Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley says Premier Danielle Smith must explain whether she shares the “extremist views” of Calgary street preacher Artur Pawlowski and those of “her key support group” Take Back Alberta.
“Albertans deserve to know whether they are on the verge of selecting a premier whose views are deeply extreme and offside with the opinions of the vast majority of Albertans,” Ms. Notley said at a news conference in Grande Prairie, Alta., on Thursday.
“A number of the views espoused by Art Pawlowski, as well as many of the folks within Take Back Alberta who support him – who were [also] critical to Danielle Smith becoming leader of the [United Conservative Party] – are very concerning.”
Ms. Smith has said the writs will be issued in just over two weeks for a provincial election on May 29.
The Premier has made intermittent comments over the past week about her January phone call with Mr. Pawlowski, in which they discuss his then-looming criminal trial relating to charges arising from the Canada-U.S. border protest at Coutts, Alta., over COVID-19 health restrictions.
Ms. Smith has answered some questions from reporters. But she has declined to respond to others, citing the possibility she may sue the CBC over its coverage and that she must respect the continuing investigation by ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler, who is looking into whether Ms. Smith violated the Conflicts of Interest Act with the Pawlowski call.
Mr. Pawlowski is a controversial figure in Alberta for his high-profile, disruptive demonstrations against the LGBTQ community and COVID-19 health rules.
During the 11-minute call, Ms. Smith tells Mr. Pawlowski, “I’ve been watching your public advocacy for many years, so it’s nice to connect with you.”
However, on her call-in radio show Saturday, Ms. Smith said, “Mr. Pawlowski holds some very extreme views that I disagree with completely.”
Take Back Alberta is a right-centre populist group registered as a third-party advertiser with Elections Alberta. It was founded and is run by long-time political organizer David Parker.
The group took root during the pandemic, rallying support among disaffected UCP members against then-leader and premier Jason Kenney over his government’s COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine rules.
Mr. Kenney announced he was stepping down almost a year ago, after receiving 51-per-cent support in a party leadership review. Take Back Alberta then helped rally the votes to put Ms. Smith in the top job last October after a party leadership race.
Since then, candidates endorsed by Take Back Alberta have won seats to half the 18 voting positions on the UCP board. It’s also backing candidates at the constituency level, in some cases mobilizing hundreds to meetings.
Take Back Alberta believes in the primacy of individual freedoms and is against health restrictions while pushing for Alberta to assert more control over its own affairs, through such initiatives as a provincial police force, provincial tax collection agency and pension fund.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said Mr. Parker is underselling Take Back Alberta’s growing influence within the governing party and with the Premier.
“David Parker himself has said that their position on the UCP executive is to hold Smith to account,” said Prof. Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“I think they’re biding their time until after the election. But they’re getting candidates, they’re getting board nominations. The great insight of David Parker was to take over a party from within.
“They’re the power behind the throne.”
Mr. Parker, in an interview, said he has never spoken to Mr. Pawlowski and disagrees with his tactics, particularly when Mr. Pawlowski (as seen on video) tried to rally Coutts protesters to prolong the stand-off by comparing their protest to the legendary last stand and slaughter at the Alamo in Texas in 1836.
“Power behind the throne? I’m not sure what that means,” Mr. Parker said.
“Does it mean that we are puppet masters? Absolutely not. I’m part of a third-party advertiser. I can’t even show up and door-knock for a party [in an election].
“People say, ‘David is trying to take over the province.’ I’m just telling people to show up at meetings where they get a vote. That’s it.”
He added that his group’s plan is to mobilize people who agree with its political beliefs to get out to vote.
“We think that the NDP are very dangerous to our values.”