How can the UCP build bridges and win back support in Edmonton?

Premier Danielle Smith needs to collaborate and take a less ideological approach to solving problems in Edmonton if she wants the UCP to win seats in the capital in 2027, some local conservatives say. 

Edmonton voters elected NDP candidates to all 20 city ridings shutting the governing party out of the provincial capital.

Four years ago, Kaycee Madu was the only UCP candidate to win his seat. Madu lost to school board trustee Nathan Ip on Monday. 

Although Edmonton has a reputation of being more progressive than Calgary, local conservatives say the city isn’t a lost cause. Smith and her government needs to take a different approach if they want they want to win support in Edmonton.

Edmonton entrepreneur and past Progressive Conservative candidate Chris LaBossiere said Smith needs to make the first move. 

“The community shouldn’t go bended-knee to try to start building the bridges to this government,” he said. 

“Even in winning, even in success, it’s still the leader’s job to show the humility to build that bridge from the party out to the communities.”

The United Conservative Party was created by merging the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties in 2017.

Although the UCP was touted by former premier Jason Kenney as a “big-tent party,” there are some who think the party has tracked too far to the right under Smith thanks to the influence of political grassroots group Take Back Alberta. 

The group’s socially conservative views may go too far for voters in Edmonton, which tends to lean more progressive on social issues.

The NDP spent much of the campaign highlighting statements Smith made in the past about people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 and the Coutts blockade. 

Meet voters where they are

Although Edmonton didn’t elect any UCP members this time around, Edmontonians elected Progressive Conservatives before the party merged with the Wildrose to create the UCP six years ago. 

The city once had a large number of moderate Progressive Conservative MLAs like Dave Hancock, Gene Zwozdesky and Thomas Lukaszuk. 

Matt Jeneroux, the Conservative MP for Edmonton Riverbend, was a Progressive Conservative MLA from 2012 to 2015. At the time, the PCs had about 15 members in the capital region. 

Jeneroux said political parties need to meet voters where they are ideologically and not just appeal to their base. He said that’s why the PCs were successful for more than 40 years. 

“I honestly think Albertans are socially progressive and fiscally conservative,” he said. 

The UCP has in the past accused Edmonton city council and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, of not being tough enough on crime and social disorder, leading the government to bypass local officials when making decisions. 

Last fall, Smith announced a task force to solve the crime and drug poisoning crisis  in Edmonton’s downtown and LRT.

The government didn’t tell Sohi and most councillors about the task force and the involvement of two of the more conservative members of council, Sarah Hamilton and Tim Cartmell. 

Earlier this week, Smith mused about creating a council of failed Edmonton UCP candidates to advise her on issues affecting the capital city. 

NDP leader Rachel Notley, who has largely been silent since election night, couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Smith. 

“For the record, the Alberta NDP has a 20-member ‘Council of the Elected’ ready and happy to advise on the priorities of Albertans living here in Edmonton,” Notley posted on Twitter. 

Find common ground

Stephen Mandel, the former Edmonton mayor, Progressive Conservative MLA and Alberta Party leader, said the UCP government shouldn’t use the lack of MLAs as permission to do whatever it wants in the city without first talking to the elected mayor and council. 

He called on both Smith and members of Edmonton city council to meet in the middle on issues affecting the city

Mandel said it’s important for both levels of government to stop demonizing the other. 

“The danger is that the UCP paint city council as too left-wing and city council paints the UCP as too far right-wing and they can’t find any common ground,” he said. 

“They owe it to the citizens of Edmonton … to find common ground.”

LaBossiere is unimpressed by Smith’s desire to take advice from defeated UCP candidates in Edmonton when there are already elected officials available to consult. 

The UCP government under Smith and Kenney has opted to fund expanding recovery spaces for people struggling with drug addiction over harm reduction measures like supervised consumption sites and safe supply. City councillors complain the province hasn’t done its part to help fund supportive housing and shelters. 

When it comes to solving issues like homelessness, addictions and mental health, LaBossiere said the premier need to let go of politics and adopt the best solutions regardless of who has them. 

“Can she run a big tent approach, which means that she has to change her tone, have some humility and be respectful of different opinions,” LaBossiere said. 

“The election is behind us. We shouldn’t be thinking about politics for some time to come. Now we should be getting focused on problems.”

The lack of Edmonton representation will be a problem for Smith as she tries to form a cabinet from her 49 MLA-elects who predominately come from Alberta’s smaller cities and rural areas. 

She will likely look to MLAs elected in the Edmonton “doughnut” like Nate Glubish in Strathcona-Sherwood Park, Dale Nally in Morinville-St. Albert and Searle Turton in Spruce Grove-Stony Plain to advocate for Edmonton at the cabinet table. 

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