Danielle Smith is the new premier-designate of Alberta and leader of the United Conservative Party.
On Thursday evening, the party announced Smith garnered enough ranked-ballot votes to beat the six other candidates and become the new leader.
It took until the sixth and final ballot for Smith to get a majority of the votes — 53.8 per cent — beating Travis Toews’ 46.2 per cent. Brian Jean was knocked out in the fifth ballot.
Smith said it was “a new chapter in the Alberta story.”
“It is time for Alberta to take its place as a senior partner to build a strong and unified Canada,” the newly-chosen UCP leader said. “No longer will Alberta ask for permission from Ottawa to be prosperous and free.”
Shortly after the results were announced, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Alberta’s premier-designate on social media.
“Let’s work together to build a better future for Albertans – by delivering concrete results, making life more affordable, creating good jobs, and more,” Trudeau wrote, also thanking Premier Jason Kenney for his service to the province.
Alberta UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith says if elected, she won’t call early election
In her victory speech, Smith thanked the other leadership candidates and Kenney.
She invited MLAs and UCP members to govern with “strength and compassion” and to lead the party to an election victory in spring 2023.
Smith said she will be sworn in on Tuesday in Edmonton. Smith is Alberta’s eighth premier in 16 years.
Smith’s campaign was best known for the Alberta sovereignty act, a proposed legislation that would allow the Alberta legislature to refuse enforcement of federal laws or policies that are seen as intrusions into provincial jurisdiction.
Some experts have warned the act could cause a constitutional crisis. Four leadership hopefuls held a united news conference in early September calling the proposed legislation a “constitutional fairytale.” A co-author of the plan the proposed act came from said the unconstitutionality of the act “is exactly the point.”
Smith has also spoken out against pandemic public health measures, like mask mandates and vaccinations. She has also talked about revamping the health system by using health spending accounts and firing the board of Alberta Health Services, which oversees the front-line delivery of care.
Thursday evening in Calgary, she repeated her promise to “reform the dysfunction of Alberta Health Services and repair our broken EMS services,” adding she will replace AHS management who are unable to “immediately” follow her direction.
Smith’s previous foray into politics was as Wildrose leader from 2009 until 2014. In December 2014, she resigned and crossed the floor with 10 other MLAs to join the Progressive Conservative Party.
She later apologized for the move. Smith did not win the PC nomination for her then-riding of Highwood ahead of the 2015 election.
Prior to re-entering politics, Smith hosted a radio talk show on Corus Radio in Alberta. Corus Entertainment is the parent company of Global News. She announced her resignation in January 2021, citing declines in freedom of speech and wanting to get back to a balance of competing ideologies.
Smith intends to table Bill 1, the sovereignty act, but is not currently a member of the legislative assembly. On Monday, said she had a “number” of MLAs who offered to give up their seat in a byelection.
One-term backbencher Roger Reid is the current MLA for Livingstone-Macleod, a riding that includes Smith’s current home of High River, Alta.
Smith dismissed the the idea of running in Calgary-Elbow, a currently vacant seat after Doug Schweitzer announced his resignation earlier this year.
She also said she would not seek a snap election, instead dropping the writ for an election in May 2023.
After her win Thursday evening, Smith said she would meet with UCP MLAs on Friday.
How Alberta’s UCP leadership race works
Ballots went to nearly 124,000 UCP members at the beginning of September, with voting for the new leader continuing until Monday. In-person voting locations were also opened on Thursday in Slave Lake, Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary and Taber, Alta.
UCP president Cynthia Moore said 84,593 votes were cast for the new leader.
Also in the running were former Jason Kenney cabinet ministers Travis Toews, Leela Aheer, Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz; backbencher Brian Jean; and former caucus member Todd Loewen.
With the UCP the ruling party in the Alberta legislature, its leader is the premier.
A “tribute” for outgoing UCP leader Kenney will take place at the UCP annual general meeting on the weekend of Oct. 21 on Enoch Cree Nation.
Recent polling from pollster Janet Brown showed none of the leadership candidates resonated strongly with Albertans.
“I think this leadership race has had a negative impact on the UCP brand,” Brown said on Friday.
“Job number one (for the new leader) will be to earn the trust of Albertans and prove to Albertans that they know what matters to them.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the first thing the leader is likely to do is name a new cabinet.
“We’re going to see a new government now. Typically there’s some minor shuffling, but in 2014, after Jim Prentice became premier, he also brought in two unelected cabinet ministers: Gordon Dirks and Stephen Mandel,” Bratt told Global News.
“We’re not just electing a leader who becomes premier, we’re electing essentially a new UCP government.”
–with files from The Canadian Press
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