United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership hopeful Danielle Smith made a campaign stop in Stettler on Aug. 2.
Around 80 people came out to the Stettler Legion to hear what Smith had to say on the Tuesday afternoon.
Smith is one of seven confirmed candidates vying for leadership of the UCP after Premier Jason Kenney narrowly survived a leadership review in May with a 51 per cent approval vote. He subsequently announced his resignation, though remains on as interim party leader until a new one is elected.
So far, Smith is the second leadership candidate to have stopped in Stettler. Travis Toews, also seeking the premier’s chair, stopped in Stettler on July 16.
Smith, like Toews and Brian Jean, another front-runner in the leadership race, is focusing on health care and Alberta Health Services (AHS) if she should make it into the premier’s office.
According to Smith, health care is the largest line item in the provincial budget, accounting for around $22 billion of the provincial budget, and something for which the province receives around $12 billion in transfer payments from the federal government.
She noted that the top-down, centralized approach of AHS was not working and she would focus on spreading healthcare throughout the province again.
“We never should have gotten rid of local oversight,” Smith said.
When asked bringing in private healthcare in the province so that those who had money could pay for treatment themselves, Smith noted Alberta had to work within the principals of the Canadian Health Act.
One solution Smith suggested was creating a healthcare system in Alberta which features publicly funded, private delivery services.
Another focus Smith presented to the crowd was her plan to immediately draft and introduce an Alberta Sovereignty Act to insulate the province from “experiencing the bad decision making of Ottawa.”
According to Smith, the act would fall in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, making Alberta an “island of liberty” in North America. If passed, according to Smith, the act would give the Alberta Legislature legal authority to ignore any laws from Ottawa that it deems to violate the charter or areas of provincial jurisdiction, like health care.
This includes vaccine mandates and the on-again, off-again health restrictions the country has seen over the last two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a strong position that we will not lock down again,” said Smith.
“I think Trudeau is going to come down with a vaccine mandate this fall. We won’t enforce any legislation that impacts provincial rights. We won’t enforce any federal mandate that comes down.”
Smith says that the Sovereignty Act won’t be designed to be actually used, but to put Ottawa on notice that Alberta is changing its relationship within confederation; she also believes that if written properly it would be upheld in court and force the federal government to back down.
According to Smith, the federal government keeps bring in legislation that goes against what is law in Canada, and it remains until the provinces fight it and the courts strike it down.
Smith says she is using Quebec’s approach to Canada as inspiration; and to do that Alberta will need to collect its own taxes, establish its own employment insurance and introduce its own police force which will focus on “real criminals” and not “paper criminals” who only become such because Ottawa keeps changing the gun laws.
“There’s a reckoning coming,” said Smith.
“We’re losing people on the liberty front, and on autonomy. I think if we do (the Sovereignty Act) we will make Alberta the freest place in Canada.”
In a July 31 Facebook post, leadership rival Jean fired back at Smith’s Sovereignty Act, stating that what Smith has put in writing regarding the act is “unworkable,” “weak” and “watered down as to be meaningless.”
Jean was speaking about an email that Smith had allegedly sent to her supporters explaining the act a few days previously and was noting the written document was full of “weasel words” such as “affirm” and “may” with none of the tough talk she gives during her live speeches.
“Danielle, what gives?” asked Jean, in the post.
“Is the tough talk all bluster and snake oil? Or is the gentle description sent in the email a ruse to calm down Albertans until you get power?”
Shifting from the Sovereignty Act, another area Smith discussed was resource development.
Smith noted that Alberta-based energy companies are recently having their production leases confiscated by the Province of Quebec without compensation and that with federal bill C-48, which bans the shipment of bitumen off the west coast, and bill C-69, also known as the “no more pipelines bill,” it has never been harder to get Albertan resources to market.
According to Smith, those bills are proof that former Premier Rachel Notley failed with her carbon-tax and “social licence” policy which she engaged in to get resource projects developed.
When former Premier Notley was in power, she introduced green policies such as the contentious carbon tax and the shift from coal electricity which were supposed to get other provinces onboard with Alberta’s resource development. While the green initiatives were applauded, the “social licence” and approvals to further develop Alberta’s natural resources never materialized.
“We don’t get the respect we deserve,” said Smith.
“We have to draw a hard line, that’s the approach I want to take. I don’t care if Quebec doesn’t want us to develop our resources. It’s none of their business.”
Albertans who want their say on the next leader of the United Conservative Party have until Aug. 12 to purchase a party membership. Party members will vote for a new leader on Oct. 6.
Whoever the party votes in as next leader, and premier, will have a battle on their hands with the next provincial election under a year away.