Smith was born and raised in Brandon, Manitoba, and worked as a firefighter for twenty years before entering provincial politics. He was elected to the Brandon City Council in 1995, defeating an incumbent councillor in the city's seventh ward. He also ran for Mayor of Brandon in a by-election two years later, and finished third against Reg Atkinson in a close three-way contest. Smith continued to sit as a councillor during the mayoral campaign, and was re-elected without opposition in 1998. While on council, he served as chair of Brandon's poverty task force, grants review committee and taxi review committee.
Smith was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in the 1999 provincial election, defeating longtime Progressive Conservative MLA and sitting Minister of Education and Training James McCrae in the division of Brandon West. The NDP won a majority government provincially, and Smith entered the legislature as a backbench supporter of Gary Doer's government. He served as Legislative Assistant to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Mines.Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs
Smith was promoted to cabinet on January 17, 2001 as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, with responsibility for administration of the Liquor Control Act. In this capacity, he defended his government's support for rent control over opposition from landlord groups. He increased the maximum rent increase from 1.5% to 2% for 2002, but lowered it to 1% for 2003.
In May 2002, Smith introduced legislation giving investors the right to seek financial compensation from advisers who mismanage funds through violations of the Manitoba Securities Act. Maximum compensation was set at $100,000. This legislation was the first of its kind in Canada. Smith also introduced legislation to protect customers from negative option billing, and reformed provincial laws concerning reverse mortgages.
As Minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, Smith indicated that his government would not expand the number of private wine stores in the province. He oversaw a tax break for Manitoba's microbrewery industry in April 2001, when the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission reduced its mark-up rates.
In June 2001, Smith announced that Manitoba's liquor laws would be reformed to allow liquor stores, beverage rooms, vendors and private clubs to open on Sundays. Municipalities were allowed to pass by-laws exempting themselves from the legislation. Due in part to extra revenue from this change, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission's net profits increased by $4.7 million in the 2001-02 year.
Smith was appointed to the influential Treasury Board of cabinet on March 24, 2001, replacing Oscar Lathlin. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he was appointed to an all-party task force on provincial security. In December 2001, he introduced steps to prevent the spread of false or forged birth certificates.Minister of Transportation and Government Services
Premier Gary Doer shuffled his cabinet on September 25, 2002, and appointed Smith as Minister of Transportation and Government Services with responsibility for Emergency Measures and administration of the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation Act.
In October 2002, Smith instructed drivers of the province's fleet vehicles to purchase environmentally friendly ethanol fuel in areas where it was reasonably available. He said that the Doer government wanted to see ethanol made more widely available across the province, and hoped his decision would provide an incentive for retailers. Provincial ethanol purchases increased dramatically in the last three months of the year. Smith also unveiled two hybrid electric cars for the provincial fleet in December 2002, and said that he planned to double the number of environmentally friendly vehicles in provincial service.
In February 2003, Smith introduced a plan to have the Trans-Canada Highway twinned as far as the Saskatchewan border over a period of four years. The plan was conditional on financial aid from the federal government. In the same year, he joined with federal cabinet minister Rey Pagtakhan to announce significant upgrades to Manitoba's highway system.
Smith also introduced a number of measures to improve driving safety in Manitoba. In September 2003, he indicated that repeat drunk drivers would be required to install ignition-interlock devices in their cars, requiring them to pass a breathalyzer test before the car could be started. He introduced tougher penalties for seatbelt violations, and sought to introduce high-technology drivers' licenses with biometric information.
Smith announced in November 2002 that the Doer government would expedite the tendering process for provincial capital construction, indicating that 80% of projects would be tendered by January. Many contracts had not been not tendered until the spring or early summer in previous years, and some in the industry complained that the delays led to market confusion.
Smith was also in charge of the provincial government's efforts to maintain economic viability for the financially troubled port city of Churchill in northern Manitoba. The government pledged one million dollars to find new markets and new products for the city in early 2003.
Smith presided over a memorial ceremony for the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the International Peace Garden in September 2003. He drew attention to his own background as a firefighter in paying tribute to those who died in the New York City attacks.Minister of Industry, Economic Development and Mines
Smith was re-elected in the 2003 provincial election, winning an unexpectedly easy victory over former Brandon Mayor Reg Atkinson. He was promoted to Minister of Industry, Economic Development and Mines on November 4, 2003, retaining responsibility for Emergency Measures and the Manitoba Lotteries Act. He was also given responsibility for the Liquor Control Act a second time.
Smith helped oversee the controversial expansion of Manitoba's pharmaceutical sector, and defended local retailers who profited from the sale of medicine to American buyers.
Smith also worked with Manitoba beef farmers through the summer of 2004, in an effort to purchase a new slaughterhouse with thorough Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy testing procedures. The value of Canadian cattle had declined dramatically in previous months, when the American border was closed to trade after BSE was found in a single Canadian cow. Many farmers argued that a more comprehensive testing system would be necessary to reopen the American border.
