Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday May 31, 2023
Danielle Smith vs. Trudeau – Oil, Populism, and Federal Friction!
Alberta’s recent election witnessed the remarkable comeback of Premier Danielle Smith and her United Conservative Party (UCP). However, as Smith solidifies her position as premier, concerns arise about the potential tensions that may emerge between Alberta and the federal government, particularly under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Smith’s return to politics reintroduces a populist playbook that resonated with Albertans frustrated with COVID-19 restrictions and those seeking fundamental changes to Alberta’s role within Canada. This article explores the implications of Smith’s victory and the heightened conflict that may unfold in Canadian politics.
Smith’s campaign hinged on her promise to pass the Alberta Sovereignty Act, granting the provincial government the ability to opt out of enforcing federal legislation it deemed contrary to Alberta’s interests. While she tempered her stance on COVID-19 restrictions, the desire for increased provincial autonomy remained prevalent. The act was modified to become the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, aiming to ease concerns about secession while asserting Alberta’s constitutional toughness. By aligning with Saskatchewan’s similar efforts, Smith seeks to protect Alberta’s oil and gas industry and safeguard the province’s prosperity.
This election outcome sets the stage for potential clashes with the federal government. Smith’s victory, driven by support from oil and gas advocates, gives her a mandate to prioritize and defend the industry. As Alberta and Saskatchewan unite, they aim to push the federal government back within its designated boundaries, asserting provincial jurisdiction and potentially limiting federal actions. Such conflicts have the potential to strain federal-provincial relations, posing a significant challenge for Prime Minister Trudeau’s government.
Smith’s political challenges lie in reconciling competing pressures. To secure her victory, she had to appeal to centrist voters by advocating for well-funded public services and lower taxes. However, her populist base may exert pressure for more confrontational positions. Conflict with the federal government in support of oil and gas becomes a unifying stance, satisfying those who desire Alberta’s affluence and low tax rates while resonating with populists who share Smith’s resentment toward Ottawa.
Smith’s triumph holds lessons for Canadian conservatives. It demonstrates that centrist voters may overlook a leader’s controversial associations if presented with a strong economic proposition. However, it is important to recognize that Alberta’s unique circumstances as an oil-rich province contribute to the viability of such an offer. Other Canadian jurisdictions may not possess the same capacity.
Danielle Smith’s extraordinary political comeback as Alberta’s premier promises to have a profound impact on Canadian politics. As she assumes her role, tensions are likely to rise between Alberta and the federal government due to conflicting interests in resource development and environmental policies. Failure to resolve these conflicts in favor of Alberta may result in proposals for greater provincial autonomy, including the establishment of a provincial police force, pension plan, or revenue collection agency. Smith’s emergence as a prominent national figure raises questions about the future of Canadian politics and the delicate balance between federal and provincial powers. (AI)