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Smith won't seek early vote if she wins UCP leadership, becomes next Alberta premier

Danielle Smith makes a comment during the United Conservative Party of Alberta leadership candidate's debate in Medicine Hat, Alta., Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Smith says if she wins this week's vote and becomes premier, she will not call an early election to seek a broad mandate on her policy ideas.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith says she would not call an early election to seek a broad mandate on her policy ideas if she wins this week's vote and becomes Alberta's next premier.

Smith, the perceived front-runner in the race, said during a media availability Monday that voters tend to punish leaders who call an early election.

"When early election calls occur, the public is suspicious," she told reporters. "They think that there's some advantage that the person is trying to gain. 

"Oftentimes, when you hold an early election — it has happened at the federal and provincial level — you either lose or lose ground or end up getting a reduced majority."

Smith said she would wait until the next scheduled election in May 2023, but believes she would have a mandate to proceed with her plans if she becomes leader.

"People need to see that we are going to implement the ideas that we campaigned on in the last election," she said. "So, I feel like we have a very strong mandate to move forward on a lot of these issues."

Smith has said she would immediately pass an Alberta sovereignty act, which would allow the province to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in its interest.

Legal experts, some of Smith's leadership rivals and Premier Jason Kenney have labelled the act not only illegal but a recipe for constitutional and economic chaos.

Smith said Monday she would look for an early opportunity to get a rural seat, which some of her colleagues have offered, to introduce that legislation herself. Out of the seven candidates in the leadership race, Smith is the only one without a seat in the legislature.

"I will seek a byelection seat and I will consult with my caucus and I'll go back and look at what we ran on. And I'll go back and look at the mandate that we got from the equalization referendum and the mandate that we got from various consultations," Smith said.

"I think the approach we are taking in defending our constitutional jurisdiction is not at odds with the law. I think that the approach that I am taking is one, in fact, that Albertans have been asking for some time."

Smith has also talked about revamping the health system by using health spending accounts and firing the board of Alberta Health Services, which oversees the front-line delivery of care.

Monday was the last day for advance voting, and candidates were digging in for the final campaign push before party members select a new leader to replace Kenney on Thursday.

Kenney announced in May, after receiving 51 per cent in a leadership review, that he would be stepping down when a new leader could be chosen.

Smith is seen as the front-runner based on how she has been the focus of opposition attacks throughout the campaign.

Also in the running are former Kenney cabinet ministers Travis Toews, Leela Aheer, Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz; backbencher Brian Jean; and former caucus member Todd Loewen.

Both Jean and Toews said they also wouldn't call an early election if they are voted in as leader, but neither would comment on whether Smith needed a broader mandate.

Toews, a former finance minister, said his team has felt an increasing momentum in the past few weeks.

"We are pressing forward," he said in an interview. "We feel like it's a close race."

Jean said people are excited about the upcoming results.

"The campaign is going well," he said. "We spent the last couple of days going around the province collecting ballots from people who might not be able to vote otherwise."

Jean encouraged everyone who hasn't had a chance to vote yet to cast a ballot in person from 8 a.m. until noon Thursday at one of the five locations in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Slave Lake or Taber.

Others posted about the vote on social media.

"Thank you for your incredible support (and) to the Jean and Toews team with ballot pick ups!" Aheer wrote on Twitter. "It's great to be working together."

Jean, Toews and Schulz also put out final calls for advance votes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 3, 2022.

Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press