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Danielle Smith's lobbying record holds clues to her governing agenda, observers say

United Conservative Party Leader and Premier Danielle Smith celebrates her win in a byelection in Medicine Hat, Alta., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised to focus on the concerns of everyday people after winning a seat in the legislature Tuesday, but observers say other clues to her agenda can be found in her record as a lobbyist for one of the province's most powerful business groups. 

"I find this extremely useful as an indicator of what she's going to do," said Laurie Adkin, a political scientist at the University of Alberta. 

"These are her people. These are the people she worked for."

Smith first registered as a lobbyist in June 2019 for the Alberta Enterprise Group, a Calgary-based association of 100 companies of which she was also president. It represents a broad swath of the provincial economy with members ranging from oilsands giant Syncrude to the Oilers Entertainment Group, the company behind the Edmonton Oilers NHL team. It also includes firms from health care, transportation, construction, energy, law and finance. 

It refers to itself as "Alberta's most influential business organization."

Smith last renewed her lobbying status for the group in January. Ten months later, she was premier. 

"They now have their president as premier," said Adkin. "Whose premier is she?"

In response to a question about how Smith's lobbying record might suggest her legislative priorities, Rebecca Polak, the premier's press secretary, wrote in an email: "Premier Smith has always operated in accordance with the Lobbyists Act and the Conflicts of Interest Act." 

The registry lists more than a dozen pages of issues Smith lobbied the government on during her years with the business group.

They include a "free enterprise approach to delivering public services such as health spending accounts and vouchers in child care."

Smith, a former advocate of bogus COVID-19 cures such as Ivermectin, met with then-health minister Tyler Shandro — now Alberta's justice minister — to discuss "the College of Physicians and Surgeons interference with doctors' ability to prescribe medications based on best available medical research."

She and Shandro also discussed "a new accountability model for delivering health care that would split the roles of purchaser, provider and performance oversight."

Smith advocated a government-run "concierge" service for large development projects. She argued for a "streamlined model" to assess rural property taxes on roads and pipelines for the oilpatch. Smith lobbied for charter schools.

She held repeated meetings on the so-called RStar program, which would give energy companies an up to $5-billion break on their royalties if they met their legal obligations and cleaned up their abandoned wells. That proposal is now being considered by Alberta Energy.

Many items on her list have already been enacted under former premier Jason Kenney, such as a one-third cut in the corporate tax rate.

The list is consistent with the agenda Smith has pursued her entire public career, said Lori Williams, a political scientist from Calgary's Mount Royal University. 

"It's more or less a confirmation of what we've already seen," she said. 

But Williams said if Smith's legislative agenda follows her lobbying efforts, she may alienate Albertans.

"In some respects, Jason Kenney misread Alberta as being more conservative than it actually is. Danielle Smith seems to have tacked even further to the right." 

Smith's lobbying work immediately preceding the resumption of her political career "raises lots of questions," Williams said. 

"We often hear conservatives discussing special interest groups and their undemocratic influence on government. There could be questions raised whether Danielle Smith represents all Albertans or will allow disproportionate influence to an interest group."

New Democrat Opposition deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said Smith's lobbying record isn't in sync with what Albertans care about.

"Most Albertans want to have a public health system where if they get diagnosed with something scary that they have access to quality treatment as soon as possible, not based on how much money they've got in their bank account," she said. "I think most Albertans are concerned about the cost of living, want things to be more affordable for them.

"These are top of mind for most people, not wanting to push a voucher system."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the corporate tax rate was cut by 50 per cent.

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