet.

And the balancing act could mean she will have to make room for two experienced MLAs she previously jettisoned from cabinet: Calgary-Hays’s Ric McIver and Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre’s Jason Nixon.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles