Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney now has two former leaders of the province’s now-defunct Wildrose Party fighting him from within.
The first was Brian Jean, Mr. Kenney’s rival for the leadership of the United Conservative Party who won a by-election in Fort McMurray last month on a campaign to depose the Premier and take over the party. Mr. Jean will join the UCP caucus in the legislature later this month.
And now, Danielle Smith says she plans to see the UCP nomination in a southwestern Alberta riding and, if Mr. Kenney loses a forthcoming leadership review, would run herself.
It’s the latest bad news for Mr. Kenney, who has faced opposition within his own caucus for more than a year, with several MLAs openly calling for him to resign. He has also suffered from record-low support in successive opinion polls, including a new one from Angus Reid that puts his approval rating at a dismal 30 per cent.
The Globe’s Gary Mason writes that even if Mr. Kenney wins his leadership review, that won’t end his problems. Mr. Kenney’s caucus would risk fracturing if he attempts to maintain a tenuous grip on power.
Ms. Smith’s return to provincial politics is hardly a surprise, as she has been signalling her desire to mop up the mess if Mr. Kenney is unseated. She came within spitting distance of the Premier’s office in the 2012 election before her campaign was derailed by controversies over the views of her party’s candidates.
She has recently become a vocal critic of Mr. Kenney and has accused him of losing touch with everyday Albertans. She has condemned the province’s handling of COVID-19 and has publicly criticized lockdowns and public-health measures.
Ms. Smith said her decision was driven in part by Mr. Kenney’s recent comments deriding some of his opponents as “lunatics.” She also said she objected to the UCP executive’s decision to shift a leadership review, which was scheduled for April 9, to a mail-in vote, which she argues benefits the Premier.
Ms. Smith became leader of the Wildrose in 2009 and in the lead-up to the 2012, her party seemed poised to defeat the Progressive Conservatives and form government.
Near the end of the election campaign, a blog post written by candidate Allan Hunsperger surfaced in which he urged gays and lesbians to repent or suffer eternally in hell’s “lake of fire.” Ms. Smith allowed Mr. Hunsperger to remain as a candidate and the incident was widely seen as fatal to her party’s campaign.
When asked about Ms. Smith’s announcement, Mr. Kenney repeatedly referenced the “lake of fire” and described the Wildrose election loss in 2012 as a “failure of leadership,” without mentioning her by name. He said his priority is to keep extreme views out of the UCP but that he welcomed diverging opinions on policy.
“What I heard from our members in every corner of Alberta,” he said, referring to his 2017 UCP leadership campaign, “was this: never again let a lake-of-fire incident happen. Never again allow extremism like that to make this party unelectable.”
A Twitter account run by Mr. Kenney’s campaign in the leadership review took a shot at both Ms. Smith and Mr. Jean in a post that said it was surprising “two people whose only track record is losing general elections, somehow feel they have all the answers.”
In 2012, Ms. Smith’s party became the Official Opposition and three years later Ms. Smith and eight other members of the Wildrose crossed the floor to join the PCs under then-premier Jim Prentice.
The Wildrose Party, under the leadership of Mr. Jean, would eventually merge with the Progressive Conservatives to form the UCP.
Ms. Smith became a radio talk-show host. She left that job at the start of 2021, lamenting what she described as the “mob” that would take to social media to demand she be fired if she aired something controversial.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.