Danielle Smith may be down in the polls, but here’s why you can’t count her

This column is an opinion piece written by James Johnson, a political consultant and former aide to then-Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith. For more information on CBC Opinion Sectionplease consult the FAQs.

Danielle Smith’s debut as prime minister was not smooth. Recent polls confirm it.

It’s far from a Hawaiian honeymoon, but a trip not as eventful as former prime minister Jason Kenney’s “Aloha Gate” turbulence at Christmas 2020.

Everyone needs to breathe.

There are six months left before the elections. Five months ago, Smith was not even the top of the UCP leadership list, and she has been prime minister for six weeks. For four of them, his hands were bound by rules that limited government activity in his by-election.

She is just beginning.

Smith is smart, hard-working and, at her best, the most effective communicator in Alberta politics. You can’t count it.

She stumbled because it seems she never stopped campaigning for UCP leader. The continued focus on Ottawa and COVID has people wondering if she knows she won. His victory speech did him a disservice here.

For me, what she is doing is clear. She knows she won and how she did it. She has political bills to pay and she will honor them.

Bills to pay, bills to pass

As she did during the Wildrose era, she took advantage of a group of outsiders and their grievances to gain political power quickly.

She will serve up plenty of red meat on her legislative agenda next week, to make her base salivate and her opponents boil.

A populist sovereignty bill and human rights protections for people who refuse COVID vaccines convinced Smith to get his UCP caucus into the Legislature as if they were re-enacting the Capitol storming on 6 January, with Viking hats and war paint, waiving a cocktail napkin scrawled with the word “sovereignty”.

I bet on the opposite. Her sovereignty law will likely be a mundane law consistent with the Constitution of Canada, precisely what she has been indicating for months to those who have listened to her.

Smith has already smoothed some of the act’s rougher separatist edges. It has a new name for its key law: the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

It seems far from chaotic and closer to something like Alberta’s NDP’s own 2018 shut-off-the-tap legislation, which threatened to choke off oil supplies if BC didn’t play well. with pipelines. This could leave his opponents placed on the horns of a dilemma, Viking or otherwise.

Smith will frame the legislation by asking the NDP: are you with Alberta or are you with Ottawa? Should Alberta have the same federal leeway as Quebec? Rachel Notley’s team should beware.

What if Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty in a United Canada Act was no more provocative than Rachel Notley’s own “turn off the taps” bill, but also served to rebuke Justin Trudeau’s government? (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Sovereignty Act hasn’t even been tabled, and Smith already claims it’s in effect in Ottawa, where the other half of his “Notley-Trudeau alliance” is located.

During the climate summit in Egypt, the federal Minister of the Environment, Steven Guilbeault, refused to support a complete elimination oil and gas development. It probably has more to do with the precarious energy situation in Europe than a premier in Alberta, although Smith gave credit for that.

If his strategy calls for six months of a chastened federal government, it will have silenced the critics and paved the way for victory in 2023. Smith will weather the great storm of sovereignty.

Smith has an incredible ability to stay focused in turbulent times. This was on full display during the UCP leadership debate in July.

Her opponents were given a choice of who to debate and they chose her again and again, bombarding her with her past comments. She brushed it all off with a smile.

She is learning the value of message discipline. Saying less means more to voters and gives your opponents less opportunity to twist your words.

With about two decades in the media, she has a lot to worry about. This week, she admitted to having held controversial views in the past, without specifically apologizing. In our polarized world, I don’t think this inoculation attempt will work, but she’s ready to take the sting out of it.

Her libertarian nature means she is not the typical conservative. She is for net zero. The constant anti-union rhetoric of Kenney’s UCP? Faded away. She will make some bold moves that break with the conservative establishment and confuse her opponents.

Open the silver taps

His affordability agenda runs counter to his fiscal conservative grit, including monthly checks for seniors and families, increased support for those on disability benefits, and funds for health passes. low-income public transport. It’s the stuff of a moderate libertarian who wants to win the next election.

The May election is currently Smith’s to lose. But to his advantage, Albertans are angry with Ottawa and want out of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has a substantial budget surplus to execute its vision.

danielle smith
Smith will still propose sovereignty legislation for the UCP base that backed her, but expect softer legislation than her vocal critics have predicted. (Radio Canada)

If Smith can tone down the inflammatory rhetoric, serving up what Albertans want to see and hear from a leader, I have no doubt she can win the next election.

Populism is a bit like swearing. It’s more effective and easier to digest, in moderation. Too much too often and it loses potency.

Albertans are looking for more reasonable and lighter dishes from her. More needs and less wants, less political red meat and more the political version of fruits and vegetables.

Even the Vikings learned to make peace with fish and lingonberries. Maybe the UCP can too.

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