By Dean Bennett in Edmonton
Danielle Smith, the perceived front-runner candidate in the race to replace Jason Kenney as Alberta’s United Conservative Party leader and premier, faced renewed attacks on multiple fronts Tuesday in the campaign’s final debate.
Smith was criticized for her proposed Alberta sovereignty act and for leading a mass floor crossing to the Progressive Conservatives in late 2014 that nearly decimated her Wildrose party.
Former Kenney finance minister Travis Toews said the floor crossing tarnished both parties with drastic consequences in the 2015 election when they lost to Rachel Notley’s NDP.
“Leadership and unity matter,” Toews told about 700 members watching the debate at the downtown Citadel Theatre.
“Mere months before the 2015 election, (Smith) walked the floor. I believe it was (the floor crossing and the resulting fractured conservative movement) that ultimately contributed to an NDP government.”
Smith was also attacked by multiple candidates for her centrepiece policy plan to pass her proposed Alberta sovereignty act this fall, if she were elected.
The act would grant the province the right to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed harmful to its interests.
Critics, including legal scholars, say such a bill is not only illegal but will create a constitutional crisis.
Smith has in recent weeks downplayed the act, labelling it a symbolic document to seek rights that provinces such as Quebec are employing. But she has stressed her Alberta will refuse to enforce federal rules particularly in areas such as COVID-19 health restrictions.
Former Kenney cabinet minister Leela Aheer bluntly labelled the act “crap.”
“The sovereignty act is an attack on our Canadian and Albertan values. It’s an excuse to leave Canada when we should be looking for ways to lead Canada,” Aheer said.
Former Kenney cabinet minister Rajan Sawhney urged Smith to wait for the scheduled general election next spring to seek a mandate for such a radical piece of legislation.
“These are the kinds of things that require a mandate from Albertans,” Sawhney said.
Smith said she feels she has a mandate from Albertans through public consultations.
Rebecca Schulz, a former Kenney cabinet minister, questioned passing such a controversial bill so soon.
“I think we can’t go into the very first legislative session with a bill that other candidates on this stage don’t support,” Schulz said.
“I don’t think that’s good for unity.”
Smith acknowledged she has taken “bold” positions, but said that is what leaders do.
“Too long conservatives have been leading and governing by opinion poll,” Smith said.
She noted other candidates have adopted versions of her sovereignty act in their platforms along with polices on preventing future health restrictions tied to COVID-19.
“Every other candidate on stage has followed my lead,” said Smith.
“That’s what leadership looks like: you take a bold position, you bring people around, you consult, you get feedback and you modify and then you allow people to disagree.”
The other candidates are UCP backbencher Brian Jean and former UCP caucus member Todd Loewen.
Jean stressed that inflation is the biggest issue to be addressed, promising to end royalties on gasoline and reduce transmission and distribution fees on power bills.
Loewen stressed that Alberta needs to ratchet back the spending that has seen debt levels grow by the billions in recent years.
The leadership race is in the home stretch.
There are close to 124,000 party members signed up and eligible to vote. Smith is seen as the front-runner based on how she has been the focus of opposition attacks throughout the campaign.
The deadline to sign up for a party membership to vote was two weeks ago and candidates are now focused on winning support from members as their first or second choice as leader.
The winner will be announced Oct. 6 using a preferential ballot, which means lower-tier choices may come into play if the first-place finisher doesn’t capture a majority in the first round of voting.
Ballots are to be mailed out starting Friday and members can vote by mail or in person.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2022.
Premier Smith uses First Ministers’ meeting to catch up with Quebec Premier Legault and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe
Premier Smith’s update from the Ottawa
Premier Danielle Smith participated in the First Ministers’ Meeting on health care in Ottawa and provided the following update.
Alberta is leading the country with major reform to health care. After 2.5 years of requests from Canada’s premiers, today, the federal government presented their plan. While this is a start, overall, this is significantly lower than the premiers anticipated. Premier Smith will take this information back to her team in Alberta in advance of meeting with Canada’s premiers again in the coming days.
Premier Smith also met with premiers François Legault of Quebec and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan in Ottawa in advance of today’s first ministers’ meeting.
Premier Smith and Premier Legault committed to a desired outcome for a health-care deal that recognizes and respects provincial jurisdiction over health delivery and leads to better outcomes for Albertans and Quebecers. Premier Smith stressed the importance of Alberta’s energy sector, advocating for the importance of natural gas exploration and development both for the growth of the Canadian economy and to provide energy security for Canada’s allies. Premier Legault reiterated his desire to invest in clean energy like hydroelectricity to fight climate change. Both premiers expressed concern about federal overreach and the need for the federal government to respect provincial autonomy in areas of provincial jurisdiction to better meet the needs of their citizens.
Premier Smith and Premier Moe expressed a need for flexibility in the delivery of health-care services, especially those that Alberta’s Healthcare Action Plan commits to, such as reducing surgical wait times, improving ambulance services and reducing emergency room wait times. Premier Smith emphasized Alberta’s progress on recovery-oriented care to support those struggling with mental health and addictions challenges and invited Premier Moe to Alberta to visit the province’s recovery-oriented treatment centres. The premiers also discussed the mutual importance of the energy sector to their provinces for job growth and export to Canada’s allies and a desire to work together on establishing economic corridors for trade and energy export.
Premier Smith asks Prime Minister to halt “Just Transition” legislation
Premier Smith meets with the Prime Minister
Premier Danielle Smith met with the Prime Minister for approximately 30 minutes primarily discussing Alberta’s request for the federal government to halt the introduction of its proposed ‘Just Transition’ legislation and other emission reduction strategies.
The Premier asked the federal government to instead work collaboratively with the Government of Alberta on developing a plan and partnership to attract energy investment and workers into Alberta’s conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors while reducing Canada’s and Alberta’s net emissions.
The Prime Minister expressed a willingness to explore this strategy with the Premier through their respective ministers and the Premier will be following up with further correspondence regarding proposed next steps in the near future.
The Premier used today’s discussion to outline Alberta’s expectations as to what must and must not be included in any future federal legislation, targets or policies as it relates to Alberta’s energy sector. These expectations included:
- Abandonment of any references to ‘just transition’ or any other terminology or policies that signal the phaseout of Alberta’s conventional or non-conventional energy sector or workforce.
- Increased workforce training and participation in all of the conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors.
- The need for formal consultation and collaboration with Alberta before the federal government announces or implements legislation, targets or policies that materially impact Alberta’s energy sector.
- Substantial increase in LNG exports to Asia through the lens of meeting targets through replacement of higher emitting fuel sources with clean Canadian LNG.
- Joint federal-provincial initiatives to facilitate increased private investment in nuclear, hydrogen, bitumen beyond combustion, geothermal, lithium, helium, zero-emission vehicle, CCUS, petrochemical and other emerging technologies and fuels that make Alberta’s conventional and non-conventional energy sector increasingly carbon neutral.
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