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Is the Countdown Clock Already Ticking for Danielle Smith?

Divisions, intrigue and gaffes are raising questions about an imminent UCP implosion.

David Climenhaga 19 Jan 2023Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” So says the Gospel of Matthew.

I speak metaphorically, of course, of the final days of Alberta's United Conservative Party.

Alas, despite what we’re hearing — mostly rumours at this point — the end is not yet.

Indeed, there are powerful arguments for the disunited United Conservatives to stick together no matter how unhappy it makes them in the hope they can make it together through one more election. Premier Danielle Smith — as incompetent and unpopular as she is turning out to be — only got the job last October, and the next Alberta general election is scheduled to be held at the end of May.

Based on that schedule it’s far too late, as the venerable political metaphor advises, to switch horses in midstream. Indeed, it was probably too late last fall when the UCP foolishly decided to switch out Jason Kenney for Smith.

It may even be too late if the UCP moves to put off the May 29 election, which would require a change in Alberta legislation but would be unlikely to face a constitutional hurdle.

Still, there’s a whiff of smoke in the air, as if a cow has kicked over a lantern in a stable somewhere, and flames are just starting to spread.

On Saturday, the Breakdown, an Alberta political podcast, tweeted “Heard from multiple reliable sources today that the UCP caucus is a hairs breadth away from boiling over and prospective leaders to replace Smith are actively being discussed.”

The Breakdown’s thread continued: “Apparently caucus is split along rather predictable lines, and there are increasing concerns within the larger faction that Smith is more focused on the 'Danielle Smith Show' than she is actual governance or winning the next election.”

“This all comes at a time where the same groups that elevated Smith are becoming more frustrated with her constant equivocation on her promises to them,” the folks at the Breakdown said. “One source told us today that there is a very real possibility of a new leader before the next election.”

On Sunday, former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk tweeted an intriguing fragment of a message he said was from a member of Smith’s cabinet.

“It would be easy to leave,” the purported minister lamented, with a certain lack of clarity. “To stay. Not so easy when I see something that has been said that is unacceptable from my new leader. Honestly. Is she going to lead this party in the next election? I don’t know. Do you? Won’t be me but who? A good opposition is as important as a good government.”

Lukaszuk commented that Smith “indeed has problems when her cabinet ministers exchange among themselves messages like this one.” Most of us would want to respond to the mystery minister: “So, resign already? Make a scene!”

Still, if this really was said by a member of Smith’s cabinet, it’s hard to disagree that it suggests the premier’s problems are growing.

On Tuesday, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt was speculating that the far-right Take Back Alberta group that targeted Kenney and championed Smith in last year’s leadership election is now moving to push out Jason Nixon, one of Kenney’s most influential lieutenants.

“Jason Nixon has lost control of his riding association. Take Back Alberta is taking credit,” Bratt tweeted.

Alert readers will recall that at this time last year, farmer Tim Hoven’s campaign to challenge Jason Nixon for the UCP nomination in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre got off to a strong start — before he was controversially disqualified for being “associated with extreme or hateful views,” in the words of then-premier Kenney.

Cancel culture, yelled his supporters. Now it does rather look as if Conservative cancel culture is coming Nixon’s way.

In her Substack commentary Tuesday, University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young also suggested “there are signs of trouble behind the scenes,” noting another social media report that Smith has agreed to let the UCP caucus vet choices for her planned COVID panel.

Surely this is another sign of disunity in the ranks — although the social media source Young cited doesn’t make it clear whether this oversight was demanded by what she called the party’s moderates or its anti-vaccine loonies.

“Smith finds herself in the lonely position Jason Kenney occupied not so long ago,” Young wrote. “The Calgary/establishment wing of the party wants more consistency and good governance. The convoy/Take Back Alberta wing of the party wants to relitigate COVID.”

So, Apocalypse Now? Or apocalypse later? I can’t answer that question. Yet.  [Tyee]

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