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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addresses a news conference in Ottawa on Feb. 5.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Danielle Smith has been lambasted by critics for her policies on renewable energy and transgender youth, for promoting a dubious plan for a stand-alone Alberta pension, and for a broken income-tax cut promise. And yet, the Alberta Premier’s approval numbers haven’t budged in the 10 months since the last provincial election.

Given all the controversy surrounding her, is this a state of winning for Ms. Smith?

The eternal caveat: A poll is just a snapshot in time, and anything could change in just months. A lower price for crude oil, for instance, would upend the budget (and everything else) for any Alberta leader. But so far, Ms. Smith has lucked out on the huge factors she doesn’t control, including the oil price and not governing through a pandemic. She is also a strong caucus leader. That has helped mute dissent from within the United Conservative Party, as was seen often during Jason Kenney’s tenure.

Newcomers are flocking to the province, hampering arguments her politics is driving people away. Her views on COVID-19 and plans for a Sovereignty Act, which even her fellow conservatives thought too extreme during last year’s provincial election campaign, have mostly been subsumed into her broader reputation as a right-wing, anti-establishment firebrand. And critics underestimate her, often by chalking up any success to her skills as a communicator, rather than being a more intentioned political operator.

But an Angus Reid Institute poll released last week shows Ms. Smith’s approval rating at a better-than-solid 47 per cent. It’s not the stratospheric levels of Wab Kinew, Manitoba’s newish Premier, but it’s far from the low levels of New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs, at 31 per cent. She’s firmly in the middle of the pack, with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Andrew Furey and British Columbia’s David Eby. Her number is barely a percentage point away from where it was in May, when the UCP narrowly beat Rachel Notley’s Alberta NDP.

Angus Reid president Shachi Kurl said it means Alberta conservatives who don’t like Ms. Smith’s more polarizing policies have not abandoned her. “Even if there are some reservations around those issues, it has not been enough for – call them ‘more moderate conservatives’ – to leave or drift away from Danielle Smith or the UCP.”

It’s remarkable she is weathering this storm when you consider the widespread pushback to her approach on several issues, including the UCP proposal to leave the Canada Pension Plan, or the new rules for parental notification and permission on pronouns, gender-affirming care for minors and sex-ed.

But on these policies, the timeline for releasing any real details about how they would work is months away. The Premier likely won’t have to provide any of the particulars until after she faces a crucial UCP leadership review in early November.

On Alberta’s position that it could claim 53 per cent of the total CPP fund, the Smith government has to wait for a response from Ottawa. The federal actuary’s calculation won’t be provided until some time in the fall. And Ms. Smith’s government doesn’t plan to introduce any actual legislation from its controversial announcement on gender and sexuality until the fall, either. The Premier has suggested she’s open to some very minor tweaks. For instance, on the issue of parents having to be informed or give consent to a pronoun change, there’s concern about making clear that the rules wouldn’t force the disclosure of private conversations between students and teachers about gender identity.

Ms. Smith would say this is about getting feedback. But it’s also politically advantageous: A process where a big announcement is made, with details to come later, keeps the issue burning for Take Back Alberta (TBA) and similarly minded parts of the UCP that support these policies wholeheartedly, while not further offending those vehemently opposed.

Even if she is winning at this moment, many pitfalls still lie ahead. Ms. Smith’s government is far from proving its ambitious and turbulent plans to reform health care will lead to better outcomes. The leadership review is one hurdle, but it won’t end tensions with TBA. Down the road, nomination races are also going to be another internal UCP battle.

The Alberta NDP can’t fully engage, as the party doesn’t know who its next leader is. But that will be settled by June. Former mayor Naheed Nenshi’s entry has brought new attention to the leadership contest, and is likely to attract new party members, perhaps even from the UCP’s ranks.

Politics is full of unintended consequences. Mr. Nenshi’s deep opposition to Ms. Smith’s policies on transgender youth was the catalyst for his decision to enter into the leadership race. The Premier could soon have to face this skilled political rival because she provoked him with her own policies.

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