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Smith’s decision to not hold by-election in Calgary-Elbow raising questions

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Following the announcement that incoming premier Danielle Smith won’t call a by-election in Calgary-Elbow, some people who live in the area are wondering why the seat will be left vacant until the next election in the spring.

Calgary-Elbow hasn’t had a representative in the legislature since former UCP minister Doug Schweitzer resigned from his post at the beginning of September.

“I guess I’m wondering why Danielle Smith wouldn’t run in this riding if there’s an opening,” area resident Don Smith told Global News. “It doesn’t make any sense because it means we don’t have an MLA for the next, whatever, eight months.”

Over the weekend, Smith declared her intention to run in a by-election in the rural riding of Brooks-Medicine Hat. It comes after UCP MLA Michaela Frey said she wouldn’t run for re-election in 2023, and resigned her seat on Friday.

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At a press conference in Medicine Hat on Saturday, Smith said she had no plans to call a by-election in Calgary-Elbow ahead of the next provincial election, which is scheduled for May 2023 under fixed election date legislation.

“There is also a convention as well that if you’re within a year of having a general election that you don’t need to call by-elections,” Smith said. “We may as well just stick with the convention of having the adjacent MLA take care of the issues in the riding.”

Smith added there may be other sitting MLA’s that could step away instead of running for re-election and that she doesn’t want to set a precedent to have “a rolling series of by-elections.”

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Five of the six ridings that border Calgary-Elbow are represented by the UCP, while Calgary-Buffalo is an NDP riding represented by long-time MLA Joe Ceci.

While Ceci said he is happy to help out constituents in Calgary-Elbow, he added the riding needs representation, especially as the governing UCP introduce policies included in Smith’s leadership platform like the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

“There are many people who are constituents in Calgary-Elbow who have concerns about that and want to speak to their election representative, which they won’t have,” Ceci told Global News. “But they can speak to me.”

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Ceci said Smith has chosen a “safe” riding to run in rather than what could be a tight race in Calgary-Elbow, which he thinks may be a referendum on the governing party’s performance.

“I think they’ll come up short in Calgary-Elbow,” Ceci said. “I think the people in Calgary-Elbow are reasonable thinking people and you see the sovereignty act, you see the chaos they’ve created on all those other things that are going wrong in the province and it would be a judgement on her government.”

According to Mount Royal University political scientist, Duane Bratt, by-elections are typically called within six months of when the seat is left vacant except in the last year of a government’s term, which Smith correctly cited in her reasoning to not call one in Calgary-Elbow.

Where it gets complicated, Bratt said, is two pieces of competing legislation that constitutes the definition of the final year in the government’s term.

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“One that says it’s in the fourth year, which would be this year… they can, but they don’t have to call a by-election. But there’s another piece of legislation that says is the fifth year because under the Constitution Act of 1982, we have to have an election within five years,” Bratt said. “Even if you assume that the one year exemption applies, it’s still tough to reconcile why you’re having one by-election, and then not having another.”

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Meanwhile, others in the riding said they don’t seem to mind waiting until the next provincial election to elect a new representative for Calgary-Elbow.

“The fact is, they’re saying neighbouring MLAs will just cover the work,” reisdent Ruth Parent told Global News. “So for the amount of money they will save by not having a by-election, I’m completely okay with that.”

Smith will be sworn in as Alberta’s 19th Premier on Tuesday, which will be followed by a cabinet meeting and an availability with reporters.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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