Danielle Smith has room to manoeuvre on social conservative policies

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This story originally appeared in the What’s up with Alberta? newsletter, a joint project between the National Post, Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Analysis

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Over the weekend’s United Conservative Party convention in Calgary, three things happened: The first: all but one of the controversial, socially conservative policy resolutions passed. The second: the party’s board was taken over by people who align more strongly with the party’s dextral edge.

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The third: A governance resolution that would have seen Premier Danielle Smith face a leadership review next year did not pass.

If Smith had to undergo a leadership review at next year’s convention, she would have had to face internal feedback about how quickly she’d adopted those controversial policy resolutions into law and how she was getting on with the new board. While many seem to think of the party’s board as a gang of shadowy puppet-masters controlling the government, that’s not really how it works. They control fundraising, candidate nominations and, yes, leadership reviews.

But without such a tight leadership-review timeline, Smith has some runway to deal both with the policies before her — which she may or may not agree with or think are saleable to Albertans — and the board, however she chooses to do so. Smith will face a leadership review eventually, either because the party’s board or members demand one or because the party has set a review at one of every three annual meetings, provided it’s not an election year.

A brief (and not entirely definitive) recap: the UCP passed proposals on banning trans people from women’s prisons; pronoun policy in schools; bans on sexual or violent or racist books in schools; the end of diversity and inclusion offices in public institutions; resolutions proposing more freedom for doctors to issue vaccine exemptions; and ending funding for supervised-consumption sites.

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“We look at that as advice from our members,” Smith told reporters afterward. “When you’re government, you have to govern for all Albertans.”

Former premier Jason Kenney also took the view that policy advice from the grassroots was just that — advice. Outside the party, people tend to argue Kenney’s career ended over the way his government tackled the pandemic. But within the party, many consider his lack of enthusiasm for grassroots policymaking the real reason why he had to go.

Danielle Smith is not particularly socially conservative. She allied herself during the pandemic with people who had more fringe views about the COVID-19 pandemic, masks and vaccines. But her personal politics, according to the people who know her, are socially liberal — especially on issues surrounding transgender people.

She’s also savvy enough to try to figure out what policies are going to invite public pushback, restock the NDP’s quivers and require tons of political capital to make into law.

The question now is what she will do. It may be there’s a middle ground on these policies. It may be that she adopts some but entirely ignores others.

If Smith takes either course, how will her party react? What will the board do? Those are the questions that will matter a lot for her future.

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