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opinion

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith holds her first press conference in Edmonton, on Oct. 11, 2022.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

At what point do Albertans begin to wonder – what just happened?

I’m referring to the new Premier, who has been foisted upon them by members of the United Conservative Party (largely from rural parts of the province) who thought Danielle Smith would make a perfectly fine head of government.

Maybe not so much.

As first days on the job go, Ms. Smith’s was pretty much a disaster. At a news conference on Tuesday, after her swearing-in ceremony, Jason Kenney’s successor was going on about one of her pet subjects: the terrible abuse and prejudice endured by the poor souls who chose not to get vaccinated during the pandemic.

She detailed the many things these saintly folks weren’t allowed to do over the past couple of years – enter hockey rinks, hop on planes, go to jobs, cross borders – and described them as having “been the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.”

You could hear jaws hitting the floor across the country.

How could someone who is supposed to be the leader of a population that includes Indigenous people, members of the LBGTQ community and immigrants from any number of countries – in other words, people who truly understand what discrimination is – compare the lived experiences of these groups with those who chose not to get vaccinated?

It was not just tone-deaf, but profoundly hurtful.

On Wednesday came the clarification. Not the apology, not the words, “I’m sorry” – but a clarification.

“I want to be clear that I did not intend to trivialize in any way the discrimination faced by minority communities and other persecuted groups or create any false equivalencies to the terrible historical discrimination and persecution suffered by so many minority groups,” read a statement issued under Ms. Smith’s name.

At this rate, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley is going to have little work to do in revealing the gross failures and inadequacies of this new administration. Ms. Smith looks like she’ll take care of that herself.

Lost in the maelstrom caused by Ms. Smith’s comments was the fact that at the same news conference she backed down on one of the most incendiary elements of a key campaign promise: her proposed Sovereignty Act. The act, as she envisioned it during the leadership race, would empower her government to ignore federal edicts deemed not to be in Alberta’s best interests. These edicts, she indicated at the time, included rulings of the Supreme Court.

At her news conference, however, the new Premier said that the province would, in fact, adhere to all rulings of the Supreme Court.

This course reversal isn’t a complete surprise, as her proposed act has been universally panned and derided as unconstitutional folly tantamount to a separatist document (the criticism even came from people in her own party).

We may see more of this sort of thing as Ms. Smith now pivots from pandering to rural elements of her party to win the leadership race to trying to persuade a wider audience she isn’t a dangerous demagogue known to flirt with the anti-science, conspiracy-theory crowd.

Yet she still says and does things that make you wonder. She quickly made it known, for instance, that Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, would not have her contract renewed. To be sure, Dr. Hinshaw is a sacrificial lamb, a gift to the anti-vaxxers who blamed her for the restrictions put in place during the pandemic.

This is the thanks you get for working untold hours and providing mostly excellent advice during an unprecedented public-health emergency.

But there will not be any “lockdowns” on Ms. Smith’s watch. She’s promised that. Even if, one is to presume, another wave of COVID-19 threatens to buckle the province’s hospital system, as it has several times over the past couple of years. Mr. Kenney’s downfall, in fact, was precipitated by his decision to end lockdowns in the summer of 2021 and declare the pandemic over, leading to an avalanche of new cases.

What is it they say about those who ignore history being doomed to repeat it?

But then, people have short memories. It was only eight years ago that Ms. Smith, at that time leader of the Wildrose Party, crossed the floor to join forces with then Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice. It was a disastrous decision that led to the election of the NDP and the end of Ms. Smith’s once-promising career.

Or so most thought.

Well, she’s back. All the way back. And early indications are her judgment isn’t a whole lot better.