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New United Conservative Party Leader and incoming Alberta premier Danielle Smith says she’ll run in a by-election in Medicine Hat to become a member of the provincial legislature.

In her first news conference since winning the UCP leadership race this week, Ms. Smith on Saturday said that it was important for her to run in the riding despite not being a resident because she felt there haven’t been any strong voices representing rural Albertans and their issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hope this sends a signal, not only to the residents of Brooks-Medicine Hat, but to residents of all rural Alberta, that their voice will be heard, it will be prominent, and it will be respected,” she said, standing alongside Michaela Frey, who stepped down as the riding’s MLA on Friday to make way for the new leader.

“I want to make sure that people know that I intend to spend a lot of time down here in the riding.”

Ms. Smith, who will lead the UCP in next year’s provincial election, has been a vocal opponent of some of the party’s pandemic measures and has vowed not to bring back any COVID-19 restrictions. She has also pledged to ban discrimination against what she called medical decisions – a reference to vaccine mandates – by amending Alberta’s Human Rights Act.

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The UCP Leader is expected to be sworn in as premier on Tuesday, replacing Jason Kenney. In May, Mr. Kenney announced that he would step down after barely winning the support of the party in a confidence vote.

Ms. Smith last held a seat in the provincial legislature in 2015, when she lost the riding nomination for the Progressive Conservatives. That was the beginning of her temporary exit from politics after years of controversy that included crossing the floor to the PCs while she was the leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party in 2014.

She won the UCP leadership race on the back of a promise to introduce a controversial sovereignty act, which would allow the province to refuse enforcement of specific federal laws or court rulings that it deemed to be against Alberta’s interests.

The policy presents an immediate threat to unity in the party, as it became a divisive subject during the leadership race, and which Mr. Kenney strongly opposes – calling it “catastrophically stupid.”

Other central promises made by Ms. Smith include replacing the entire Alberta Health Services board to work toward decentralizing the province’s health care.

The UCP Leader is planning a caucus retreat later this month, where she said MLAs will receive a full briefing on her plans around the sovereignty act and will work on the final wording of the policy. She plans to introduce the legislation this fall.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Justin Trudeau spoke with Ms. Smith over the phone on Friday to congratulate her and find key areas for collaboration, including job creation and tackling affordability issues. The short statement, however, did not make mention of the UCP Leader’s sovereignty-act plans.

Most of Ms. Smith’s leadership challengers opposed the sovereignty-act idea during the race and argued it would destroy Alberta’s economy because of the uncertainty it would cause. Constitutional experts largely pan the idea as illegal.

During a Friday morning caucus meeting, however, Ms. Smith’s former rivals offered cautious support for her plans and spoke warmly of unity within party ranks.

Meanwhile, as the UCP Leader gears up for another campaign in Brooks-Medicine Hat, she said her previous experience as a MLA for Highwood, a constituency south of Calgary, would prepare her to represent another small community. Ms. Smith, who lives in High River just outside Calgary, said she will make frequent trips to Medicine Hat and hold town halls in the constituency if elected.

She also said infrastructure issues such as twinning Highway 3 were important to better serve motorists and farm equipment users who currently share the small highway.

Pundits had wondered whether Ms. Smith would seek election in the vacant seat of Calgary-Elbow, but the UCP Leader said there are no current plans to hold a by-election in that riding since the next general election is so close.

With reports from Carrie Tait, Alanna Smith and The Canadian Press