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After days of being forced to backtrack on blindingly ignorant comments about cancer, the perceived frontrunner to become the next leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and premier of the province, Danielle Smith, was presented with a distractionary pinata, and a bat to go with it.

And oh, how she embraced the opportunity to publicly whack a controversial establishment figure while (temporarily?) putting her self-induced cancer-comment debacle behind her.

Coming to Ms. Smith’s rescue was a CBC story published on Monday, which disclosed that Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, received $363,634 in salary last year, plus $227,911 in cash bonuses. Indeed, a lot of money – a payout for which an explanation should be provided by the government.

For Ms. Smith, still reeling from widespread criticism over comments she made suggesting cancer patients bore some responsibility for their disease, this was manna. But it was also a chance to demonstrate, yet again, how alarmingly ill-informed she is.

“As Premier, not only will we not lockdown again or impose vaccine mandates, we will have a full review into the handling of the pandemic,” she tweeted. A review, she noted, that would also investigate Dr. Hinshaw’s performance.

It’s a statement, of course, that plays well to the extreme element of her party to whom she is trying to appeal. But it also appeals to those who aren’t members of the UCP but are very much in favour of the anti-vaccine mandate edicts and anti-science messages that Ms. Smith has been peddling since entering the leadership race. This is the crowd that will get her elected as leader, she figures, as it includes many Albertans who are angry and disillusioned and who believe all their problems, personal or otherwise, are somehow all the fault of Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals.

The illogic of Ms. Smith’s tweet is astounding.

She has vowed to never again impose a lockdown in Alberta, even in the face of another pandemic, or impose public-health mandates of any sort. It would effectively be a free-for-all, even though a majority of Albertans agreed with the measures brought in by the UCP government to keep people safe in the first year of the pandemic. In fact, it was Premier Jason Kenney’s decision to drop restrictions in the summer of 2021 – purely for political gain – that ignited a fresh wave of COVID-19-related death and illness, an event that became the foundation of his downfall.

It’s madness. But it’s also in keeping with many of Ms. Smith’s policy pronouncements, not to mention other dangerous and disturbing statements with which she is associated.

Ms. Smith’s UCP campaign is akin to Pierre Poilievre’s unconventional, often irresponsible drive for the federal Conservative leadership – but on steroids.

Even before Ms. Smith’s strange pontifications on lifestyle decisions and cancer (one might wonder how she would explain pediatric cancer), she had gained notoriety earlier in the pandemic for saying that “hydroxychloroquine cures 100 per cent of coronavirus patients within six days of treatment.” As a radio-show host at the time, she was forced to apologize for the egregious mistruth. She would later advocate for the use of ivermectin as a COVID treatment drug, even though it, too, would eventually be discredited.

Meantime, in a 2003 opinion piece that she penned for the Calgary Herald, Ms. Smith took aim at the anti-smoking lobby. She wrote, “the evidence shows moderate cigarette consumption can reduce risks of disease by 75 per cent or more.” She seems to have always held a soft spot in her heart for pseudo-science and quackery.

She recently invited former NHL hockey player and noted COVID conspiracy theorist Theo Fleury to headline one of her campaign rallies.

Much like Mr. Poilievre, Ms. Smith has built her campaign around grievance, both real and perceived. As such, she is currently marketing an entirely bogus piece of proposed policy called the “Alberta sovereignty act,” which would be used, she says, to override federal laws her government deemed not to be in the province’s best interests. It’s been widely mocked and ridiculed as unconstitutional, and as an irresponsible measure that would only fuel separatist sentiment.

The thing is, Ms. Smith doesn’t care what her critics have to say. She cares only for the opinions of those for whom her message is intended. Is a given issue something that strikes a chord with them, animates them enough to buy a UCP membership and help make Ms. Smith the new party leader? If yes, then she’ll look no further.

Expect Ms. Smith to spend weeks now hammering the pinata she has been gifted in the form of Dr. Hinshaw’s salary. She will happily gather up all the new votes for her leadership campaign that will likely fall from it after a few more whacks.

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