The truth is that Smith keeps the party afloat
Sunday marked Danielle Smith’s first full month as premier, without the UCP nightmare coming true.
The party’s public support did not collapse, as many said would happen under her leadership.
Do you remember all the cries of party opponents – Rajan Sawhney, Travis Toews, etc. – who said Smith’s agenda will defeat the government?
Their own doomsday scenario did not materialize. Now they are content in Smith’s cabinet.
The UCP has been slowly climbing in support since March, up 10 percent. They now stand at 48 percent, according to a poll by the Angus Reid Institute.
Smith’s tumultuous first month didn’t make that figure go up, but nothing she did or said dropped it either.
That in itself is a victory for her. This reduces the chances of rebellion from her caucus. As long as the MPs think she has a serious chance of beating the NDP, they will stick with her.
But the top-line approval ratings — UCP 48 percent, NDP 44 percent — suggest more strength than Smith actually has.
In essence, her sovereignty agenda destroyed the Wild Rose Independence Party, which only a few months ago stood at 14 percent. Now it has about one percent support.
This group flocked back to the UCP. But it is largely rural. The result is a huge UCP lead outside Calgary and Edmonton – 59 per cent, compared to only 30 per cent for the NDP.
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The UCP remains very weak in Calgary: 11 points behind, if the poll is accurate. The government is actually slightly more popular in Edmonton, if you can believe it (and I’m not sure I do).
Rural and small urban Alberta is politically powerful, with 41 ridings. But an electoral majority requires 44 seats. The NDP could well pick a couple outside the cities, in places like Lethbridge.
Big-city weakness explains the government’s frenetic pro-Calgary moves — everything from backing a new hockey rink to massive Deerfoot upgrades and dreams of an LRT line to the airport.
Last week, the government’s infrastructure department handed over the new Calgary Cancer Center to AHS, which will now fit it in for full service.
This is a major milestone for health care in southern Alberta. But no one mentioned that the NDP saved the hospital in 2015 from last-minute plans by the Jim Prentice PC government to relocate and redesign the entire project.
The Foothills project had full NDP support for four years. The UCP advanced after winning in 2019.
The UCP and the NDP should share credit for the Cancer Centre, although that may not be possible these days.
It becomes clear that Smith’s causes, from the fight against the federal policy on plastic straws to her fierce advocacy for those who refuse vaccination, have not brought down the UCP.
We can speculate that Toews would do much better if he won, but that’s unknowable.
The truth is that Smith keeps the party afloat.
Many Albertans like her business and fierceness with Ottawa. Pollster Janet Brown says those people are about 35 to 40 percent of UCP supporters.
They are often so angry that they don’t care if Alberta’s retaliation is unconstitutional, because they say Ottawa has been violating Alberta’s rights for years.
There isn’t much Smith can do that will offend this group. Similarly, those who actively dislike her will never be satisfied with anything she does.
But other Albertans seem surprisingly tolerant of her beliefs and actions, despite big mistakes like the initial version of the sovereignty bill.
This group is likely to be more affected by the anti-inflation policy and the huge benefits that will soon start flowing straight into their bank accounts.
Smith will certainly face headwinds. Lack of consultation with First Nations could pose a real threat to the sovereignty law.
It is possible that the government has violated Article 35 of the Constitution, which requires genuine collaborative discussions with indigenous groups about actions that may affect their rights.
Once the bill is proclaimed, First Nations can refer it to the Alberta Court of Appeal, questioning the sovereignty law’s legitimacy just as Smith’s ministers look for ways to use it against Ottawa.
There will be no shortage of trouble. But Danielle Smith emerged from her most dangerous month unscathed.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald