Much harrowing discontent from the punditry followed the 2023 Alberta election for returning the United Conservative Party with Danielle Smith at the helm. Smith won the popular vote and secured a majority government, but somehow these achievements are branded a loss.
Ironically, those decrying her win are practically the same people claiming that Smith’s becoming premier earlier was not legitimate because it was not the result of a general election. Now that she has, they denigrate her victory. Few want to acknowledge that the UCP was over 15 points behind in popular preference when Smith became leader, which makes her victory by a 9-point spread , 8 moths later, even more remarkable.
The narrative that the race was close serves to mask the NDP’s second consecutive loss with Rachel Notley as a leader. But one need not put down the government’s win to highlight the 15-seat gain that the NDP pulled from their loss.
As Barry Cooper has shown in this publication, Smith’s results for a majority government were resounding and nowhere near “close” as the legacy media paints it. The race was close in about 20 percent of the 87 ridings but the final result was decisive.
What is more, the results are may be more favourable to the premier than the raw numbers show or her detractors concede. While a loss of seats and a reduced caucus is not in itself a good thing, it does not follow that it’s a great tragedy. Winning by huge margins is not always greatly advantageous.
Under the circumstances, there are advantages for Smith in winning with a smaller caucus: 1) A smaller number of MLAs means a smaller number of MLAs to manage, and a smaller number of MLAs in the backbenches. Having great depth of talent on the sidelines, as it were, is not undesirable, but it comes with challenges of its own. Backbenchers in large numbers often foster conditions for discontent and backseat driving. The less idle hands in caucus the better it is for a leader; there is less intemperate ambition, less squabbles and less distractions. There is a downside to a smaller backbench, as some have pointed out, but it is not the disaster that some [Braid] claim it is.
2) Conversely, a larger opposition crew can cause management troubles for itself, unrest, and greater opportunities for bozo eruptions, discord or hacking into government databases. A larger opposition bench might make a more effective opposition, which would be a benefit to Albertans. Better opposition does often beget better government, but it is not a given that more people in opposition result in better opposition. Grant Notley was amazingly effective as a one-man show in opposition, and so was Danielle Smith with her small crew of Wildrosers.
3) A smaller caucus can be more focused. It offers opportunities for deeper bonds of friendship, stronger loyalties, which strengthen a team. A larger opposition threat concentrates the mind. It motivates people to push harder in the same direction and provides less opportunity for internal squabble. Alberta Conservatives can always use less internal squabbles.
4) Last but not least, the savvy Alberta electorate handed Smith two ready-made solutions to the Kenney loyalists’ problem. The electoral demise of Copping, Milliken, Madu, and possibly Shandro is a significant benefit (If Sandro loses, all the elected members of the Sky Palace scandal but Nixon will be gone). Surely, Smith loses significant caucus experience, but it allows space for her own stamp on the cabinet through fresh talent, freer from divided loyalties and less overly ambitious distrust. Similarly, the most visible faces of the authoritarian COVID excesses of Kenney’s UCP, the then Justice and Health ministers will not be in cabinet when the rising challenges from abused and jabbed citizens with health problems, the excess deaths tallies and the lawsuits burst from beneath the political surface. In this sense, the absence of the most visible Kenney loyalists strengthens Smith’s hand far more than it weakens it.
Without minimizing the strong NDP incursion into Calgary and the challenges of the anemic urban representation in her caucus, the election results offer Smith several advantages, not only exclusively disadvantages as some in the legacy media claim.
Of course, how Premier Smith turns this advantage potential in her favour is up to her, and remains to be seen. But there is ample reason to think that her talents and experience will use these opportunities and seize the day.