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Danielle Smith returning to Alberta politics, wants to challenge Kenney

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Former Alberta politician Danielle Smith is trying to get back into the legislature. 

Smith announced that she'll be seeking the nomination candidacy for the United Conservative Party in the Livingstone-Macleod riding during a press conference Friday morning. 

But her aspirations are bigger than the seat. 

Smith made it clear Friday that she has her eyes set on the UCP leadership. 

"If (members) want to go to a leadership contest, then I will put my name in that," she said. "I would be quite delighted to represent the people of this province in that capacity."

Most polls show Premier Jason Kenney has a low approval rating, despite his party slowly trending in the opposite direction. 

Smith agrees with the assessment. 

"I was very supportive of the premier in his first year on the job," she said, "and I feel badly for him that his leadership has been disrupted by COVID.

"Where he continues to have challenges is there are people who are offended that he doesn't seem to understand rural Alberta. And there are people that are offended that he doesn't appear to put Alberta first.

"I have been a supporter of Alberta exerting its autonomy more and more."

Smith also expressed displeasure with the current leadership review process, which is set to start next week and will decide Kenney's future. 

"The party made a grave mistake when they canceled the general meeting in Red Deer," she said. "When it looked like the premier was going to lose, (the party) cancelled it."

Smith says she wants to focus on issues within the agriculture sector and on supply chain shortages. 

She's also focused on vaccine mandates and natural immunity, the cost of fuel and provincial land use. 

KENNEY'S REACTION TO SMITH

While speaking at a fuel tax consumer relief program announcement at a gas station in southeast Calgary, Premier Kenney says he's concentrating on the needs of the province and not the claims of his detractors.

"My focus is on making life better for Albertans," said Kenney. "I'm here today underscoring $1.7 billion of relief for consumers while we continue to fight the Liberal-NDP carbon tax.

"So I'm not going to be distracted by voices of division. I'm focused on, as I always have been, uniting the conservative movement."

SMITH'S POLITICAL HISTORY

Smith is the former leader of the Wildrose Party who left the opposition in 2014 to cross the floor to the sitting Progressive Conservatives. 

The next year, Smith lost her bid for the PC nod in Highwood. 

She then turned her attention to a daily radio show, which ended in January 2021. 

The current UCP MLA in the Livingstone-Macleod riding is Roger Reid.

"BIZARRE POLITICAL SITUATION"

University of Lethbridge sociology professor Trevor Harrison says the timing of Smith's announcement — just one week before Kenney's review begins — is not coincidental. 

"What we are seeing right now is the continuing of fragmentation of whatever we call the conservative movement in Alberta," Harrison said. "It is just the most interesting and perhaps bizarre political situation any of us have ever seen."

Kenney insists that despite its differences, his party would be better off living up to its United Conservative name. 

"(Voters) want stable, sound, responsible leadership that will maintain a big tent, a mainstream Conservative party," he told CTV News. "What I'm hearing is tremendous encouragement, but ultimately the members will get their say."

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