Braid: Smith’s camp holds out olive branch as UCP MLAs ease opposition

Many in the UCP faction of 60 are already bracing themselves for the strong possibility that Smith will win on October 6th

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With all the UCP furor over Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act promise, it’s widely believed that the ruling faction will melt in bitter divisions if it wins the leadership, paving the way for an NDP victory next spring.

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Don’t count on it. Many in the UCP faction of 60 are already bracing themselves for the strong possibility that Smith will win on October 6th. These are mostly politicians and they want to win another election.

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One MLA summed up the feeling: “There is nobody in this faction, not one person, who thinks that a government led by Rachel Notley is better than a government led by Danielle Smith.

“The feeling is let’s point our arrows in the same direction.”

The mere fact of this event shows that many UCP MLAs believe Smith will win. In some rural ridings, MLAs cannot find party members to vote for anyone else – except perhaps Todd Loewen, who has a large following.

Recently, Smith’s campaign has privately sent conciliatory messages to other candidates. Her campaign manager Rob Anderson now says it publicly:

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“If Danielle becomes Prime Minister, she will waste no time settling scores with former opponents of the leadership and her supporters after a hotly contested election. That’s what kids do in the schoolyard.

“Albertans expect us to grow up, put petty rivalries aside and work as a united conservative team; and that team will include every elected Conservative MLA in the province, regardless of previous criticisms.”

That may displease some party members and MLAs who want the next PM to erase all trace of PM Jason Kenney’s tenure. Smith is clear that she will not do this by banning or punishing individuals.

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Some critics of the Sovereignty Act may actually remain in Cabinet, very likely including Energy Secretary Sonya Savage, despite her recent comments on Smith’s plan. Treasury Secretary Jason Nixon was tougher, but even he could be safe. (That is, if they plan to stay at all.)

Loewen, who staunchly supports the Sovereignty Act, would almost certainly land a key job – his ultimate revenge for being kicked out of the caucus at Kenney’s instigation.

But first, Smith needs near-unanimous group support for the Sovereignty Act she wants to put to a vote in the House.

To that end, she will most likely order an adjournment of the legislature until mid or late November.

The fall opening is currently scheduled for October 31st. The extra weeks would give Smith time to work on the unity of the caucus. New ministers could settle into their jobs.

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Most importantly, the extra time would be used to draft a sovereignty law that could both pass the legislature and be accepted by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani, who has already made it clear that she would not vote for an unconstitutional bill.

Smith’s people believe they can convince reluctant UCP members that the law will not provoke a national crisis and will itself be fully constitutional, backed by scholars in the field.

Another obvious task would be to choose the new prime minister. She is the only one of the seven candidates who is not an MLA.

It is very strange that the government has been led by a prime minister for an extended period of time who has not won a seat. (And yes, she would be the full-fledged prime minister out of the box.)

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But this is a known issue and relatively easy to fix.

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Former Alberta Prime Minister Jim Prentice was forced to win his seat after winning his party's leadership.
Former Alberta Prime Minister Jim Prentice was forced to win his seat after winning his party’s leadership. Dean Bennett/The Canadian Press

Smith would be in the same position as Jim Prentice in 2014. After taking the Progressive Conservative lead on September 6, Prentice won the Calgary Foothills on October 27.

Len Webber cleared the way by resigning his seat at the end of September, a day after winning a Conservative federal nomination.

Don Getty was twice without a seat, shortly after becoming PC leader and premier in 1985, and again when he lost his Edmonton seat in the 1989 general election. He won by-elections both times.

Smith has a choice spot awaiting him – Calgary-Elbow, recently vacated by Doug Schweitzer. But it may not be the safest ride for them.

All of this is hypothetical, of course, until the ballots are counted on October 6th. But Smith’s campaign, never lacking in nerve, is already trying to shape a post-vote mindset in both the party and the public.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Calgary Herald.

Twitter: @DonBraid

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