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Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.

Danielle Smith has shaped the United Conservative Party leadership race more than any other candidate in the campaign to replace outgoing Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Her proposed sovereignty act, which claims to give the province the ability to ignore federal laws, has prompted scorn from most of her competitors and spurred a group of them to come together to condemn it earlier this month. She has made COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccines key issues in the campaign.

Mr. Kenney has repeatedly attacked the sovereignty act proposal as illegal and “cockamamie,” and he has warned that it would chase investment away from Alberta.

Ms. Smith’s perceived front-runner status has now made her a target of a third-party advertiser that was originally created to support Mr. Kenney.

Carrie Tait reports that Shaping Alberta’s Future has spent as much as $9,200 this week on Facebook and Instagram ads attacking Ms. Smith. The group is also buying ads on Google and using automated text messages to direct people to articles that take aim at Ms. Smith’s record.

The ads attack Ms. Smith for leading a mass defection from the Wildrose Party to the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2014; accuse her of supporting tax increases; and criticize her for comments about net-zero policies in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.

Shaping Alberta’s Future was created in 2018 and supported Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party in the 2019 provincial election. Its chief financial officer is Doug Nelson, who also served as chief financial officer for Mr. Kenney’s successful UCP leadership campaign in 2017.

Alberta-based construction CEO Peter Kiss, a director at Shaping Alberta’s Future, said the group believes Ms. Smith would increase the chances of the NDP being re-elected. Mr. Kiss and Mr. Nelson say Mr. Kenney is not involved in the group or its anti-Smith campaign.

Ms. Smith’s campaign manager, Matthew Altheim, directed a request for comment to the candidate’s Twitter feed, where Ms. Smith criticized “wild ads” from “shadow groups.”

As a political advertiser, Shaping Alberta’s Future’s revenue totalled about $1.7-million in 2018, while its expenses came in around the same amount, in the lead-up to the election the following year. The organization ended 2021 with about $5,700 in assets, according to disclosures with Elections Alberta, and raised $40,000 from two donors in the first quarter of 2022.

The group was among a number of third-party advertisers, on both sides of the political spectrum, that collectively poured more than $1-million into the 2019 election.

Such third-party advertisers gained prominence after the previous NDP government banned union and corporate donations. Third-party groups are free to accept such donations and face few restrictions, particularly outside of election periods, other than reporting requirements.

The United Conservative Party is holding a mail-in vote for the leadership, with the winner set to be announced on Oct. 6.

Mr. Kenney announced plans to step down after he won a bare majority in a leadership review in May.

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.