Alberta’s vote will test far-right politics the American way

Voters in Alberta, the epicenter of conservative politics in Canada, will choose a new provincial government on Monday.

Before the pandemic, the ruling United Conservative Party seemed to have a firm grip on power. But last year, large and angry demonstrations against pandemic restrictions and against vaccine mandates helped spark a caravan of truckers in the county.

The caravan spread east, crippling Canada’s capital, Ottawa, and shutting down vital crossings with the United States, including a bridge linking Detroit and Windsor in Ontario, disrupting billions of dollars in trade.

A small group of social conservatives within the UCP overthrew their leader, Jason Kenney, ended his premiership, after the government refused to lift pandemic measures.

The party replaced Kinney with Danielle Smith, a far-right radio talk show host and newspaper columnist prone to sensationalist comments. She compared people vaccinated against Covid-19 to Hitler’s supporters.

Ms. Smith also loves to glorify American right-wing politicians, for example, calling Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican running for president, her hero.

It also floated ideas most Canadians would never support, such as charging for public health care.

Ms. Smith now finds herself, analysts say, on the far right of many conservative loyalists, turning what should have been an almost certain victory for her party into a close race that provided an opening for their opponents, the New Democratic Party, the left-wing party.

“It wouldn’t be a close race if anyone other than Daniel Smith was leading the UCP,” said Janet Brown, who runs a polling station based in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city.

The Labor-backed New Democrats are led by attorney Rachel Notley, who is seeking to guide the party to a second surprise victory in the territory in recent years.

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In 2015, she led the New Democrats to power for the first time in Alberta’s history, thanks in part to the conservative movement splitting into two opposing parties.

The stunning win broke a chain of conservative governments dating back to the Great Depression. But her victory coincided with the collapse of oil prices, which hurt the province’s economy. Ms Notley’s approval ratings plummeted and the United Conservative Party took over in 2019.

Albertans vote for local representatives in the provincial legislature, and the party that wins the most seats forms the government, and its leader becomes prime minister.

Ms. Smith’s support is largely in rural areas of the province, polls show, while Ms. Notley’s path to victory would likely lie through Alberta’s urban centers, including its two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary.

Edmonton, the provincial capital and city with a large union presence, is likely to support the New Democrats.

That could make Calgary, which is generally more conservative, a deciding factor. Calgary also has a growing ethnic population, especially South Asian immigrants, and Ms. Smith is unpopular with many of those voters because of some of her extremist statements.

If Ms. Smith’s brand of conservatism fails to bring her party back to office in Canada’s most conservative province, Canada’s federal Conservative Party may need to reconsider its strategy as it prepares to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party in the next national election. elections.

The federal Conservatives also replaced the party’s leader during the pandemic with a belligerent right-wing politician, Pierre Poiliver, who welcomed protesters to the truck caravan in the capital, Ottawa, with coffee and cake. Mr. Poiliver shares Mrs. Smith’s penchant for provocative posturing.

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Even a narrow win for Smith could actually be a loss, said Duane Pratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, if it means fewer conservative seats in the provincial legislature.

In this scenario, Ms Smith could find her position as prime minister and party leader vulnerable and many of the policies she promotes could be put aside, he said.

He said, “If you lose, you’re gone.” “If she wins, I think she still goes.”

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