Back in 2012, Danielle Smith’s then-Wildrose Party stood on the precipice of dethroning Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party, which had been in power for four decades.
Albertans seemed to have had enough of Tory rule, and the ultra-conservative Wildrose seemed to be the right antidote. But then, the PCs were handed a gift in the form of an old blog post written by Allan Hunsperger, a pastor running for Wildrose in Edmonton.
In it, Mr. Hunsperger said gay people “will suffer the rest of eternity in a lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”
It was one thing to be conservative, but a candidate saying members of the LGBTQ community were doomed to burn in hell was something entirely different. The party’s strategists knew how damaging the blog was and beseeched Ms. Smith to immediately fire Mr. Hunsperger as a candidate.
She refused, saying that while she disagreed with his views, he had the right to express them.
It would prove to be an incredibly costly decision. Soon after, the bottom fell out of Wildrose’s support, assuring another PC victory.
Fast forward 11 years, and Ms. Smith finds herself in a very similar situation: in the middle of an election, her party has an excellent chance of winning. But its shot at victory is being threatened by ugly comments made by a candidate in an old online post.
This time, the candidate is Ms. Smith herself.
On Monday, Ms. Smith found herself doing something she’s become exceptionally good at: apologizing for her actions. This time it was for comments she made about COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions during a podcast with Calgary wealth advisor Andrew Ruhland. During the conversation, Ms. Smith noted that neither she nor Mr. Ruhland were wearing poppies for Remembrance Day (the podcast was recorded in November, 2021). “They ruined it for me this year,” Ms. Smith said of her decision not to don one. The “they” the Premier was referring to were the political leaders who had asked Canadians to get vaccinated and abide by COVID-related restrictions.
She called the COVID policies “diabolical” and compared them with life in Nazi Germany. She suggested the unvaccinated were facing Nazi-like persecution in Canada. “We have 75 per cent of the public who say not only ‘hit me’ [with more vaccine] but hit me harder and keep me away from those dirty unvaxxed.’” COVID restrictions were “exactly the [type of] actions that our brave men and women were fighting against,” during the Second World War, she said.
These were ridiculous and highly offensive statements. In fact, they’re similar to ones that got a potential United Conservative candidate disqualified from running last November, shortly after Ms. Smith became Leader of the party. Nadine Wellwood lost the chance to run for the UCP after comparing vaccine passports to policies enacted by Hitler and the Nazi regime.
But it’s okay for the Premier to make the same type of extreme, outlandish comparison?
“No Premier, those who followed science were not like Hitler and other tyrants,” said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate network, on Twitter. “Claiming such is to minimize and distort the Holocaust.”
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who has been handed the biggest campaign present a political leader could ask for, called Ms. Smith’s remarks “horrifying.”
Not surprisingly, by Monday afternoon the Premier had issued a statement of her own, apologizing for “any offensive language” she may have used during the podcast. “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.”
If this was a UCP candidate who had made these remarks and not the Premier herself, that candidate would likely have been forced to step aside, by Ms. Smith herself, by now. The Premier’s personal motto might as well be: Do as I say, not as I do.
I can’t think of a political leader, certainly a Canadian Premier, as unqualified to hold the position as Ms. Smith. Her musings both in and out of office run the gamut from bizarre to nonsensical, from distasteful to dangerous and deeply offensive. It’s hard to imagine a political institution that isn’t the U.S. Republican Party electing someone so ill-suited to hold the position of Leader as the UCP has done with Danielle Smith.
It’s also hard to imagine Albertans electing Ms. Smith on May 29 after everything she has said and done in her public life, including during her brief but tumultuous seven months in the Premier’s office.
At some point, Albertans have to say: Enough.