After a Hard-Right Turn, Alberta’s Conservatives Retain Power
Voters in Alberta, the oil-rich western province that is a bastion of conservatism in Canada, kept its conservative government in power on Monday but substantially reduced the number of seats it holds in the legislature, data from Canada’s national broadcaster indicated.
The result, while a win for conservatives, is likely to be seen as a rebuff of the politics of Danielle Smith, the hard-right leader of the United Conservative Party who has been Alberta’s premier for seven months. Ms. Smith came to power after the party effectively rejected a more moderate conservative, Jason Kenney, as premier over his refusal to end pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.
That revolt, led by a socially conservative wing of the party, reflected the anger in Canada that also led to the formation of a truckers’ convoy that paralyzed Ottawa, the national capital, for nearly a month.
The views of Ms. Smith, a former radio talk show host and newspaper columnist who previously led another conservative party, are firmly aligned with that faction. She has declared that the unvaccinated were the “most discriminated-against group” she’d seen in her lifetime and suggested that police officers who enforced pandemic measures had committed crimes. In May, a video surfaced of her likening people who chose to be vaccinated to Germans who came to support Hitler.
She has previously stated that politicians on the right in the United States were her political models and floated ideas, like fees for services in public health care, that enjoy little support across the political spectrum.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation projected early Tuesday morning that Ms. Smith and the United Conservatives would be returned to power. But the broadcaster’s data also showed that the party was leading or had been elected in just 52 electoral constituencies, down from the 63 it held before the vote. Unless the final number of seats turns out to be substantially higher, it will be the slimmest margin of victory in Alberta’s history.
Many political analysts said before election night that the conservatives would have won overwhelmingly under Mr. Kenney or another more moderate leader.
In a victory speech, Ms. Smith said her first act when the legislature reconvenes would be to introduce a law requiring that any future personal or business tax increases be approved by voters in a referendum, suggesting that it would make the province more attractive to investors.
“We are throwing our doors wide open for businesses, large and small,” she said.
She went on to reject planned federal limits on the energy industry’s carbon emissions, saying that they would not be “inflicted” on the province.
As anticipated, the United Conservatives were strongest in rural areas. The New Democratic Party, led by Rachel Notley, a lawyer and former premier, had a strong showing in Edmonton, the provincial capital and one of the most left-leaning parts of the province, as well as Calgary, the largest city, which generally supports the conservatives.
As of early Tuesday, the New Democrats, a left-of-center party co-founded by organized labor, had been elected or were leading in 35 electoral districts, a gain of 11 seats.
Ms. Smith’s victory will be a challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. One of her first acts as premier was to introduce legislation that she said would allow the province to refuse to enforce federal laws, a measure that many legal experts believe to be unconstitutional.
Under the United Conservatives, the future of the province’s carbon tax, which is deeply unpopular with the right, and other climate change measures may be in jeopardy.
When the New Democrats held power in Alberta from 2015 to 2019, after an unprecedented victory that resulted from a fracturing of the conservatives into two parties, Ms. Notley agreed to introduce carbon taxes in exchange for Mr. Trudeau’s government purchasing an oil pipeline to the Pacific Coast to ensure its expansion.
Canada’s oil and gas production, which is largely based in Alberta, accounts for 28 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.
Mr. Trudeau has said that the federal government will enact caps on the sector’s emissions. Ms. Smith, on Tuesday morning, called the plan a “de facto cap on production” and promised to block the measure.
The New Democratic Party’s win in 2015 broke a string of conservative governments in Alberta dating to the Great Depression. But Ms. Notley’s victory coincided with a collapse in oil prices that cratered the province’s economy, sending the party’s approval ratings spiraling.
On Tuesday morning, Ms. Notley said she accepted responsibility for the party’s campaign shortcomings but said that she would continue as its leader.
“Although we did not achieve the result we wanted, we did achieve a major step toward it,” she told supporters.