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Premier or pawn? Which awaits new UCP leader?

Will the party rally or rebel around her?

Danielle Smith beat out six other contenders to become the new leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party last Thursday and is slated to be sworn in as the province's new Premier this week.

It's the best result she could have hoped for.

And by she, we mean Rachel Notley.

But let's not prepare for an NDP sweep at the next provincial election quite yet.

Don't forget the smoke and mirrors of back-room politics. Smith was already a victim to those tricks in her previous political career. She was once welcomed into the Conservative fold after leading a floor-crossing wave from the Wildrose Party she had ruled, only to be unceremoniously dumped and rolled off the political stage.

But as she said on Thursday night after earning a 53 per cent mandate from party members... "I'm back."

Right. But for how long?

Her victory wasn't decisive by any means. When outgoing Premier Jason Kenney decided to pack his bags, he had 51 per cent of voting members supporting him. And his was a simple vote question: Is he in or out? He went out with 51 per cent approval. His was simple and transparent math. If 100 people voted, 51 people voted for Kenney.  Smith's victory numbers aren't so straightforward. She was just voted in with 53 per cent of 85,000 voting members choosing her in a preferred ballot vote as their first, second, third, fourth, or even lower-placed option out of the seven candidates. So — Smith may only have been 'one of the top choices' for many of those 45,000 people, instead of 'the' choice. That's not a  strong endorsement in a province where two-million residents voted in the last general provincial election — and the Opposition knows it.

Smith's win is the best outcome for the Opposition — and the Conservatives know that.

Cue the mystery music, bring in the mirrors and roll out the smoke. Now is the best time to stage a Conservative coup. Tory MLAs coming forward to remove Smith — and her hard right leaning policies — from office would look ever so brave to the other 1.9 million voting Albertans in the next general election.  

The UCP might win back voter confidence by playing the numbers and removing a person seen by many as a danger to the stability of the province, while seen by some of the 45,000 recent voters as the strong, Make Alberta Great Again voice they need to hear.

Perhaps it is appropriate that the leadership vote was held in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. No, Danielle Smith is no turkey. Far from it. She is a very capable and very intelligent person. She might, however, in the weeks to come, be a lamb... the sacrificial one — again.


Rob McKinley

About the Author: Rob McKinley

Rob has been in the media, marketing and promotion business for 30 years, working in the public sector, as well as media outlets in major metropolitan markets, smaller rural communities and Indigenous-focused settings.
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