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Don Martin: In the battle for Alberta, it's Smith versus her mouth


It’s the most peculiar of elections with the frontrunner and her main opponent being the same person. In the looming Alberta showdown, it’s Premier Danielle Smith versus her mouth.

With the May 29 election campaign just days from its official launch, the only suspense is whether Smith will continue talking herself out of power.

Never have I seen a politician so determined to sabotage her political future as Smith but, then again, she’s aways been thus since the days when I knew her as a school trustee who stirred up so much trouble, the entire dysfunctional school board was dissolved by the province.

Now she’s presiding over a majority government besieged by raging streams of controversy almost exclusively of the premier’s doing.

The latest comes just weeks after Smith promised Albertans they’d never need a credit card to pay for currently insured health care.

But Smith had written a policy paper in 2021 arguing that Albertans should be allowed to pay for their own essential health care, including an expedited trip to the doctor’s office.

There’s a relatively easy solution to that sharp incongruity: Find a microphone and declare: “That was then, this is now” and insist that a policy position of a private citizen and a political position by the premier can sometimes differ, in this case dramatically.

But Smith refused to stake a clear position, despite at least four attempts by frustrated reporters seeking clarity. She pointed to the recent federal health-care agreement, which is guided by the no-paying-for-essential-care Canada Health Act, but still can’t bring herself to renounce the pay-for-service model she wrote up in 2021.


This is but the latest open-mouth-insert-foot example of Smith causing herself unnecessary political grief.

She declared the treatment of the unvaccinated was the worst human rights violation she’d ever seen, which is just silly. She suggested the premier has pardoning powers for those convicted of pandemic violations, which the job doesn’t. And she was recorded telling an anti-masking pastor she’d raised his concerns with justice officials, a move now under an ethics investigation.

Perhaps this loose-lips habit stems from her former job as a radio host. These hosts (along with TV types like me) abhor dead air and can’t help themselves from prattling on even when they’ve got nothing to say. The result can generate confusion and controversy out of thin air.

These and plenty of other missteps since becoming UCP leader in October have turned Smith into a liability for the party and framed her fitness to lead as the ballot box issue.

A clearly unimpressed former prime minister Stephen Harper couldn’t even bring himself to say her name or the United Conservative Party label in a recent dead-eyed endorsement, meekly urging supporters merely to vote “conservative.”


By rights, her conduct should be setting up the campaign as a month-long train wreck.

But she’s helped by the NDP opposition under Rachel Notley, which lacks a campaign narrative beyond replacing Smith with adult supervision.

They clearly need to goose voter support for regime change because the electoral math is not promising.

The NDP’s surprise election victory in 2015 was only possible because the governing party’s uninterrupted 44-year reign was divided between the Progressive Conservatives and Wild Rose.

Once reunited under the UCP in 2019, the collective party pool reached a million votes while NDP support remained static at 600,000.

So unless a lot of UCP voters stay home next month, Notley must gain at least 400,000 votes to win – mission impossible when competing against an incumbent government with a hefty surplus of petrodollars to roll out as voter bribes.

Consensus has it that the UCP will be wiped out in Edmonton but will dominate true-blue rural Alberta in the vote, leaving Calgary as queenmaker between the two leaders.

That much was obvious Tuesday when Smith grandstanded at the announcement of a new excessively subsidized NHL arena for the Calgary Flames. By warning the deal may be contingent on her re-election, she took shameless aim at swaying unimpressed UCP voters in Calgary to her side.

We shall see if that works - and it should be noted Notley is making negative noises about supporting the deal - but a better tactic might be to simply put her in hiding for the next month, surfacing only for heavily-scripted appearances.

If there’s one sure bet in this coin-toss of a campaign for Danielle Smith, it’s that victory or defeat is on the tip of her tongue.

That’s the bottom line…




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