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Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.

Alberta is about to have a new premier.

The United Conservative Party announces a new leader on Thursday to replace Jason Kenney, who returned to the province as a self-styled saviour intent on uniting the political right and unseating the New Democrats, but who was instead forced out after less than a term in office by the party he created.

The UCP’s leadership election follows a tumultuous time for the province and the party, after more than two years of COVID-19 threw an already troubled economy into further disarray and as anger over public health drove UCP activists to force Mr. Kenney out. It also comes during a time of a remarkable economic turnaround in Alberta, owing to a return to high oil and gas prices, and ahead of a provincial election next spring that is expected to be a tight race between the province’s two main parties.

In contrast to all that uncertainty, there has been a growing belief in the province that the next premier is a fait accompli.

Danielle Smith has been the perceived frontrunner for much of the campaign and remains the favourite ahead of the results on Thursday. She’s essentially been measuring the drapes in the premier’s office – putting together a transition team, making plans for a quick swearing in and doing something of a media tour in the dying days of the campaign as she acts as though the race is already in the bag.

Ms. Smith’s itinerary included a sit-down with The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Cryderman in which she argued that the swift and seemingly radical agenda she has mapped out is what UCP voters wanted – and what they felt Mr. Kenney failed to deliver.

That agenda includes her proposed sovereignty act, which she claims would give the province the authority to ignore federal laws deemed unconstitutional (though it has been widely panned as illegal and dangerous).

Ms. Smith has also leaned into grievances about COVID-19 and vaccine mandates and has promised no more school and business closures. Jen Gerson, a contributing writer to The Globe, argues that Ms. Smith’s political rise has been fuelled by people who felt marginalized and maligned by COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine policies.

And she has pitched significant reforms for Alberta Health Services, the province’s central health authority, including replacing its CEO and firing its board.

She says that she doesn’t need to call an early election to get a mandate for such a sweeping set of changes. Ms. Smith argues the UCP government still has a mandate from the 2019 election, particularly when it comes to pushing back against the federal government. “The Premier didn’t act on the mandate he was given, and I will act on the mandate.”

As Kelly notes, the party’s ranked-balloting system means Ms. Smith’s victory is not completely assured.

Her closest perceived competitors, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and former finance minister Travis Toews, have been spending the final weeks and days of the campaign getting their supporters to cast ballots as have the other four candidates. And while mail-in ballots were due this past Monday, there are still four hours of in-person voting scheduled for Thursday that could influence the outcome.

But whatever happens, Thursday’s results are unlikely to calm Alberta’s political waters or completely tamp down the anger that prompted the UCP’s change in leadership in the first place.

Mr. Kenney’s replacement will take over a party that remains sharply divided over COVID-19 and other issues, and this is all happening seven months before a general election that could upend the province’s political realities yet again.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.