By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Danielle Smith will officially defend the riding of Brooks-Medicine Hat in the expected election this May, party officials confirmed with Southern Alberta Newspapers earlier this month.
The premier secured the local seat with a byelection win shortly after becoming United Conservative leader last fall.
Norm Gerestein, president of the party’s riding association in Brooks-Medicine Hat, told Southern Alberta Newspapers his board considered the timetable and the recent electoral success to endorse the party leader as the local candidate in 2023.
“She’s just been the candidate through the byelection a few months ago and we’re getting ready for another election,” said Gerestein.
“Frankly I think everyone is in election mode.”
Smith, who collected 54 per cent of the votes in the fall byelection, will again face New Democrat candidate Gwedoline Dirk in the riding and potentially Alberta Party Leader Barry Morishita, who is not yet confirmed as running in Brooks-Medicine Hat.
Morishita told Southern Alberta Newspapers earlier this month the party is busy nominating candidates elsewhere and evaluating election strategy.
With May 29 pegged as the general election day, the writ could drop as late as mid-April. The current sitting of the legislature is scheduled to end on March 30.
Last October, Smith used power provided to the party leader to name candidates in several ridings to become the candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat shortly after former MLA Michaela Frey announced she would step down from the role.
That came two days after Smith secured the party’s leadership and shortly after Frey announced she would not seek a second term.
There has been speculation that Smith may seek a seat closer to her home in High River, though she told Southern Alberta Newspapers in the autumn that at that time she would defend the seat in the southeast if successful in the byelection.
The new candidacy was not publicized by the party but earned mention on Daveberta.ca, a blog that tracks nominations throughout the province.
That came one day after Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes made vague references to nomination contests in a weekly social media message.
Without specifically mentioning Smith, Barnes called for conservatives to demand “open nomination contests.”
“So often (there is) oversight and interference from party leadership and party boards,” he said. “Insist on full and open nominations when party members are in control.”
Barnes has continued to criticize UCP leadership under Smith after he was ejected from the UCP caucus in 2021 for publicly calling out former leader Jason Kenney.
Barnes has not made his intentions for the upcoming election known, but has speculated he could seek a fourth term as an independent candidate or part of a loose affiliation of conservatives outside the UCP framework.
In the Cypress-Medicine Hat riding, UCP members will vote in the current nomination race between James Finkbeiner and Justin Wright on March 16.
The NDP has nominated Cathy Hogg to run in the riding, which comprises parts of Medicine Hat (generally south of Third Street downtown) and southern portions of Cypress County.