To quote Jason Kenney: “To not enforce the laws of the land, including federal laws, which include the Criminal Code… is nuts.”
These comments came on the wings of now Premier Smith’s commitment to bring forth the Alberta Sovereignty Act. Smith’s opponents in the UCP leadership race, many of whom now serve in her caucus and hold significant ministerial portfolios, claimed the Sovereignty Act would “drive investment, jobs and people out of Alberta.” Another called it a “destructive piece of legislation,” and another called it a “fairy tale.”
The characterization of Premier Smith driving forward policies dangerous to Alberta’s interests was not a partisan critique. The call was coming from inside the house. Her own party warned of the destructiveness of her approach to the leadership of the UCP and to Alberta.
Stephen Harper, a self-proclaimed populist Conservative, refused to even mention Smith’s name in an ad sent out by the UCP. Noticeably, Harper didn’t even name the UCP.
When Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper, and even former Calgary city councillor and mayoral challenger Jeromy Farkas find Smith too extreme to support publicly or directly, we should all take note.
The UCP is capitalizing on the expectation that Albertans will ignore the absence of conservative values as long as the extremism and authoritarian activities demonstrated by Smith and the UCP are clothed in conservative blue. In a rush of populist anger cultivated during the pandemic, elements of conservatism that were formerly boilerplate have been abandoned.
To quote Lee Richardson, a prominent Progressive Conservative who served under Stephen Harper, Premier Smith is “not a conservative.” Richardson says Danielle Smith has lost “the traditional Conservative values of integrity, ethics, respect for our institutions, authority, the rule of law, and the norms of a democratic society.”
Echo left by Trumpism
Premier Smith’s style of politics is an echo left by Trumpism and is a continuation of the political slide into populist extremes. I fear that this political backslide will be seen as inevitable in an election largely decided by political brands rather than political beliefs.
Albertans may look to the extremism Trump courted and see similarities here in Smith’s insurgency that has taken over the UCP. Trump actively sought to interfere with the pursuit of justice, and in his role as President, had significant amnesty powers that allowed him to do so. Trump spread misinformation and fueled conspiracy theories around Covid-19 and election fraud, and his actions led to one of the most shocking attacks on democracy in American history: The January 6 insurrection on the American capitol.
At risk of cliché: Mark Twain once said history never repeats itself, but it rhymes.
It has now been concluded by the Alberta Ethics Commissioner that Premier Smith broke the law in trying to influence the Justice Minister, almost identically to Justin Trudeau’s own ethics violations surrounding SNC Lavalin, of which Smith was a vocal critic. A notable difference: the individual Premier Smith was seeking amnesty for was at the time accused of inciting violence. This same individual has a troubling hate-filled and discriminatory history, going so far as to blame Calgary’s 2013 floods on the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
This is not the first time Premier Smith affiliated with people who have made hate-filled and discriminatory comments.
Almost a decade since one of Smith’s Wildrose candidates claimed 2SLGBTQ+ individuals “will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering,” another of Premier Smith’s candidates has been shown making despicable comments about children, comparing trans children to feces.
Smith did not condemn the 2012 comments made by her then Wildrose candidate, and in her role as Premier, has initially offered this current candidate a path to redemption should she win her seat in the Legislature. Smith has since changed her mind again, leaving many uncertain about the finality of her comments.
TBA relationship ‘troubling,’ says Walcott
Premier Smith’s relationship with the third-party group Take Back Alberta is notably troubling. Take Back Alberta and its leadership have been described as a “far-right band of religious fundamentalists, COVID-19 anti-vaxxers and convoy supporters using the back door to storm the apex of the province’s political power structure.” Take Back Alberta claims to have brought down Kenney, to have taken over the UCP Board, and to have engineered Premier Smith’s rise to the top political office in Alberta.
Smith, like Trump, courted the fringe and brought them in-house. The danger this presents to democracy is punctuated by allegations that members of Take Back Alberta have been working to plant scrutineers throughout Alberta’s different political parties and influence the credibility of the vote on election day.
The damage that election conspiracy theories have done to America will last decades, and we’re seeing the foundation of the same election fraud conspiracy theories being laid here in Alberta.
Our democratic institutions and treasured public services have been built up over decades, often following decades of struggle — for the expansion of voting rights or the creation of public healthcare, for example.
Without a thorough understanding of how much these matter to the lives of Albertans, they can be undone and dismantled very quickly, and often, very quietly.
A minimum requirement of our leaders must be that they believe in the very institutions that that they are tasked with safeguarding, as they are the foundations of Alberta’s future.
The political currents of Alberta are increasingly turning to a mode of politics that scapegoats and excludes the vulnerable, glorifies the powerful, and where respect for the law is a matter of convenience.
Right now, Danielle Smith is driving that change. I urge Albertans to carefully consider whether this change should be rejected or embraced.