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Danielle Smith enjoys a honeymoon summer
It's been a quiet, but not boring, post-election summer in Alberta
Conventional wisdom tells us that the summer months are a quiet and boring time in politics, but not so in Alberta. It’s not often there is an actual quiet and boring political summer in this province.
And last summer, one of the most unexpected political comebacks happened right before our eyes. Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, who had been written off by most political watchers after her disastrous decision to cross the floor in 2014, defined the summer of 2022 and the United Conservative Party leadership vote that followed.
But this year’s political summer was a fairly quiet, albeit incredibly smoky, affair.
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That’s probably because the provincial election was only three months ago and, while partisans and pundits get worked up about the daily outrage on social media, most Albertans are taking a break from what felt like a years-long election marathon.
But a quiet summer doesn’t mean a boring summer.
Premier Smith has been making the best of her post-election honeymoon months by touring rural and small town Alberta, stopping in places where voters overwhelmingly cast their ballots for their local UCP candidates. Judging from photos and videos posted on her social media accounts, Smith looks like she is genuinely having fun.
With the Ontario-based strategists who guided her so smoothly through the election campaign all gone home, Smith now needs to avoid the “dabbles in quackery” that nearly derailed her party’s path to re-election. Those types of dabbles might also apply to her supporters in the Take Back Alberta group.
Smith does have an advantage. Unlike her predecessor, Jason Kenney, who cut his teeth as a politician in Ottawa, Smith understands Alberta politics and she’s quite personable - a trait her opponents need to understand, otherwise they risk once again failing to defeat the UCP in 2027.
NDP leader Rachel Notley has had a low-key summer, probably taking a well-deserved break after a hard-fought election campaign and likely pondering her own political future.
The NDP’s new 38-MLA Official Opposition Caucus barely skipped a beat in aggressively criticizing the re-elected UCP government this summer.
Instead of taking the summer off, the NDP have been sending out multiple press releases every day attacking the government. The volume of press releases from the NDP does generate a certain amount of white noise but summer presents a low-risk opportunity for the group of new NDP MLAs to get some experience as the opposition.
It also gives political watchers an indication of how the NDP will approach the fall session of the Legislature when it begins on October 30.
While a lot of the daily political hot potatoes live short lives on social media, a few big issues have caught the attention of Albertans
The wildfires, the evacuees, and the thick smell of smoke defined this summer in Alberta, but there isn’t much indication that Albertans are connecting it with climate change or political action that needs to be taken in response.
The UCP’s aggressive response to the federal Liberal government’s draft clean energy regulations, and Smith’s framing of federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault as the Great Enemy of Alberta’s oil industry, will likely be a big part of the Alberta government’s messaging going into the fall. Smith likely won’t soften her blows against Ottawa until Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has replaced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the resident of Rideau Cottage (or 24 Sussex Drive).
But the moratorium on new wind and solar projects in Alberta is probably the biggest story to break through the noise this summer.
Smith’s government has helped keep the story alive by changing on almost a daily basis the reasons for why it imposed a 7-month halt to new wind and solar energy projects. The flurry of spin makes it almost feel like the real reason for slamming the breaks on the billion dollar industry might have been that someone’s cousin’s view of the mountains was going to be blocked by a few wind turbines.
The moratorium on wind and solar gave the NDP an opportunity to show off the expertise of its new renewable energy critic, Calgary-Glenmore MLA Nagwan Al-Guneid, and highlight new MLAs like Nathan Ip in Edmonton-South West and Kyle Kasawski in Sherwood Park.
But as opposition parties sometimes do, the NDP shot a little off target when Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman tried to pull Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek into the fray.
Acting almost as if he was a politician from another era, Sohi responded in the calm and collected manner he has become famous for.
Having worked for an opposition party in the past, I understand that it is very easy to get caught up in the moment when you feel like you have the government on the run. But it’s important to know when to take a breath and keep your eye on the ball. Playing whack-a-mole opposition likely helped cost the NDP their chance at forming government three months ago and it’s something they should reflect on.
With the last provincial election only three months in the rear view mirror, we are far enough away from the next election that the best political hits of summer 2023 probably aren’t going to have any major electoral consequences.
Alberta’s latest political summer is coming to an end, but it’s still early days.
A few more things…
Mayor of Innisfail, Jean Barclay, and Mayor of Caroline, John Rimmer, are speaking out against the provincial government’s moratorium on wind and solar energy projects.
The Let’s Find Out Podcast is hosting a live show about National Parks in Alberta on September 21, 2023 in Edmonton.
Former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and leadership candidate Rick Orman is running to become the next President of the UCP. The position will be elected at the October AGM. Orman served as the PC MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 and ran for the leader of the PC Party in 1992 and 2011. Current party president Cynthia Moore is not seeking re-election.
A federal election is still on the distant horizon but the parties are starting to nominate candidates in some ridings. Conservative MP Ron Liepert’s upcoming retirement is drawing a crowd to the party’s nomination in Calgary-Signal Hill. Already in the race are Michael Kim and David MacKenzie, and other potential candidates are rumoured to be National Telegraph senior correspondent Wyatt Claypool and former Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon.
The Alberta Party is hosting the third in a series of post-election virtual sessions to discuss the future for that political party on September 7, 2023. This session will focus on the path forward for the Alberta Party and what is required of its supporters to make that a reality.
Wildrose Loyalty Coalition leader Paul Hinman is seeking $750,000 in damages from the Wildrose Independence Party’s board of governors, claiming he was forced out as leader of that party. Hinman loyalists attempted but failed to retake control of the party board after Hinman was removed as leader.
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PS. Today is a very special day. Ten years ago today I made the best decision of my life and married by best friend. Happy anniversary to my beautiful and smart wife and partner in life, Kyla.