Former Alberta provincial politician-turned-radio talk personality Danielle Smith is looking to get back under the dome in Edmonton.
Smith said Thursday she will be seeking the nomination candidacy for the United Conservative Party in the riding of Livingstone-Macleod for next year’s general election, set for May 29, 2023.
“I had a couple of people in the constituency asked me to put my name forward, so I did some consultation,” she told 770 CHQR in an interview on Thursday night. “This is a constituency that needs a strong local MLA.
“There’s lots of issues in the agriculture sector with the supply chain, there’s issues with the coal policy, there’s issues with hospital capacity, long-term care, affordable housing. So all of the issues that I care about, and I think I can do a lot of work to raise the profile of them so that we can get some solutions here.”
The current UCP MLA for the riding is Roger Reid, an area businessman. Smith told 770 CHQR 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.
Global News has reached out to Reid for comment on Smith’s plans.
Smith will speak to reporters more about the move on Friday.
Party leader and Premier Jason Kenney is set to face a leadership review next month—the results of which have the potential to upset the political apple cart in the province.
There has been open discontent by a segment of Kenney’s caucus and party over his leadership and COVID-19 policies. Several polls have indicated that a Kenney-led UCP would lose to the Opposition NDP in next spring’s election.
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Kenney, in an attempt to quell growing dissatisfaction, agreed months ago to move up the leadership vote from this fall to April.
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Last week, the party canceled a plan to have an in-person vote in Red Deer — where thousands of members were to cast their vote on Kenney’s future — and replaced it with the mail-in ballot.
The party said there were too many people registered to vote for the size of the space that was booked.
“We were headed for over 20,000 delegates for a hotel that could accommodate 2,300 in Red Deer — clearly, physically impossible to do that,” Kenney said in a news conference on Monday.
“We’d have people standing outside for hours on end, perhaps in snowy weather, with protesters shouting at them from all sides.
“It would have been a disaster and everybody knows that.”
The decision to move to mail-in votes has drawn harsh criticism from some members of Kenney’s caucus, two of whom broke ranks last week to call for his resignation.
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Smith said she believes canceling the in-person meeting and moving to mail-in ballot was “the wrong decision.”
“The real problem we’re going to have with the mail-in ballot, especially in rural (Alberta)… is I think it’s going to be very difficult to get the turnaround, sending out 55,000 ballots and getting them returned by May 18, ” she said.
“Normally you need a lot more time to be able to do it, and I’m worried that we’re going to have a lot of… rural members disenfranchised, and then that doesn’t do what you want a leadership vote to do .
“You want it to bring the party together. I think it’s going to cause more division. So I think they need to revisit that decision.”
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The rules require Kenney to receive 50 per cent, plus one, of the vote. Otherwise a leadership race is triggered.
Smith said she believes if the vote were held in person, “the premier clearly would have lost.”
“Now that it’s gone to a broader membership vote, I guess, we’ll end up seeing.”
While Smith is currently only seeking to become an MLA once again, last fall she said if the leadership of the UCP is open, she feels she would have to run.
“I believe in unity,” she said in a roundtable discussion livestreamed to the Western Standard‘s YouTube on Nov. 20, 2021 at the UCP annual general meeting in Calgary.
Smith told 770 CHQR on Thursday that she fears if conservatives are not united and split the vote, “then a pathway for (NDP Leader) Rachel Notley is pretty clear.”
She suggested recently-leaked audio of Kenney expressing concern about “lunatics” trying to influence the UCP is not helpful for unity and said she believes all people needed to be treated with compassion as nerves have frayed because of “the last two years of collective trauma “brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing public health measures.
Smith has been involved in Alberta’s political scene for decades.
She became the leader of the now-defunct Wildrose Party in 2009, and was the leader of the official Opposition after the 2012 provincial election.
After former premier Alison Redford resigned in a cloud of scandal and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice became Progressive Conservative Party leader and premier, Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs then crossed the floor to join the PCs in December 2014.
However, she lost her seat in the legislature to Carrie Fischer, who won the PC nomination over Smith in the riding of Calgary-Highwood.
The move made national headlines and gutted the Wildrose. None of the floor-crossers retained their seats after the 2015 provincial election that saw Rachel Notley and the NDP win power.
“People were really mad at me when I made the decision to join Jim’s (Prentice) team and made it clear in no uncertain terms that they felt it was a mistake, and it was a mistake, because people wanted me to be the Opposition leader that they elected me to be,” Smith said on Thursday.
“But here we are now, a few years later, and the conservative movement has come together and I want to do my part to keep it together.”
Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, told Global News that some of Smith’s criticism of Kenney seems very similar to the criticism she received when she was an elected politician.
“That he’s lost touch with the grassroots, that he’s not listening to ordinary conservatives any longer, which is something she herself was accused of doing when she crossed the floor,” Williams said.
“She seems to want a united conservative party but she is challenging the leader and adding fuel to the fire of divisions that exist within the party.”
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Brian Jean, who has also returned to Alberta politics as the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche following a byelection earlier this month, took over the Wildrose leadership after the mass exodus.
The party rallied under Jean to win 21 seats in the 2015 election to retain official Opposition status.
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Jean’s Wildrose merged with the PCs under Jason Kenney, to create what is now the governing United Conservative Party.
Jean has expressed his desire to see Kenney step down as a leader and indicated he would be interested in competing for the job if a leadership race occurs.
Smith said she has spoken to Jean and has a good relationship with him. She added that if a leadership race does unfold before the next election, it could be a very good thing for the UCP.
“Ten people in the race all selling 20,000 memberships, that’s a way to rejuvenate the party, bring people together and talk through some of the differences that we’ve had over the last couple of years,” she said.
Williams said she believes that the UCP could face challenges from being caught up with internal divisions while the NDP is able to focus on presenting ideas to help Albertans. She also noted that it is currently only previous leaders of political parties expressing interest in leading the UCP.
“The fact that there aren’t any new faces that are seen as credible I do think is quite significant,” she said. “I suspect if Jason Kenney is unsuccessful in the leadership review, or even if he comes just barely over 50 per cent and there’s doubt as we’re hearing right now about the integrity of the process, then we might start seeing more people from the centrist or mainstream part of the party come out against Jason Kenney.
“At this stage, it doesn’t look like a party that’s got a lot of new ideas to offer to Albertans.”
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 Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press, and Phil Heidenreich, Global News
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.