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Michael TaubeOn Oct. 6, United Conservative Party of Alberta members will choose a new party leader and provincial premier to replace Jason Kenney. The race has largely come down to three individuals – former Wildrose Party leader/UCP MLA Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith and former UCP minister of Finance/Treasury Board president Travis Toews.

Leger’s July 17 poll of UCP supporters had Smith in the lead at 22 percent, followed by Jean (20 percent) and Toews (15 percent). Mainstreet Research’s July 17 poll of UCP supporters had Jean slightly ahead at 23.1 percent, followed by Smith (22.6 percent) and Toews (13.7 percent).

Unless things change and someone like former UCP Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz (recently endorsed by former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall) comes from behind, the next leader will be Smith or Jean.

I don’t live in Alberta, but I’d be casting my vote for Smith if I did.

We’ve known each other for years. I can say with confidence that she’s smart, friendly, intellectually curious and driven. She’s media-savvy, having worked as a columnist, editorial writer and radio/TV host. She has extensive political experience, having served as everything from school trustee to Alberta’s leader of the Opposition. She’s worked for two think tanks, the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and supports private enterprise, free markets, trade liberalization and economic liberty. She’s a libertarian and social moderate who has built political bridges with fiscal and social conservatives, right-leaning independents and others. She’s a lifelong Albertan who intimately understands her province and its residents.

It also goes without saying that Smith has her detractors. Is their criticism well-founded or nothing more than political gamesmanship?

Let’s go through a few of her positions.

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Some Alberta conservatives refuse to forgive Smith for abandoning Wildrose, along with eight MLAs, and crossing the floor to then-premier Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservatives in 2014. The move was ill-advised (I didn’t agree with it) and left a bitter taste in some mouths.

That said, Smith’s strategy was to unify Alberta conservatives under one political umbrella – something she had long advocated. It was a noble goal then and now. She tried to accomplish it in one fashion, which didn’t work, but it helped spark the flame that enabled Kenney and Jean to unite both parties in 2017. Hence, she’ll be able to lead a united conservative faction if she wins.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star’s Graham Thomson called Smith “anti-vax, anti-science, and anti-reality” on July 14. While few would expect the left-leaning newspaper to sound the trumpets for her vision of Alberta, this description is utter nonsense.

Smith has never expressed any personal opposition to the COVID-19 vaccines but believes people should be free to choose whether they want to get vaccinated. She’s opposed to massive government outreach as a rule, which includes federal and provincial COVID-19 regulations and restrictions. This puts her on the same wavelength as many other conservative and non-conservative Canadians.

She also told the Western Standard last October, “There’s a wide range of potential early treatments for COVID, but the CPSA [College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta] has really clamped down and one really has to question if they have overreached their authority on this.”

Some have predictably misinterpreted her assessment, but it’s actually quite straightforward: she wants to give doctors more power to prescribe different medications to patients if they so choose. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

What about Smith’s support of an Alberta sovereignty act?

She said on July 20 that it would “empower the Alberta legislature to refuse enforcement of any specific federal government law or policy that violates Alberta’s provincial rights under s.92 of the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Albertans.” The act would only be invoked after a “free vote” of all Alberta MLAs was held.

Howard Anglin, who served as deputy chief of staff for former prime minister Stephen Harper, wrote in The Hub on July 13 that the act is “the centrepiece of a broader Free Alberta strategy” that comes “straight out of the camp of the cranks and kooks.” While he likes Smith and praises her for being “smart, curious, and refreshingly open-minded about politics and policy,” her support for it means “we have to take this deeply unserious idea seriously.”

With all due respect to Anglin, who was in the Prime Minister’s Office long after my tour of duty ended, it depends on how Smith’s interpretation of the act is ultimately implemented. Enhancing provincial rights to counter the policies of an ineffective and incompetent federal Liberal government has real merit. Promoting a stronger, freer Alberta that’s more in control of its destiny should be regarded as a good thing. And free votes in the Alberta legislature doesn’t mean every piece of federal legislation has to be challenged – or will necessarily be challenged.

Smith’s political views and economic goals are intelligent, logical, ambitious and seemingly in line with modern Albertan thinking. That’s why my old friend has a strong chance of winning in October – and, for what it’s worth, my support to become Alberta’s next UCP leader and premier.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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