Smith steering UCP’s ship toward rocky waters

Danielle Smith stands an excellent chance of winning election on Thursday as the new leader of Alberta’s ruling United Conservative Party. She would then take Jason Kenney’s role as premier of Alberta.

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Opinion

Danielle Smith stands an excellent chance of winning election on Thursday as the new leader of Alberta’s ruling United Conservative Party. She would then take Jason Kenney’s role as premier of Alberta.

Ms. Smith has been prominent on the Alberta political stage since 2009, when she became leader of the right-wing Wildrose Party and brought the party into the Alberta legislature. After she defected to the ruling Conservatives in 2014 and lost her legislature seat, she continued her political career as a radio and newspaper commentator.

Her energetic campaign to succeed Mr. Kenney has drawn thousands of new members into the ruling party, especially people opposed to vaccine requirements and people angry with the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

She won intense attention with her signature policy idea — an Alberta Sovereignty Act that would empower Alberta authorities to disregard selected federal laws and court decisions.

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith has won intense attention with her signature policy idea — an Alberta Sovereignty Act that would empower Alberta authorities to disregard selected federal laws and court decisions.

Nothing in Canadian law authorizes a provincial legislature to pick and choose among federal laws and disregard those it doesn’t like. If Ms. Smith goes ahead and presents such a bill to the legislature, she will alarm Alberta families and businesses who will no longer know whether they are living under a stable framework of the law.

If she fails to present it, she will keenly disappoint the anti-Ottawa citizens whose support propelled her forward.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has been following a similar trajectory. Her humiliating retreat from a signature policy idea this week may show what fate lies in store for Ms. Smith if she persists with her sovereignty idea and then has to abandon it.

Ms. Truss won the British Conservative leadership by telling party members she would revive the British economy by cutting taxes, repealing a 45-per-cent tax rate applied to people in the top tax bracket. She told them the lost revenue would soon be recovered because wealthy people would then invest in British business, thereby creating jobs, expanding the economy and increasing government revenues.

Investors found that theory implausible. When her government enacted the promised tax cut two weeks ago, investors dumped British government bonds and British pounds, causing a sharp rise in interest rates and a sharp drop in the exchange value of the pound. Borrowing costs, including government borrowing costs, shot up and costs of imported goods also increased.

ALBERTO PEZZALI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss won the Conservative leadership contest by telling party members she would revive the economy by cutting taxes.

This week Ms. Truss’ government announced reversal of the tax cut for the wealthiest taxpayers. Since that specific measure was only a small part of her tax cut plan, the rest of which is also unfunded, a doubt remained about the feasibility of the rest of her plan.

A deeper and more insidious doubt arose about the ability of Britain’s Conservative party to choose a skilful leader, understand the fundamentals of public finance and govern the country wisely. The majority of Conservative members of Parliament had never supported Ms. Truss, but the party grassroots loved her plan and imposed her leadership upon the parliamentary party.

Ms. Smith in Alberta now stands where Ms. Truss stood a month ago, on the eve of her election as Conservative leader. The UCP’s would-be leader has the wind in her sails, but her ship is headed for the rocks. She must either disappoint her supporters by changing course quickly or else sail bravely on and bring her party into wider disrepute.

Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley is eagerly waiting to see which form of self-destruction Ms. Smith chooses.

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