Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is back in the legislature, winning a seat more than seven years after she left.
Smith defeated four opponents Tuesday to win the byelection in the constituency of Brooks-Medicine Hat, in the southeastern corner of the province.
"I just want to thank all the voters in Medicine Hat-Brooks for putting faith in me. This is more than a victory party. This is the start of something much bigger," Smith told her cheering supporters.
"This is our declaration that Alberta is worth fighting for. And make no mistake: from what you saw from the results today, we certainly have a fight ahead of us.
Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection results
"You can choose Rachel Notley and the NDP that increasingly takes their orders from Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau at the federal level, or you can choose a united, confident and energized UCP."
Smith won by taking 54.5 per cent the votes cast. NDP candidate Gwendoline Dirk was second while Barry Morishita of the Alberta Party was third.
"I'm actually quite ecstatic with our result, watching the polls as they came in," Dirk told Radio-Canada.
In the last election, she said the NDP didn't win a single poll.
This byelection, they won 17 out of 26 polls in Medicine Hat — where they spent the majority of their campaign this time around, she said.
"It demonstrates that when we get out there, when we talk to people, when we tell them what we really represent, and the truth about our party…they listen, they see, they do their homework and they come our way."
Brooks-Medicine Hat winner by poll
Morishita, leader of the Alberta Party and former mayor of Brooks, Alta., said on social media that it's important to remember a general election is just six months away.
"I ask Albertans who hoped for a different result tonight to please get involved or stay involved because the only way the UCP and NDP machines are held accountable is if we continue to organize and prepare to put the Alberta Party in the legislature in May," he wrote late Tuesday.
Bob Blayone with the Independence Party and Jeevan Mangat with the Wildrose Independence Party were a distant fourth and fifth, respectively.
In total, 12,695 voters cast ballots in the contest out of a total electorate of 34,532.
Smith called the byelection shortly after she won the leadership race to replace Jason Kenney as United Conservative Party leader and premier on Oct. 6.
With the victory, the focus shifts back to Edmonton and the upcoming legislature sitting.
Early polls have suggested Smith has work to do to defeat the NDP and that Smith needs to focus less on grievances over COVID-19 and more on rising food and fuel costs, ambulance bottlenecks and overcrowded emergency wards.
WATCH | Reporter Elise von Scheel with more on the byelection results from Medicine Hat:
Smith, in her speech, promised action on all those fronts.
"Over the next several months, we're going to take unprecedented and substantial action to help Albertans and their families," she said.
Smith promised help with fuel taxes, electricity costs and relief for seniors and those most in need, along with reforms to reduce surgical wait times and deliver more help to the hospital front lines.
She also changed course from statements made three weeks earlier to The Calgary Sun, in which she outlined her plan to win the next general election by focusing on rural seats while winning some in suburban ridings in Calgary and Edmonton to capture the number needed for majority government.
"I don't intend to try to win every vote," Smith said at the time. "That's where I would be trying to win votes, among people who share conservative values."
In her Tuesday speech, however, she stressed she would govern and fight for all.
"I want to assure Albertans that I will be leading a government that is committed to serving all Albertans, no matter where in Alberta that you live, no matter who you work for, no matter what you do, no matter who you worship and no matter who you love," she said.
Smith has been criticized of late for focusing on COVID-19 grievances rather than pocketbook issues, promising no future vaccine mandates or health restrictions along with human rights changes to prohibit discrimination against the COVID-19 unvaccinated.
Her speech did not contain a single reference to COVID-19.
The Brooks-Medicine Hat seat came open a day after Smith won the leadership vote, when UCP member Michaela Frey announced she was resigning.
Smith doesn't live in the constituency but said she wanted to run there because rural issues need better representation at the provincial level. She lives in High River, just outside Calgary.
She was criticized for not calling a byelection at the same time for a vacant seat in Calgary-Elbow.
Smith said there's political convention for a party leader to have a seat, but otherwise it's too close to the scheduled May 29 general election to start calling byelections for other constituencies. She also said her party has yet to pick a candidate for Calgary-Elbow.
This is Smith's second go-round under the legislature dome.
She captured the leadership of the right-centre Wildrose party in 2009 and won a seat representing the Highwood riding in 2012.
In late 2014, she led a mass floor crossing of her Official Opposition Wildrose caucus to the governing Progressive Conservatives, a move that led to public outrage at both the floor crossers and the PCs.
Smith then lost the PC party nomination for Highwood in spring 2015 before the general election, which saw voters punish both the PCs and Wildrose, and elect the first-ever NDP government under Notley.
The legislature is to reconvene on Nov. 29 for a throne speech.