Danielle Smith, the perceived front-runner for the United Conservative Party’s leadership vote this week, is pledging not to call a snap election if she wins the race to succeed Jason Kenney – saying she will instead seek a seat in Alberta’s legislature through a by-election in a rural riding.
The politician said several UCP members of legislative assembly have “offered” to give up their seats so she can run in one of their ridings should she secure victory as the party’s leader Thursday. The urban riding of Calgary-Elbow, last occupied by former UCP MLA Doug Schweitzer, is vacant, but Ms. Smith said she will not run there because she is from rural Alberta.
If Ms. Smith wins the leadership race – and therefore the premier’s chair – she intends to quickly start implementing campaign promises, before testing support for her platform from the broader electorate. She told reporters on Monday that she would adhere to Alberta’s schedule for a general election next May, arguing the UCP still has a mandate to implement her proposed reforms.
Further, she said while she plans to trigger a by-election in a rural riding, she will not necessarily call a run-off in Calgary-Elbow. That relatively centrist riding is not considered a slam dunk for the governing UCP, which moved to the right during the contest to replace Mr. Kenney.
The UCP is scheduled to name a new leader Thursday evening, after distributing 124,000 ballots to members in September. Ms. Smith is considered the favourite to win the race, but some competitors still hope the party’s ranked ballot system will offer them a narrow route to victory. Ms. Smith is the only contestant on the slate of seven without a seat in the legislature.
Ms. Smith, who led the Wildrose Party in a mass floor-crossing to the then-governing Progressive Conservatives in 2014, said she would “look for an early opportunity to get into the legislature” in order to introduce her proposed sovereignty act, the controversial campaign promise she says will allow Alberta to ignore federal laws it believes tread on provincial jurisdiction. She said “several” UCP MLAs have “stepped forward offering” her their seat.
“I do live in a rural riding and I do like the dynamic of the rural riding that I’m in,” she said, explaining why she would have a sitting MLA step down to create a by-election opportunity rather than run in Calgary-Elbow.
She would not commit to a concurrent by-election for Calgary-Elbow, instead saying she would have to “consult” with the local UCP riding association on whether it has a nominee ready. Mr. Schweitzer resigned at the end of August, but left cabinet and declared his intention to vacate his seat earlier that month.
Provincial by-elections must be called within six months of vacancies, except when a general election is within a year. (It is not clear, however, whether this is relevant to the four-year convention or the five-year law.) Ms. Smith said the potential for a Calgary-Elbow by-election would be judged based on “readiness” and “expense,” although she did not indicate whether she meant costs for the province or her party.
It is unusual, and perhaps without precedent, for a premier to call a by-election in one riding while leaving another seat open, according to Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary. The cost rationale is also peculiar, she said.
“The cost was justified to get her into the legislature, but the cost wasn’t justified to ensure that the people of Calgary-Elbow have representation in the legislature,” Ms. Young said, noting Alberta’s largest city has cooled on the UCP. “To leave one open, when you call one somewhere else, really does highlight the inconsistency there.”
Ms. Smith declined to pinpoint which riding she is considering for a by-election because, in the event that she does not win the leadership race, the person holding that seat “will want to serve out the rest of their term, I suspect, without all the speculation.”
Michaela Frey, the UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, last week said she would not seek re-election in 2023. Ms. Smith previously said she wants to run in Livingstone-Macleod, which is occupied by Roger Reid. Neither Ms. Frey nor Mr. Reid returned messages seeking comment.