Braid: The UCP is getting cranky again. Some members are gearing up for leadership vote

‘There is definitely something going on, a concern about what the government is doing, and also what it’s not doing’

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It’s almost a law of nature in Alberta. Sooner or later, probably sooner, a conservative premier is going to get in trouble with her party base.

Premier Danielle Smith is heading in that direction. There’s already talk of sending her a sharp message in the UCP leadership review vote set for Nov. 2 at the party’s annual convention in Red Deer.

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Many people in rural Alberta are shocked by recent bills that forbid municipalities from dealing with Ottawa and allow the province to fire councillors and cancel local bylaws.

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“A few weeks ago, I would have said you were asking about nothing,” says one influential UCP source, who asked not to be named.

“But now there is definitely something going on — a concern about what the government is doing, and also what it’s not doing.”

Discontent has spread to the UCP caucus. Some MLAs wonder why the government is focusing on draconian laws nobody in Alberta asked for, while spending far less time talking about inflation, the housing crisis, and other deep public concerns.

Smith’s allies in party and government say any revolt won’t amount to much.

But this is the same party that forced former Premier Jason Kenney to quit on May 20, 2022.

It’s grand old conservative tradition that no premier with any sense can afford to ignore.

Five conservative premiers since the early 1990s have been deposed by internal party opposition — Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, and Kenney himself.

(PC Premier Jim Prentice, who later died in a plane crash, avoided party retribution by quitting immediately after losing the 2015 election.)

Conservative parties, in fact, have been far more eager than Alberta voters to dump their own premiers.

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Jason Kenney announces his intention to resign as UCP leader
Premier Jason Kenney announces his intention to resign after receiving just 51.4 per cent in the UCP leadership vote in May 2022. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

This could quickly get out of hand for Smith.

Some critics in the social conservative wing of the UCP have a sharp eye on the transgender policy she released in January.

Far from thinking it was discriminatory or went too far, they say it was too tame for their tastes because it affirmed transgender choice for adults.

Smith has not brought in the enabling legislation and says she won’t until fall.

“Does that mean we won’t see this law until after the leadership vote?” asks one suspicious party critic. “I would be highly concerned about that.”

The municipal crackdown, set out in three separate bills, seems out of character for a government that constantly complains about federal erosion of provincial powers.

Suddenly the UCP is eroding the local authority of more than 300 municipalities.

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Craig Snodgrass, mayor of High River where Smith lives, said the government brought in the legislation only because the UCP can’t get “their people” elected as mayor in Edmonton and Calgary.

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“This is about control,” Snodgrass said. “It won’t end with the big cities. Scrap it.”

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver promised amendments to soften Bill 20. Introduced last week, they changed very little.

Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said afterward: “We’ve had many disagreements with provincial governments over the years, regardless of leader or party.

“However, this is the first time that we’ve felt like rural municipalities are under attack,” he said.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

Paul McLauchlin, president Rural Municipalities of Alberta
Paul McLauchlin, president Rural Municipalities of Alberta, said that it feels “like rural municipalities are under attack”. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

To Smith, at least part of the legal blizzard makes every sense.

Quebec is the only other province to forbid towns and cities from making direct deals with Ottawa.

That resulted in the Trudeau Liberals handing $900 million in no-strings “housing accelerator” money to the Quebec government.

The province can pass the money to cities under Quebec’s conditions, not Ottawa’s.

That’s what Smith wants for Alberta. But her bundle of bills goes much further in limiting local authority.

People aren’t crazy about their municipal governments these days. Calgary’s is roundly despised.

Some councils, like Chestermere’s, have been madly dysfunctional.

In Medicine Hat, a mayor elected directly by the citizens was stripped of her authority by hostile council members. That’s profoundly undemocratic.

But so is the provincial response that throws a lasso over local autonomy across the province.

For that reason and several others, including the prospect of former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi as NDP leader, some UCP supporters are getting restive.

And thinking hard about that party leadership vote in November.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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