It took just one day for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, after winning re-election, to spark controversy in Edmonton.
The New Democrats trounced Ms. Smith’s United Conservative Party in the capital city, winning all 20 seats in an urban “orange crush.” But the failed UCP candidates might still have the ear of Ms. Smith who said she will create a council that includes those individuals to advise her on how to meet the needs of Edmonton residents. The idea hasn’t landed well.
After widespread criticism, a spokesperson for Ms. Smith said nothing has been finalized. The Premier is expected to name her cabinet later this week but, with a decimated roster of experienced MLAs, she must navigate the complexities of ruling a party with a rural stronghold and limited urban representation.
The day after the election, Ms. Smith appeared on Edmonton talk radio where she was asked how she would make sure the city wasn’t overlooked. The Premier said she planned on building a council of UCP hopefuls who plan to run for office again.
“There are a couple of fantastic candidates, many in fact in Edmonton, and some got a lot closer than I think anybody ever would have expected,” Ms. Smith said. “I’m going to rely on them to continue giving me advice.”
The closest race in the capital city was Edmonton-Decore where NDP candidate Sharif Haji pulled 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 41 per cent for the UCP’s Sayid Ahmed, a difference of 1,719 votes.
Kaycee Madu, the only UCP candidate to be elected in Edmonton in 2019 and deputy premier under Ms. Smith, lost his Edmonton-South West seat by 14 percentage points, or 3,626 votes, according to unofficial results from Elections Alberta.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said residents are clearly dissatisfied with the UCP. He said in a statement that those failed contenders do not have a mandate to speak on behalf of residents. “That responsibility and accountability is vested in duly elected Edmonton city council,” he said.
Early last week, Mr. Sohi told media that the re-elected UCP has a responsibility to build stronger relationships with city officials in both major cities, considering they represent two-thirds of Alberta’s population. But he added that Edmonton hasn’t received its fair share from provincial coffers, pointing to the $330-million pre-election promise for Calgary’s arena deal from Ms. Smith.
He also named shortfalls in funding for infrastructure improvements, economic development and social services like shelters.
Rebecca Polak, a spokesperson for the Premier, said that while no decisions have been made on the advisory plan, Ms. Smith will continue to work with city council to address local priorities.
“The Premier understands the importance of including views and issues of all Albertans – including residents in Edmonton,” Ms. Polak said in a statement. “Additionally, elected representatives in Edmonton provide valuable perspective for their constituents and are always welcome to provide feedback to the government.”
Former Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, who served from 2013 to 2021, said deferring to party loyalists is deeply problematic.
“To empower folks who lost elections and disempower folks who won, whether they’re opposition MLAs or the sitting mayor and councillors, should be extremely troubling to every democratically minded person paying attention to what’s going on in Alberta right now,” he said.
Mr. Iveson said it would be “good engagement” for Ms. Smith to build an advisory panel comprised of people from civil society, including those in the non-profit sector, business community and academics who are non-partisan or multipartisan.
He added that Ms. Smith’s choice for minister of municipal affairs should be someone who can maintain a respectful working relationship with the city, which includes principled disagreement. He said relationships with many in the UCP – but not all – were strained during his time as mayor and some ministers engaged in “total warfare.”
Cathy Heron, president of Alberta Municipalities and mayor of St. Albert, northwest of Edmonton, said Ms. Smith should reach across the floor and form a committee of elected NDP MLAs who can serve as a conduit to residents’ needs. She said the unelected UCP candidates, especially as the years go by, could lose sight of community concerns and priorities.
There is another, albeit contentious, option for the Premier. She could appoint an unelected representative to cabinet.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in 2006, failed to win a seat in Montreal during the federal election. He then appointed Michael Fortier, a lawyer from the region and unofficial party operative, to his cabinet and later to the Senate – an unusual practice in modern Canadian politics. Mr. Fortier later lost his bid for a seat in the House of Commons.
Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said that type of representative would need to seek elected office reasonably quickly but he doubts the UCP is considering such a scenario.
“I think probably the democratic norms that insist that cabinet ministers hold a seat are just too strong for a provincial government to overcome the negative press and public reaction,” Mr. Adams said.