Incoming Alberta premier Danielle Smith says she will seek the southeastern seat of Brooks-Medicine Hat in a byelection, despite not living in the area and there already being a seat open in Calgary.
Smith, who won the leadership of the United Conservative Party on Thursday, said she wanted to run in a rural seat because she thinks rural issues need better representation at the highest level of government.
“The main reason I am so committed to running in a rural riding is I know that our rural ridings didn’t feel like they had the strongest voice at the table during the last years of the COVID pandemic,” Smith said Saturday in Medicine Hat when she announced her intention to run there.
The move was expected after Brooks-Medicine Hat legislature member Michaela Frey, who had earlier signalled she did not intend to run in the 2023 provincial election, resigned her seat Friday.
Smith lives in High River, just outside Calgary, and pundits had wondered whether she would seek the vacant seat of Calgary-Elbow, which has been open since former jobs minister Doug Schweitzer resigned from cabinet and left politics in August.
On Thursday, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley chided Smith for being scared to run in the already-open Calgary-Elbow constituency and called on her to declare a byelection in that riding as soon as possible.
But Smith said Saturday she would not be calling a byelection in Calgary-Elbow, explaining there’s a convention that byelections aren’t needed if a general election is less than a year away.
“There may be other candidates who are also stepping away, and so I think that rather than have a rolling series of byelections, we may as well just stick with the convention of having the adjacent MLA take care of the issues in the riding and we’ll stick with the fixed election date of May 29” said Smith.
Calgary-Elbow was once the seat of former premier Ralph Klein and was won by Schweitzer in 2019 with over 44 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the nearest challenger, Janet Eremenko of the NDP, at just over 23 per cent.
Frey won Brooks-Medicine Hat in 2019 with just over 60 per cent of the vote.
Smith has said she would be sworn in as Alberta’s 19th premier on Tuesday.
Read more: Alberta’s premier-designate wants ‘greater’ provincial autonomy, but is it her 1st priority?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office issued a statement Saturday saying he’d spoken with Smith on Friday to congratulate her on the leadership victory and to “discuss key areas for cooperation.”
The statement noted they discussed “energy and climate change, and opportunities for Alberta and Canada to become reliable sources of energy and natural resources in a net-zero world.”
Smith, who on Friday said she believed she could have a constructive relationship with Ottawa if it treats Alberta the same as Quebec, said Saturday that her government will re-challenge the federal retail carbon tax in court.
The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the tax in 2021 following challenges from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
“It’s not like double jeopardy that if the Supreme Court makes a decision you can never challenge it again. If there’s new information that would change the argument, we can re-litigate,” she said.
Read more: ‘Cautiously optimistic’: How do rural Alberta, Edmonton, Calgary feel about Danielle Smith as premier?
Smith also said she would be meeting later in the day with Drew Barnes, a UCP member representing Cypress-Medicine Hat who was kicked out of caucus and has been sitting as an independent for criticizing outgoing premier and UCP leader Jason Kenney.
“I’m very hopeful that our caucus will invite him back in,” Smith said.
If successful in the byelection, Smith said she will make frequent trips to the Brooks-Medicine Hat area and hold town halls to make sure she stays in touch with the constituents.
Speaking at Saturday’s announcement, Frey said she was proud to have served the riding and would support Smith in any way she could.
“We need somebody who understands that rural Alberta needs to be treated fairly. We need someone who understands that Alberta needs a strong place in Confederation, and without a strong Alberta, there is no strong Canada,” Frey said.
Gwendoline Dirk, a retired teacher, was nominated to be the NDP’s candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat in June.