Nearly seven years after Danielle Smith lost the Highwood UCP nomination to Okotoks councillor Carrie Fischer, she is formally re-entering the provincial political sphere, though, she insists she never truly left.
The former opposition and Wildrose Party leader announced April 1 she is seeking the UCP's nomination for Livingstone-Macleod in the 2023 general election.
That riding, currently represented by MLA Roger Reid, encompasses sections of Foothills County, the MD of Willow Creek, the MD of Pincher Creek, the MD of Crowsnest Pass and Waterton National Park, but not Okotoks.
Smith's return was inspired by requests from a number of people in the riding, she said.
"There’s a huge number of important issues that need to be dealt with here," the former talk show host, public speaker and small business owner told Great West Media.
She highlighted food security, which has been greatly impacted by the rising cost of fertilizer, power and diesel and even further by the war in Ukraine.
"I believe that we can play a major role, not only in providing energy security to the world in Alberta, but certainly providing food security as well," she said, adding that this will only be possible with decreased supply chain disruptions and less restrictive border rules, including regulations for Canada-US trade.
Rural ambulance service is also top of mind, thanks to a close friend of Smith's who's a paramedic.
Not only is Smith gunning for the seat in Livingstone-Macleod, but she's also got her eyes on the top spot.
That is, if the majority of UCP members vote to give Premier Jason Kenney the boot during a leadership review beginning with the special general meeting on April 9. Results of the vote will not be known until May 18, due to the shift from an in-person vote to a mail-in ballot.
"If the job comes open on May 18, I want to put my name forward for leadership," she said.
Smith has been critical of some of the premier's choices under the UCP throughout his term, particularly the decision to introduce the Restrictions Exemption Program and other COVID-19 vaccine requirements, which she said caused anger, disruption and division. Despite that, she said the party is still the best fit for her.
"I believe that the UCP is the right vehicle," she said. "I went to the AGM last November and saw an incredible partnership that has emerged and a coalition that has emerged from grassroots members in both the PCs and the Wildrose, which were the legacy parties.
"I just think the leadership hasn’t always listened to what the grassroots membership has said and what it is that Albertans want."
She isn't alone though.
Brian Jean, also a former Wildrose leader and recent victor of the Fort McMurray- Lac La Biche byelection, has also said he intends to run for the premier's empty seat if it comes down to it.
Smith said she looks forward to having a robust discussion and debate with Jean and anyone else who puts their name forward.
"I like Brian Jean, a lot," she said. "I’ve told him I would serve under him, I hope he would serve under me and there would be others that would jump into the race as well, which would be exciting.
"I think it would rejuvenate the party."
One thing Jean and Smith likely have in common is their concern over a possible split vote, especially after losing to Rachel Notley's NDP in the 2015 general election.
Smith said a division among conservatives is of great concern to her, especially in Livingstone-Macleod.
"If we end up with a division in this constituency, I'm worried that a vote split could lead to the NDP winning," she said, noting that the constituency she is running in has a long history of Wildrose support, which she said has been revived by former MLA Paul Hinman.
Without a change in leadership, she said this could be a reality.
"I am gravely worried that if we do not have a change of leadership that the party will split and the NDP will win," said Smith.
Although she intends to run under the UCP banner regardless of who is at the helm, Smith said recent polling data suggests that Kenney is not the right person to lead the party into an upcoming election.
"It’s up to members to decide if that’s who they want to lead them into the next election, then that’s who leads us into the next election," she said. "But I think we can’t be under any illusions.
"We’ve got a premier that is consistently polling well behind the NDP and if the vote split occurs I want to be in a position to help rebuild the party and to keep conservatives under one roof. "
Smith is making a stop in Okotoks on April 13 for a speaking engagement booked prior to the announcement of her candidacy. She said she will continue to giver her 'Future of Alberta' speech to anyone that inquires.
Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate and Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre is set to make an appearance at Spruce Meadows April 12. Smith said she will be in attendance "with bells on."
"My personal favourite, it won’t surprise anyone, is Pierre Poilievre," she said. "I think the issues that he’s raising about affordability, inflation, getting the budget back in alignment, controlling spending, freedom, those are the ones that I’m hearing about as I travel around in Alberta.
"I think he’s hitting all the right notes for Alberta."
The leadership vote for the federal conservatives is set for Sept. 10.