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Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre at a barbecue in Calgary on July 9.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

United Conservative Party leadership candidates were hitching their wagons to Pierre Poilievre’s victory by posting congratulatory messages and selfies together with the man – a desire to be a part of the homegrown politician’s thumping success and popularity in Alberta. But Mr. Poilievre’s win isn’t likely to cause any big shifts in the provincial conservative race, even if some UCP leadership candidates might wish it so.

Leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz released photos of herself with the new Conservative Party Leader, taken during his visit to the Calgary Stampede in July (Mr. Poilievre grew up in the south Calgary neighbourhood of Shawnessy, and Ms. Schulz counts his mother Marlene as a constituent). Brian Jean posted about Mr. Poilievre’s work ethic and focus, saying, “I look forward to him becoming Prime Minister and helping fix Canada.” Travis Toews put out a video saying “everything changes” with a Poilievre win, as his party now has a real chance of forming the next government in Ottawa – one that would align with the province’s values.

However, Mr. Toews, one of the leadership race front-runners, said later in an interview, “I don’t believe for a minute that it’s a straight line from Pierre Poilievre to any one of us leadership candidates.”

Danielle Smith thinks differently, drawing a direct link between herself and the federal leader. She tweeted this week a poll that showed her at 44 per cent support among UCP or UCP-leaning voters, the highest level of support among the candidates. “Let’s ‘Pierre’ this thing up! Please consider ranking me #1 on your ballot,” she added. It’s a nod to the belief by her team – a hope that has only recently emerged – that a win in the first round in the ranked ballot system is possible. (Party bylaws say a candidate must receive more than 50 per cent of the valid votes cast – a difficult task when there are seven candidates competing for the job.)

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Ms. Smith’s team members certainly hope that her similarly highly motivated, angry-at-the-system, anti-establishment supporters will be encouraged by Mr. Poilievre’s victory. They think his win helps with the get-out-the-vote initiatives, and helps ensure UCP members supporting Ms. Smith mail in their ballots, or turn up on voting day Oct. 6.

On the other side, Ms. Smith’s political rivals note there’s a wide spread between that 44 per cent and Mr. Poilievre’s 68-per-cent-support win on the first ballot. They also say his victory is a mood-lifter for many UCP supporters. The very thought of Mr. Poilievre as prime minister – and his support of “freedom” and push on economic issues – could ease the anger of many UCP members, who are voting for Ms. Smith out of frustration over COVID-19 public health restrictions, or federal energy policies.

A key moment will come when Mr. Poilievre is eventually asked by reporters to comment on Ms. Smith’s push on an Alberta First agenda, including her controversial sovereignty act. The proposed legislation is a vehicle for the Alberta legislature to disregard federal laws and policies if they are deemed to be edging in on provincial jurisdiction.

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Surely the new Conservative Leader won’t relish that question. It’s an issue specific to Alberta conservatives, whom Mr. Poilievre already has mostly sewn up, while he needs to win over the rest of the country. It’s an issue that has no appeal outside of the Prairies. Notably, Grande Prairie-Mackenzie MP Chris Warkentin – the new deputy whip, and a key Alberta lieutenant for Mr. Poilievre – is also a Toews supporter who has retweeted Mr. Toews’s criticism of the sovereignty act.

A bigger question on Mr. Poilievre’s win, and what it means to Alberta, is much farther down the line – should he ever lead the Conservatives to electoral victory in the years ahead. Will a Poilievre government make the relationship between the province and Ottawa as effortless as many conservatives think? The province will still be an outlier compared with the rest of the country when it comes to the economy. It will still rely on the oil and natural gas sectors for years and decades to come. And no matter the government, or whether the sovereignty act comes to be, there will still be disagreements about federal funding flowing to Alberta, and provincial autonomy. Even the government of Stephen Harper, who represented a Calgary riding, still squabbled with provincial Progressive Conservative governments over health care funding, employment insurance qualification rules and even climate policy.

Mr. Poilievre has already seen one MP depart his caucus – Quebec MP Alain Rayes announced on Tuesday he will leave the Conservative caucus and sit as an independent because he objects to the confrontational style of politics associated with the leader and his supporters. There could be more.

But Mr. Poilievre hasn’t (yet) upset his party’s apple cart in the same precise manner Ms. Smith has, with a promise to implement a policy as objectionable to other conservatives as the sovereignty act. Most of the other leadership candidates – Ms. Schulz, Mr. Toews, Mr. Jean, Rajan Sawhney and Leela Aheer – are all against it, as are other establishment party members, including outgoing Premier Jason Kenney. They all warn it’s a threat to political and economic stability in the province, and some have said they would not vote in favour of it.

So, even with all the comparisons between the two leadership races, Ms. Smith is not going to take the same path to victory as Mr. Poilievre. If she wins, the victory will be less definitive, and her party less united.