Danielle Smith officially became Alberta’s new premier Tuesday and immediately promised to fulfill campaign promises of no more COVID-19 vaccination and health restrictions while launching a more confrontational approach to the federal government.
“Freedom is foundational,” Smith said after being sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani at a ceremony at Government House. The event was closed to the public.
“Albertans have been through so much over these last 2 1/2 years. Our rights and freedoms have been tested,” she said.
“I will ensure as head of this government that those rights and freedoms are protected and will never be taken for granted again.
“Together we will stand up to defend Albertans’ Charter rights as well as defend Alberta’s exclusive rights over our areas of provincial jurisdiction, which are enumerated clearly in Canada’s Constitution.”
Smith will also serve as intergovernmental affairs minister and plans to announce a revised cabinet on Oct. 21.
Prior to the swearing-in, Jason Kenney formally submitted his resignation as premier.
Smith, a 51-year-old former Wildrose Party leader and journalist, won the United Conservative Party leadership race last week to replace Kenney as leader and premier. Kenney announced he was quitting months earlier following an uninspiring 51 per cent vote of support in a party leadership review.
She doesn’t have a seat in the legislature but announced over the weekend that she will run in a byelection to fill a vacant seat in Brooks-Medicine Hat in southern Alberta.
Smith defeated six challengers to win the leadership race.
Her campaign leveraged discontent within the party rank and file over COVID-19 vaccine rules and health restrictions considered to have recklessly and needlessly violated personal freedoms.
Smith has promised to never impose such restrictions and to refuse to implement any such rules invoked by the federal government. She said she would put in place new rules to stop people from being discriminated against based on their vaccination status.
Earlier Tuesday, in an interview on the Ryan Jespersen podcast, Smith said people around the world suffered during COVID-19 under what she called “authoritarian populism.”
“It was very popular to be authoritarian and to take away people’s rights and deny their civil liberties, clamp down on free speech, freedom of the press, to force people to put something into their bodies, to fire them if they wouldn’t,” she said.
She has blamed Alberta Health Services for botching the pandemic response and has promised to fire its governing board. She said in a media availability Tuesday that AHS and Alberta Health Management will be replaced by the end of the year. Smith also added she will replace Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
She ran on a promise to take a more pugnacious approach to relations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Smith has said the province has been too passive in asserting its jurisdictional rights as spelled out in the Constitution.
She has said her province will bring in a sovereignty act to reset that relationship. The act has not been drafted and messaging from Smith and her team over what it will say and do has become muddied and contradictory.
During the campaign and as recently as Sept. 6, Smith promised the act would give her government and legislature the power to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not to be within its best interests.
Over the weekend, Smith’s top adviser, Rob Anderson, rolled back on that in an interview, saying the act will make it clear that Alberta will adhere to Supreme Court decisions.
In the podcast Tuesday, Smith reiterated that her government would refuse to follow federal laws but did not explain how it plans to both respect the courts while ignoring laws.
Smith has also promised to “flip the tables” with Ottawa by refusing to follow federal laws and make Ottawa take Alberta to court to get the decision overturned rather than the other way around.
Over the weekend, she announced Alberta would file a renewed challenge to the Supreme Court on consumer carbon pricing.
In Calgary, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she and justice critic Kathleen Ganley have written to every UCP caucus member, some who have already voiced their opposition to the act, and asked them to oppose it in person in the legislature.
If passed, the act would result in losing investment and jobs in the province, Notley said.
“If they were speaking the truth on the leadership contest trail, the bottom line is they cannot allow this bill to pass. It is time to put province before party and do the right thing.”
The next general election is set for May 29 and Smith has said she won’t call an earlier vote.