Voters in Alberta, the epicenter of conservative politics in Canada, will choose a new provincial government on Monday.
Before the pandemic, the ruling Conservative Party seemed to have a firm grip on power. But last year, large, angry demonstrations against pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates helped unleash a convoy of truckers in the province.
The convoy spread eastward, crippling Canada’s capital Ottawa and blocking vital intersections with the United States, including a bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, disrupting billions of dollars in commerce.
A small group of social conservatives within the United Conservatives have ousted their leader, Jason Kenney ending his premiership after the government refused to lift pandemic measures.
The party replaced Mr Kenney with Danielle Smith, a former far-right radio talk show host and newspaper columnist prone to inflammatory comments; she compared people vaccinated against Covid-19 to Hitler supporters.
Ms. Smith also likes to hype right-wing US politicians, for example, calling Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, her hero.
He also floated ideas most Canadians would never support, like charging taxes for public health care.
Ms Smith now finds herself, analysts say, far to the right of many Conservative loyalists, turning what should be an almost certain victory for her party into a close race that has provided an opening for their opponents, the New Party. Democrat, a leftist party.
“This wouldn’t be a close race if anyone other than Danielle Smith led the UCP,” said Janet Brown, who runs a polling firm based in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city.
The Labour-backed New Democrats are led by Rachel Notley, a lawyer, who is trying to steer the party to a second upset victory in the province in recent years.
In 2015, he led the New Democrats to power for the first time in Alberta history, thanks in part to the conservative movement’s split into two feuding parties.
The stunning victory broke a string of conservative governments dating back to the Great Depression. But his victory coincided with a crash in oil prices that crippled the province’s economy. Ms Notley’s approval ratings plummeted and the United Conservatives took over in 2019.
Albertans vote for local representatives in the provincial legislature, and the party that wins the most seats forms the government, with its leader becoming premier.
Ms. Smith’s support rests largely in the province’s rural areas, polls show, while Ms. Notley’s path to victory will likely be through Alberta’s urban centers, including its two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary. .
Edmonton, a provincial capital and a city with a large union presence, is likely to back the New Democrats.
This could make Calgary, which is generally more conservative, a deciding factor. Calgary also has a growing ethnic population, particularly immigrants from South Asia, and Ms. Smith is unpopular with many of those voters due to some of her extreme statements.
If Ms. Smith’s brand of conservatism fails to return her party to office in Canada’s most conservative province, the federal Conservative Party of Canada may need to reconsider its strategy as it prepares to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his party Liberal in the upcoming national election.
The federal conservatives also replaced the party leader during the pandemic with a combative right-wing politician, Pierre Poilievre, who welcomed the truck convoy protesters in Ottawa, the capital, with coffee and donuts. Mr. Poilievre shares Ms. Smith’s penchant for promoting provocative positions.
Even a narrow win for Ms. Smith could actually be a loss, if it means fewer Conservative seats in the provincial legislature, said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
In that scenario, Ms Smith could find her position as premier and party leader weak and many of the policemen she promotes could be sidelined, she said.
“If she loses, she’s gone,” she said. “If he wins, I think she’s still gone.”