As Minister of Mines, Smith oversaw the expansion of Manitoba's burgeoning gold sector. The province announced $1.4 million in tax credits for the mining industry in spring 2004.Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade
Smith was promoted again on October 12, 2004 to Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade. He retained responsibility for Emergency Measures, Lotteries and the Liquor Control Act, and also became minister responsible for International Relations Coordination.
Shortly after his appointment, Smith announced that the Doer government would not proceed with a series of controversial changes to the provincial Planning Act. Farmers and environmental groups had criticized the changes, arguing that they would remove municipal oversight from the expansion of hog farms. Smith argued that the proposed changes were no longer necessary, due to the Water Protection Act being developed by his government. He introduced a revised set of changes in 2005, which received cautious support from advocacy groups.
In November 2004, Smith introduced an amendment to the City of Winnipeg's charter allowing the city to provide business tax relief for selected neighbourhoods. Previous rules had mandated a uniform rate for the entire city. The following year, Smith introduced greater property tax flexibility for all Manitoba municipalities. He introduced the Capital Region Partnership Act in the same period, requiring Winnipeg and the surrounding municipalities to cooperate in the development of regional lands.
The federal government distributed gas tax revenues to the provinces in 2005, and gave provincial governments discretion over how the monies would be divided. Following discussions with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, Smith announced that the money would be distributed to different parts of the province on a per capita basis. Representatives from major cities brought forward an alternate proposal, wherein 90% of the funds would be made available on a per capita basis and 10% put directly toward public transit in urban centres.
Smith approved the Doer government's proposal to create the Waverley West subdivision of Winnipeg in April 2005, notwithstanding concerns that his membership in the government created an inherent bias. In time, the suburb is expected to become larger than Brandon. In 2006, Smith announced $200,000 for emergency programs in north and west-end Winnipeg.
Smith and the Broadcasters Association of Manitoba introduced a new public emergency notification system in late 2003, ensuring that details of an emergency will be conveyed by radio and television within 15–30 minutes of its occurrence.
In November 2003, Smith designated Selkirk as the first city in Manitoba to have exceeded its emergency preparedness requirements. In March 2005, he introduced legislation allowing Manitoba to sign mutual agreements for emergency preparedness with other provinces, American states, and countries. He also coordinated flood relief for various parts of Manitoba over a period of several years.
Smith served as acting Highways Minister in the summer of 2006. He indicated that Manitoba would consider raising its speed limit to 110 km/hour for selected twinned highways, putting Manitoba policy in line with American states and other provinces.Minister of Competitiveness, Training and Trade
After another cabinet shuffle on September 21, 2006, Smith was designated as Minister of Competitiveness, Training and Trade while retaining responsibility for Lotteries and the Liquor Control Act. He continued to defend Manitoba's pharmaceutical industry against criticism from the Canadian Pharmacists Association, arguing that Manitoba companies have a proven track record of providing a safe and secure product to buyers. Smith presided over a continued expansion in Manitoba's manufacturing sector, with Statistics Canada reporting the creation of 3,000 new jobs in January 2007.
Smith announced modernizing reforms to the Liquor Control Act in late 2004, giving private wine stores the right to sell drinks such as brandy and cognac. He also indicated that Manitobans would be allowed to re-seal half-empty wine bottles ordered in restaurants, and bring them home. Most restaurateurs supported this change.
Smith defended the use of Video Lottery Terminals as a source of government revenue, and rejected a 2003 proposal from Progressive Conservative MLA John Loewen to phase out most terminals from the province. Loewen argued that the machines brought a huge social burden upon Manitoba; Smith responded that the province had taken steps to combat gambling addiction and was introducing machines with responsible gaming software. He also noted that Manitoba received $232 million annually from lottery revenues, and argued that the money was necessary to fund social programs.
Smith rejected a proposal to allow Automated Teller Machines into casinos in January 2004, although he approved a plan to allow Sunday gambling in hotels, bars and lounges.
In April 2004, Smith indicated that his government would review a Manitoba Lottery Corporation regulation that mandated English as the only language permitted at gambling tables (Manitoba recognizes English and French as official languages). As a short-term measure, he announced that both of Winnipeg's casinos would hire a French-speaking card dealer.
The Manitoba Lotteries Corp. posted a profit of $146.2 million for the first half of 2006, a $6.4 million increase over the previous year.
Prior to the 2007 provincial election, Smith was the only member of Gary Doer's cabinet to openly contemplate running for the party leadership after Doer retires. A Winnipeg Free Press writer argued that many party members considered him to be too right-wing for the position.2007 election
Smith was narrowly defeated by Progressive Conservative candidate Rick Borotsik, a popular former mayor, in the 2007 provincial election. He was the only New Democratic Party incumbent to lose his seat in the election.
Smith supported Bill Blaikie's bid to become leader of the federal New Democratic Party in 2003.Smith defeated Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz in a friendly competition in the 2006 Winnipeg marathon. Smith finished the 26-mile marathon in three hours and fifty-four minutes, while Katz took four hours and thirty-seven minutes.
Ashton was designated as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Mihychuk was designated as Minister of Industry, Trade and Mines.
All provincial election information is taken from Elections Manitoba. Expenditure entries refer to individual candidate expenses.