In the end, Danielle Smith didn’t entirely sabotage Alberta conservatives’ prospects in Monday’s provincial election.
Although she gave it a good go. Boy, did she ever.
Ms. Smith’s United Conservative Party was returned to power, although with a much-reduced majority – 49 seats to 38 for Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party. Although, at this point, the results are not yet official and there are a few races that were exceptionally close. In the 2019 election, the UCP won a massive majority and 63 seats.
While the result certainly indicates there were some Albertans who are philosophically conservative who cast a vote for the NDP, likely for the first time in their lives, there weren’t enough to upset long-standing traditions in the most right-wing province in Canada.
And so we have, to some extent, the status quo. But not precisely.
There has never been an election in Alberta like the one this country just witnessed. Surely never has a party won office while having to overcome such a profoundly weak leader. Conversely, seldom if ever has a Canadian premier exhibited such acute disdain for established political norms and still been voted to lead a province. Most provinces would have been too embarrassed to have someone like Danielle Smith leading it.
Not Alberta. Or at least not a good chunk of Alberta, which apparently believes it is better to have a conservative government led by someone with gaping leadership deficiencies than no conservative government at all.
Of course, the fact that the election was as close as it ended up is an indictment of Ms. Smith’s seven-month stint in office after taking over the UCP from the deposed Jason Kenney. The UCP would likely have fared far, far better had they had the Zamboni driver for the Calgary Flames leading it.
But so what. It’s moot now. Ms. Smith is leader and still Premier and we are left to imagine what this means for Alberta and the country.
This is not good news for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ambitions on the climate change front. Ms. Smith has shown, repeatedly, she is not serious about this critical issue. Even with parts of her province on fire during the campaign – and there are still many blazes still active – the Premier didn’t dare utter the words “climate change.” That would have been sacrilege in a petro state where those in the booming oil and gas industry feel entitled to their entitlements.
There would seem to now be an ugly showdown coming over the federal government’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and Alberta’s own oil and gas ambitions. The province has its own plan to reduce CO2 and it’s called technology, also known as a hope and a dream.
Maybe there won’t be a great clash over climate. Maybe there will be a federal election and the Conservatives under Pierre Poilievre will get into power. They don’t care about climate change either so Alberta could be just fine.
Now that Ms. Smith has four more years of runway, will we see her pursue some of her pet hobby horses? Will she attempt to set up her own provincial pension plan, opting out of the federal one? Say so long to the RCMP and set up her own provincial police force? Insist on managing immigration policy, like Quebec? Dust off her Sovereignty Act, and try and usurp federal powers in any number of areas?
Oh, my. The fun has just begun.
Ms. Smith has made little secret of the fact that the great culture warrior himself, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is her political hero. So who knows, maybe there is some book banning on the horizon for Alberta. Lord knows there are UCP supporters who have a long list of titles they’d love to see confiscated from library shelves.
As happy as many Albertans are today, especially in rural parts of the province, there are many, many others who are deeply depressed over what has transpired. Never has an Alberta premier been more at odds with the values and mores of such a broad swath of the province.
Despite Monday’s outcome, Alberta in 2023 is not the Alberta of even 10 years ago. Immigration and in-migration have been slowly reshaping the demographic makeup of the province. As David Coletto of Abacus said, the election exposed huge cleavages, with traditional Alberta on one side and a newer, contemporary Alberta on the other.
One side is delirious today and the other is beyond despair. The election result could reverberate in Alberta, and in Canada, for a long, long time.