Ex-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith returns to Alberta politics, will vote against Kenney leadership
The machinations wracking Jason Kenney and his party took a new twist Friday with the return of a former leader promising to vote against the Alberta premier in his leadership review and then trying to take his job.
Danielle Smith, the former leader of the Wildrose party — which later folded into the current United Conservative Party — announced she is coming back to provincial politics for the UCP after a seven-year hiatus.
Smith said she plans to run in the southern constituency of Livingstone-Macleod and will vote no in the upcoming mail-in review of Kenney’s leadership.
Danielle Smith looking to re-enter Alberta politics, seeking UCP nomination in Livingstone-Macleod
If Kenney fails to get at least majority support in the vote — the results are to be announced May 18 — the party must hold a contest to pick a new leader.
“If the members vote that they want to go to a leadership contest? I would put my name in on that,” Smith said.
“I’d be quite delighted to represent the people of this province in that capacity.”
Smith said Kenney has made progress on job creation and the economy, but failed on some COVID-19 measures.
But most importantly, she said, Kenney is ignoring the voice of everyday Albertans in the party and the province.
“That process seems to be completely broken down.”
Smith left politics in 2015 and has since worked as a radio talk show host and in business.
She said one reason she came back was dismay over Kenney recently vilifying his opponents as “lunatics.”
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Another was anger over the UCP executive deciding last week to alter the leadership review from an in-person vote to a broader mail-in ballot — a move, she said, that appears to favour Kenney.
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Kenney has said if he gets 50 per cent plus one vote in the contest, he will stay on as leader.
Smith said leaders typically stick around if they get much higher approval ratings and that a bare majority is not a credible mandate to continue.
“If you cannot get a significant number of your own members behind you, ready to fight for you and with you, side-by-side going into the next election, you’re just not going to be able to beat the NDP,” she said.
Smith said it would be a mistake for the Opposition NDP to be dismissed as a “one-hit wonder.”
“They are not. They’re formidable. Rachel Notley — she knows the job, she’s known by Albertans. She’s not an unknown factor anymore.”
Smith said while she disagrees with some of Notley’s political views, she’s been surprised to hear many people in Alberta are willing to give the NDP another chance.
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“You’re looking at the latest poll that shows that the NDP are ahead in Calgary, they’re ahead in Edmonton, they have 32 per cent in rural Alberta.
“So we can’t take it for granted that rural Alberta is going to stay UCP.”
Kenney, asked about Smith’s announcement, replied: “I’m not going to be distracted by voices of division.”
But Kenney later appeared to criticize Smith for allowing a candidate to run for the Wildrose in the 2012 election, despite the candidate’s past comments urging gays and lesbians to repent or suffer eternally in Hell’s “lake of fire.”
“An Alberta conservative party was blown out in an election in (2012) because of a failure of leadership to block extremists from getting on the party ballot,” said Kenney.
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The current UCP MLA for Livingstone-Macleod is Roger Reid, an area businessman. Smith said she told Reid about her plan to seek the nomination on Wednesday.
“I just thought it was the decent thing to do, and he’s making his own decision about what his future is going to be,” Smith said.
Reid said on Friday he intends to run again.
“It has been the privilege of a lifetime to represent the people of Livingstone-Macleod in the Legislature for the last three years and I look forward to a rigorous nomination process in the coming months,” he said in a statement to Global News.
“I will run in this nomination with the same integrity and dedication to representing those same people. I do believe the best campaign is characterized by hard work and honesty.”
Smith became leader of the Wildrose party in 2009 as it flourished as a clutch of disaffected floor-crossing Progressive Conservatives who believed their party and government had abandoned core values of financial stringency and grassroots participation.
Under Smith, the Wildrose became the Official Opposition to the PCs in 2012. But three years later, Smith and eight other members of the Wildrose crossed the floor to join the PCs under then-premier Jim Prentice.
It was a move done without grassroots party support and one Smith said she deeply regrets.
The move decimated the Wildrose, but it managed to survive under new leader and former Conservative MP Brian Jean to eventually merge with the PCs under Kenney in 2017 to form the UCP.
Jean is to be sworn in next week after winning a recent byelection for the UCP in the constituency of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche.
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Whether he will be allowed to sit in the UCP caucus is an open question, as Jean has made it clear that he believes the party is unelectable in 2023 without change at the top.
Jean has also not discounted the possibility of running for leader.
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Meanwhile, the UCP faces angry opposition from dozens of its riding association presidents and backbench caucus members over the leadership review changes.
“All of this speaks to the deep divisions, factions, fractures, within the UCP and the challenge of anybody who wants to try to lead this party to both appeal to the folks on the far right and those who might be more moderate conservatives,” said Lori Williams, a political scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“I increasingly wonder if that’s possible to do.”
In recent years, Smith hosted a talk radio show on 770 CHQR in Calgary, a radio station owned by Corus, which is also the parent company of Global News. After six years on the airwaves, Smith quit her radio job last January.
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News
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