Calgary

Danielle Smith will run in Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection

Two days after winning the vote to become the Alberta UCP's new leader, incoming premier Danielle Smith announced Saturday that she will run for MLA in a byelection in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

Incoming premier says seat in Calgary-Elbow will remain vacant

Premier-designate Danielle Smith announced Saturday that she will run in a byelection in Brooks-Medicine Hat. (Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press)

Two days after winning the vote to become the UCP's new leader, Alberta's premier-designate Danielle Smith announced Saturday that she will run for MLA in a byelection in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

The announcement follows the riding's MLA, Michaela Frey, resigning on Friday. She said it was her "dear hope" that Smith would choose to take her place — and that Smith's vision "will breathe new life into our region."

"The main reason that I am so committed to running in a rural riding is I know that our rural ridings didn't feel like they had the strongest voice during the last years of the COVID pandemic," said Smith.

She's hopeful that the decision sends a signal to rural Albertans that "their voice will be heard, it will be prominent and it will be respected."

In 2019, UCP candidate Frey received more than 60 per cent of the votes in the riding. The next closest candidate received 17.5 per cent of the votes.

In a statement, Gwendoline Dirk, the NDP candidate for Brooks-Medicine Hat for the 2023 election, said she's excited to start her formal campaign in the region. 

"I grew up in this region. I live here and I work here. I don't have to guess about what people are concerned about," she said. "I know my neighbours and they know me." 

Alberta Party leader and former Brooks mayor Barry Morishita said Friday he would challenge Smith in a Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection, should she call one there.

Smith lives about a three hour drive away in High River, Alta., in the riding of Livingstone-MacLeod. 

Choosing to run in conservative-leaning Brooks-Medicine Hat is a smart move on her part, said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.

It's a similar strategy to what other federal and provincial leaders — including former Alberta premier Don Getty and former B.C. premier Christy Clark have done.

"[Smith] wants a safe seat to ensure that she wins and has a seat in the legislature as premier," said Bratt.

He expects that come the next provincial election in May, Smith will not run in Brooks-Medicine Hat.

Danielle Smith celebrates after being chosen as the new leader of the United Conservative Party and next Alberta premier in Calgary, Thursday. On Saturday, she announced that she will run in a byelection for the recently vacated Brooks-Medicine Hat seat. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"I think this is a temporary arrangement for a couple months, but it solves the political problem for her by being a premier without a seat," said Bratt.

"The expectation is you can be premier without a seat, but you have to try to get into the legislature as quick as possible."

In the meantime, Smith said she is prepared to travel lots to the communities in Brooks-Medicine Hat and that constituents will have full access to her.

Calgary-Elbow to remain vacant

Smith said Saturday that there will be no byelection in Calgary-Elbow.

That leaves the riding without a representative, as has been the case since former MLA Doug Schweitzer resigned at the end of August. 

Smith confirmed Saturday that she will not call a byelection there, leaving it without an MLA until the general provincial election is held — a total of nine months.

She said that within a year of a general election, byelections do not need to be called. She said other UCP candidates might be stepping away before next May, which would result in a series of rolling byelections she wants to avoid.

Byelections for a vacant seat typically need to be called within six months, so Bratt says rolling elections wouldn't be an issue.

"I think it's clear that she's picking and choosing where to run."

Bratt said that decision could cause trouble for Smith from Calgary-Elbow next May.

"That's a very long period of time without representation, and I don't know how, politically, you can get away with holding one byelection in one part of the province and leaving a seat empty in another part of the province," he said.

"Not having an election not just insults the people living in Calgary-Elbow, but I think insults many Calgarians. And if Calgary is in fact the battle ground in 2023, as experts believe it will be, this is going to be very problematic for the UCP."

Before Saturday's announcement, NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir said that it would be "deeply unfair" to call a byelection only in Brooks-Medicine Hat and not in Calgary-Elbow.

"What I know is this seat has been vacant for over a month now, and while we are talking about these important issues and policies, people in Calgary-Elbow deserve to have a seat at the table," he said, referring to the proposed Sovereignty Act. 

"They deserve to have representation."

Smith will be sworn in as the 19th premier of Alberta on Tuesday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Moore

Online journalist/associate producer

Sarah Moore joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2021. If you have a tip or story idea, send her an email at sarah.moore@cbc.ca.

With files from Terri Trembath

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