Alberta is ready for the 2023 election: Smith just got the job, Notley wants it back

Premier Danielle Smith’s wood-panelled third-floor Legislative Office is devoid of bric-a-brac.

There are no photos, memorabilia, or books—only a small pile of Alberta sovereignty bills perched on his desk.

Decor is less by design and more by default.

“If I spent a lot of time in the office, I wouldn’t be doing my job. I have to meet a lot of people offsite and do a lot of work there,” Smith said in a year-end interview.

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She laughed as she remembered his attempts at personal touches.

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“I sometimes try to move the furniture around so I can put my tea somewhere, and every time I come back they put things back where they were,” Smith said. « I think that’s sort of an indication that you’re not supposed to touch anything. »

But if she craves some artistic indulgence, she can leave her office, turn left down the marble walkway to the legislative chamber past portraits of past prime ministers, which now includes the recent addition of the leader of the opposition NDP Rachel Notley.

It illustrates what Alberta’s defining political story will be in 2023. The story of two prime ministers: one who just got the job, the other who wants it back.

Smith has promised to honor the scheduled vote day on May 29, which is due to take place seven months after winning the United Conservative leadership race.

She inherited a fractured party that quarreled with — and ultimately overthrew — former leader Jason Kenney for trying to run a one-man show while angering the libertarian wing with collection restrictions and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Smith, out of politics for seven years but having built a following as a radio talk show host, defeated six rivals, many of whom said her act of sovereignty was a reckless recipe for investor flight and the constitutional chaos.

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Kenney criticized his plan before leaving as prime minister, did not speak to him in the days following his victory, and resigned as a member of the legislature on his first day at home.

There was residual bitterness about Smith discrediting the Tory movement by leading a massive ground run as leader of Wildrose in 2014 – a move critics say opened the door to Notley’s upset NDP victory in 2015.

During his first week, Smith took everyone in his huddle to shoot paintballs at each other. Now she engages them on cabinet committees and ensures they have a say in policy direction.

“You can make quick decisions, but they’re not necessarily the best decisions. Better to take a little slower track to make sure everyone has had a chance to get their point across,” Smith said.

« There was a certain idea there that the (intra-party) relations were so badly frayed that they couldn’t be brought together and that’s not my experience. »

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Smith, however, admitted there was work to be done.

The polls give both sides hope in what is known as Alberta’s three-legged political stool. Edmonton belongs to the NDP, with rural areas and smaller centers going to the UCP. Calgary, with its high percentage of undecided voters, is the backbone of electoral success.

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Smith won accolades and courted controversy for a whirlwind of policy changes.

She fired Alberta’s health services board, replaced the chief medical officer of health and promised changes to address ambulance bottlenecks and jammed hospital wards.

She promised to explore an Alberta police service, a provincial pension plan and health spending accounts. She also passed a sovereignty law to challenge the federal government.

« I know I’m going to be judged primarily on health care as we go into the next election, » Smith said.

“I have shown by my actions that I intend to go in this direction. Now it’s only a matter of time to get things working in the system so we can start to get there.

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Across the snow-covered Legislature Square is the Queen Elizabeth II Building, home to members of the New Democrat opposition caucus, with a south-facing view of the dome of sandstone they hope to reinhabit at the time of the elections.

Notley was Alberta’s 17th premier and now seeks to be the 20th as well.

She stayed after losing to Kenney and UCP in 2019. And now she says there is unfinished business.

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Notley said Albertans have been victims of bait and switch by a UCP government that promised stability but instead cut education, raised fees, feuded with doctors and teachers and demanded pay cuts for nurses during a pandemic.

“I didn’t really believe that a lot of the decisions we saw being made under the Kenney government really reflected where the majority of Albertans wanted to go nor did I think they were setting us up for the best future.

« I wanted to try another chance. »

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During the fall session, his portrait is hung during a ceremony in the rotunda. It is the only one of a prime minister in an outdoor setting. Notley, arms crossed in front, stands on the steps of the legislature.

The door to the legislature is open, a symbolism Notley emphasized to the artist.

“I started my career as an activist. My first relationship with the Legislature was on the steps, both as a child and later as an adult,” Notley said when asked about the choices for the portrait.

« If you don’t listen to the people on the steps, then you don’t have the consent of the people on the steps, and what you are doing inside is wrong. »

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