Danielle Smith, the leader of the United Conservative Party, started the second week of the Alberta provincial election campaign by addressing a video in which she compared those who got the COVID-19 vaccine to people who supported tyrants, referencing Adolf Hitler.
Ms. Smith made the comments in a podcast with an accompanying video on Nov. 10, 2021, one day ahead of Remembrance Day. The video circulated on social media Sunday, prompting Ms. Smith to respond Monday. The UCP Leader has previously retreated from controversial statements such as after her first news conference as Premier, when she said those who chose not to get vaccinated were the most discriminated against people in her lifetime.
Alberta’s general election is scheduled for May 29 and the UCP and New Democratic Party are in a tight race. Ms. Smith, on social media, said she did not campaign Monday because she was dealing with the wildfires tearing through the north and east-central regions of the province. But in a statement released through the UCP, she noted she was against vaccine mandates during the pandemic.
“However, the horrors of the Holocaust are without precedent, and no one should make any modern-day comparisons that minimize the experience of the Holocaust and suffering under Hitler, nor the sacrifice of our veterans,” Ms. Smith said in Monday’s statement. “I have always been and remain a friend to the Jewish community, Israel and our veterans, and I apologize for any offensive language used regarding this issue made while on talk radio or podcasts during my previous career.”
Ms. Smith, who became the leader of the UCP after campaigning on COVID-19 grievances, has previously argued she should not be judged on comments she made as a talk-radio host, columnist or lobbyist.
In the Nov. 10, 2021, podcast and video, the host said his parents survived the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands in the Second World War and referenced how Canadians liberated parts of Europe. He argued that during the pandemic, Canadians surrendered the freedoms for which such soldiers fought. Ms. Smith noted neither she nor the host were wearing poppies in honour of veterans.
“They ruined it for me this year. The political leaders, standing on their soapbox, pretending that they care about all the things you just talked about,” Ms. Smith said. “Pretending they understand the sacrifice. And not understanding that their actions are exactly the actions that our brave men and women in uniform were fighting against.”
She referenced Netflix’s 2021 documentary How to Become a Tyrant, noting it starts with Hitler. One academic, she said, discusses how so many people believe they would not fall for the “charms of a tyrant, somebody telling them they have all the answers,” but the academic thinks they are mistaken.
“And that’s the test here. We’ve seen it,” Ms. Smith said. “We have 75 per cent of the public who say not only hit me, but hit me harder. And keep me away from those dirty unvaxxed.”
Ms. Smith previously said she went to the United States to get the Janssen single-dose shot after Alberta introduced a vaccine passport system in September, 2021.
Ken Boessenkool, a long-time conservative operative who supported one of Ms. Smith’s rivals during the UCP leadership contest, noted the party barred one person from participating in a local nomination race after the aspiring candidate compared vaccine passports to Nazi Germany. Ms. Smith has not been subject to the same scrutiny or standard, he said.
“If we had a caucus with half a spine, they would consider removing her,” he said.
Doreen Barrie, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said Ms. Smith could confuse the electorate by arguing statements she made while doing other jobs should not be held against her.
“It is difficult for voters to figure out what she stands for,” Ms. Barrie said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley called Ms. Smith’s comments “utterly horrifying” and disrespectful to the vast majority of Albertans who got vaccinated against COVID-19.
“She’s comparing those Albertans, 75 per cent of them, to the architects of an antisemitic genocide,” Ms. Notley said. “This is why Albertans cannot trust Danielle Smith leadership.”
Ms. Notley said people’s tolerance for certain indiscretions appears to have grown over the past few years as a result of social media, but that Ms. Smith’s newly revealed comments are striking.
“Not every comment is the same. Some comments just demonstrate an incredible lack of information. Some comments demonstrate a plan, which would be very hurtful to other people. Some comments demonstrate a set of values which no level of apology can ever make up for,” Ms. Notley said.