Newly re-elected Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she got a “very strong” mandate in Monday’s provincial election and is ready to lead for all Albertans — despite her United Conservative Party losing seats and dropping in its share of the vote.
And she says she is confident she will be able to sway Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on emissions-reductions goals for fertilizer and oil and gas sectors.
Smith will lead the slimmest majority in Alberta history with 49 seats to the NDP’s 38 after winning under 53 per cent of ballots cast — down from nearly 55 per cent that the party got in 2019. But the premier sees those results not as a mark against her vision, but a sign of broad support across the province in the face of strong opposition.
“It’s not usual for anybody to be able to get a clear majority vote that way, and I’m very delighted. That, to me, is a very strong mandate,” Smith told Mercedes Stephenson in an interview that aired last Sunday on The West Block.
“We used to have multiple parties on the left, and now it really is just a two-party province. And that’s going to mean that we are going to face a pretty strong opposition for some time to come.”
Smith added she’s not concerned that the UCP lost 11 seats, including several cabinet ministers, and was completely shut out in Edmonton while splitting Calgary’s crucial ridings with the NDP.
“That says to me that people want me to govern for all Alberta,” she said.
All eyes will be on how Smith deals with Ottawa, a relationship that could potentially become even more contentious than it has been in recent years.
That includes the potential invocation of the Alberta sovereignty act, which Smith’s government passed after she was elected as UCP leader and premier last year. It was not discussed by Smith on the campaign trail.
When asked if that’s still a card she could play in the future, Smith said the federal government’s plans to reduce fertilizer emissions by 30 per cent from 2020 levels and to cap oil and gas emissions to 42 per cent below 2019 levels — both by 2030 — would be reasons to do so.
“It’s unachievable without shutting down production, and we won’t do that,” she said. “We have the right under the Constitution to develop our resources in our own way and to manage our conservation policies. And that’s why those are two things I’m hoping that the prime minister realizes he’s better working with us as an ally than working against us.”
But Smith is also seeking to position herself as a collaborative partner with Ottawa. She echoed her victory speech Monday night, saying she hopes to find a compromise on achieving emissions targets on a more realistic timeline — adding she’s confident she’ll be able to sway Trudeau.
“I’m optimistic,” she said with a smile. “I’m pretty persuasive. So I’m going to work on persuading him.”
Smith also dismissed concerns raised during the campaign about her past comments as a radio host before re-entering politics — including equating receiving the COVID-19 vaccine with followers of Nazism — and her support for some of the protesters at the border blockade in Coutts last year.
A report that came mid-campaign from Alberta’s ethics commissioner concluded Smith undermined the rule of law by pressuring her justice minister to end a criminal court case of a COVID-19 protester.
“This is part of why you have elections…people have to assess the full suite of options on the table,” she said. “They have to assess the character of the people that they’re voting for.
“(We got) a strong mandate, 53 per cent of Albertans almost, (who said) that they wanted me to continue on as their premier.”
Questions also linger about what role Take Back Alberta — a fundamentalist libertarian movement that backed the Coutts blockade and other COVID-19-related protests and is growing its influence on the UCP governing board — will have on Smith’s government.
The group’s leader, David Parker, has vowed to hold Smith and other politicians “accountable.”
“I think we have a broad range of people who are giving me input and advice,” she said. “I have a broad number of candidates now who have been elected from all parts of the province. … We are a very broad-based party and we’re going to be able to govern with that full Alberta perspective in mind. I feel like the conservative movement is very strong and I feel like the conservative movement is aligned behind me.”
She added that she intends to lead as a strong but “caring” conservative focused just as much on education, mental health and public safety as she is on typical conservative priorities like the economy and fiscal responsibility.
“I think people are going to see a very kind face of conservative government in Alberta,” she said.