Danielle Smith And A Defamatory Truth
On Alberta Conservatism's Crisis
Let’s see if I have the details of this Danielle Smith maybe-but-maybe-not-but-absolutely-definitely using her office to dictate prosecutions story straight.
The CBC reported a staffer of hers had made repeated contact with the Crown to suggest, inartfully, that charges for Coutts and for breaking health measures be dropped. Danielle Smith conducted a very quick email sweep going back 30 days and didn’t find anything, and is claiming that’s vindication. Now, the CBC is doubling down, claiming that the Premier’s Office engaged in inappropriate conduct in trying to have the Alberta Justice Minister drop the charges on a particularly notable pastor. At roughly the same time as the second CBC story, a statement from Danielle Smith came out calling the first one defamatory, and asking for an apology.
Here's what I very strongly think, but do not know: the CBC wouldn’t be printing the original story about pressure on prosecutors or today’s follow up on pressure on the AG if they didn’t have it. I don’t know the people who are working on these stories, but the CBC doesn’t get very big things wrong very often, and especially not their Alberta crew. I highly doubt they have this wrong, accordingly.
The bigger problem for Smith isn’t that this is a huge, gross amount of misconduct if true – that part really should go without saying. I’m not here to litigate SNC for the thousandth time – I’m on the record as opposed to what the Federal Liberals did – but this is such a greater abuse of power as to make that look like a perfectly acceptable reaction to events.
Smith’s immediate political problem is simple – the group of voters she needs to win the next election are fiscally conservative social liberals. Staunching the bleeding amongst the educated and wealthy that make up Calgary’s professional class is the way Smith wins again. We know that she will do worse than Kenney with them, and probably much worse than Kenney with them, but how much worse is the difference between an embarrassingly small win in a historical context or a loss.
You know what that Venn Diagram I just described – wealthy, fiscally conservative in their politics, but socially liberal and therefore uncomfortable with Smith’s views on vaccine politics and the broader right’s views on homosexuality and abortion – has a lot of? Lawyers. It’s doctors, bankers, accountants, consultants, and yes, lawyers. And you know who won’t love a Premier who views the rule of law as optional? Wait, is there any chance it could be people who don’t think you should get to flaunt the law and get away with it? No, silly me.
The immediate problem for Smith politically is that this is going to make her look like at best a liar and at worst a wannabe authoritarian, a weakness after all the Sovereignty Act stuff from last year. But the bigger problem for Smith is that her instincts are to defend and protect a group of people who are antithetical to the voters she needs to win to win again in May.
And this is the problem the UCP isn’t an answer to anymore.
The party that Danielle Smith leads, from a membership perspective, is one that is deeply distrustful of urbanites in general, public servants in specific, and hostile to the very concept of good government. They do not fundamentally believe that Government can be a good thing, because they are so wrapped up in their buccaneering belief about the power of community to solve the world’s ills. They believe that religion is paramount, that their church is a more effective doer of good than their government, and that they should be left alone unless they are doing some demonstrable harm.
To them, their position on COVID vaccination and public health measures stems from these beliefs – that the Government was being alarmist as always, that they were doing nothing fundamentally wrong, and that, therefore, any punishment for what they did was overreach. To these people, collective action meant nothing, because they are so divorced from the way that the urban parts of the province thought, and they didn’t feel any solidarity with them.
The problem at the core of all of this is that the socially conservative wing of the UCP – the old Wildrose tendency, the places where Wildrose won seats and won more votes in 2015 – does not respect the old PC tradition. They view the social liberals of the PC wing with disdain, which is why they left the party run by them in the first place.
Smith is the natural leader for that movement – she is predisposed to want to serve the interests of her base, which is why in 2012 she wouldn’t find a way to properly and actually condemn the “Lake Of Fire” shit from one of her candidates. Now, she’s given them the whole store, with COVID and not gay rights as the dividing line.
The reason Smith lost the 2012 election is because socially liberal Albertans voted for the party they trusted on social issues even though they didn’t love the economic record or the fact that they were incredibly corrupt under Stelmach. If you can’t find the straight line of these voters – 2008 Liberals, in many cases, 2012 PCs, 2015 NDP or PC, 2019 UCP, 2023 ??? – then you’re not looking hard enough. It’s an easy line, but one that gets ignored because the stereotype of Alberta and especially Alberta conservatives is Nutter Farmer, not banker at one of two Goldman Sachs locations. But the bankers live in the seats that might actually flip, so they’re more important to think about than the nutters.
I’m not saying I think Smith will lose – I think everyone who reads this site with anything resembling an open and fair mind knows that I believe in my bones that Smith will win again, even if I hate that fact – but if she loses, it will be because she is leading a party with no internal respect. The right of her party has no respect for the centre, and the unvaccinated have no respect for the fact that they have to share a party with the keeners who were the first people to get vaccinated the moment vaccines became available.
I don’t know what the future of Alberta conservatism looks like, because I don’t know what the movement wants to accomplish any more. Does it want to be a place where the Premier is willing to have staff call prosecutors to demand changes to prosecutions it doesn’t like, or does it want a tough on crime approach? Does the Alberta right really want to set a precedent that “I don’t think I’m harming anyone, therefore there’s no harm” is a sufficient legal defence now? I doubt it, because if they do that, say goodbye to any prosecutions for drug offences.
What I do know is that the current UCP is not sustainable. Whether in victory or defeat, Danielle Smith’s party will need to spend the period after May’s election deciding what it wants to be, because right now, the incoherence is risking an NDP government. And frankly, Smith making it exceedingly clear that she cares more about pleasing the votes of people in safe UCP seats instead of moving the fuck on and focusing on a Calgary pivot makes the chances Notley wins anyways immeasurably higher.
I find it particularly concerning that this government also wants to form a provincial police force. They don’t seem to respect the judicial process; before Smith we had (then) justice Minister Madu calling the chief of police about his traffic ticket. Hopefully the worst MLAs won’t be re-elected, regardless of which party forms government next May.
Gawd I really hope you are wrong this time Schrimshaw. A
bout her winning of course. She is a train wreck that is off the rails and on fire.