Now the Danielle Smith Show has a new audience: Alberta audiences

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Judging by the first thing Danielle Smith said after being crowned leader of the United Conservative Party, she’s as struck as the rest of us by her wild narrative journey – that great political fall and almost as turbulent rise that brought her to shower in those blue and white balloons on Thursday night.

“I’m back,” she added.

The rest of his victory speech, and everything after, will explain what it means that Smith is back, on two fronts.

First, how she has evolved since stepping out of the political spotlight with the shambolic crossing eight years ago. The second is what it means now that she’s back, for the first time in quite a while, speaking to the general public.

baselines

She spent that five-month campaign wooing what represents less than four percent of the Alberta public; the United Conservative base and its new recruits, who seem far more energized by the fury over COVID rules and contempt for the federal Liberals than traditional Alberta. (And that’s tenuously united — Smith’s 54% to Travis Toews’ 46% on the sixth ballot isn’t a grassroots mega-mandate.)

But she had lived in that echo chamber longer than that contest. She had quit commercial radio in early 2021 for the express purpose of being freer to accommodate doctors and others whose views on the pandemic were labeled as dangerous misinformation by public health officials.

Smith has become a key voice in the “freedom movement” of the unvaccinated, skeptical scientists and others who are highly suspicious of the medical establishment and its virus-fighting restrictions.

She then wore that coat in the leadership campaign, pledging early on to publicly apologize as prime minister for the Kenney-led UCP lawsuits against business owners and pastors who flouted the rules; and throughout the campaign, she has promised to include the unvaccinated as a class protected from discrimination under Alberta’s human rights law.

A protest in Calgary against COVID policies and vaccines in September 2021. Danielle Smith gave a voice and platform to medical figures who leaders and public health experts warned against misinformation. (Nancy Walters/CBC)

Pushing those points of frustration and underscoring that skepticism and doubt may have worked wonders among the UCP base that Smith helped build. But with society unmasking more fully and few corners of anyone’s life more affected by vaccination rules, what does the general public care about all of this now?

The Smith campaign seemed to appreciate the potential gap between grassroots sentiment and mainstream sentiment with its 2,700-word speech, devoting a line to this COVID grievance: “We won’t be told what to put in our bodies to that we can work or travel.” Just one line, but damn if it wasn’t the line that elicited the most impassioned cheers from the Tories in the Thursday crowd.

Much more of Smith’s speech to Albertans and the tenuous United Conservatives was about his other big vote-raiser, Alberta’s fight for self-government from the federal government. Albertans have traditionally loved that Ottawa fighting spirit from their provincial leaders, but their appetite for brawling will likely be tested by his zeal to create his own tax collection agency, the pension fund. and the Alberta Police Force, and the Sovereignty Act promised by Smith to somehow exempt the province from certain federal laws.

Rob Anderson, Smith’s campaign chairman who will be his premier’s office aide, said in an interview that his ‘sovereignty’ legislation will not empower Alberta to ignore Supreme Court rulings – confirming that she won’t be as combative or constitutionally defying as the Free Alberta Strategy which inspired his plan and which Anderson co-wrote.

“But don’t confuse that for a second with the fact that the final version of the Sovereignty Act won’t have a whole head of very sharp teeth,” Anderson said. “It will be very meaningful and it will change the dynamic [with Ottawa].”

Danielle Smith held her first caucus meeting on Friday morning, after winning the UCP leadership race the night before. (Kory Siegers/CBC)

When it comes to hearings, there are certainly internal hearings to which Smith must also respond, in the fragile UCP coalition, from a party base that will demand the tough action he has been promised – and that they felt Kenney fell short – and a caucus government that just a few weeks ago seemed full of MPs who were determined to reject any constitutionally questionable legislation that the next Prime Minister has introduced.

They emerged from a caucus meeting led by Smith on Friday as a happy group, many willing to be open-minded about how their new boss is steering the ship.

Throw it like Poilievre

She did not win federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, though her triumphant speech seemed to raise several lines about the bite of inflation straight from her winning rhetoric: the fresh college graduate living in the basement of her mother, single mother strained by cost of feeding children, elder on fixed income. She even identified the same source of blame for inflation – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While Poilievre can ultimately only criticize and offer alternatives to his government rival, Smith will soon have the levers of power in the provincial government and its treasury at his disposal.

And she seems to have an eye on the province large surpluses. Smith announced plans to spend more on educational aids and supports for struggling students after pandemic disruptions; raise seniors’ and disability benefit rates to protect them from inflation, and (to hell with labor shortages) mandate Alberta Health Services to double critical care capacity for hospitals and to “give them the resources to do so”.

Tax belligerence may have defined Smith at the time as a leader, columnist and host of Wildrose, but with the province now afloat, she seems mostly eager to spend more to deal with problems in schools, the health system and the cost of living.

There is some distance to walk as she goes from speaking with UCP members to dealing with the whole province. The Smith Bridge from there to here may be paved with oil wealth.

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