Danielle Smith will share a stage with controversial American media personality Tucker Carlson in Calgary this January. Her office says she wants to bring a rational discussion of energy and climate to his massive audience. But it creates a new set of minefields for the Alberta Premier, and she would have been better off spending her time doing almost anything else.
Ms. Smith’s office believes the planned 20-minute fireside chat is fine. Her press secretary Sam Blackett said “the premier participates in a variety of public and private events and does interviews with dozens of reporters, broadcasters and podcasters from across the political spectrum.”
“Obviously, she does not subscribe to every view of every interviewer or reporter she speaks with whether that’s the CBC, the Toronto Star, or Tucker Carlson.”
A source in the Premier’s office, who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Ms. Smith feels Mr. Carlson’s reach to millions of viewers is an opportunity. The Premier will “explain to folks of his political persuasion that emissions reduction and energy development are not mutually exclusive, and that it’s important that conservatives lead and advocate for this position rather than do nothing.
“We need to win converts all over North America to Alberta’s position on this.”
We can applaud Ms. Smith talking about her (as of yet loosely planned) commitment to net-zero by 2050, and her willingness to talk to all types of people. But a bit of discernment for a sitting premier is in order.
When the announcement on Mr. Carlson was first made this week, I posted on X about it, using the term “conspiracy theorist” to describe him. Conservatives hate this term with some justification. While there are absolute falsehoods out there, some of the ideas referred to as conspiracy theories, especially during the pandemic, ended up having merit for examination. This includes the possibility that COVID-19 emerged from a lab leak rather than originating from nature.
My error. It’s always better to show, not tell.
So, in three examples, first there’s Mr. Carlson’s commentary in line with his playing down of the savagery perpetrated on George Floyd, suggesting last month he wasn’t killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Newsweek’s Fact Check team took apart Mr. Carlson’s most recent take on Mr. Floyd’s death, saying Mr. Carlson has not provided evidence showing Mr. Floyd was not murdered by Derek Chauvin.
Mr. Carlson has also long cast doubt on the fundamentals of U.S. support for Ukraine following the Russian invasion of that country, calling Ukraine’s democratically elected President Volodymyr Zelensky a dictator, and questioning why the U.S. won’t side with aggressor Russia. Even former vice-president Mike Pence, who has admonished “Putin apologists” within his own Republican party, clashed with Mr. Carlson on this topic.
He has also given much attention to the baseless claim the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol in 2021 was a false flag operation by the FBI, while also, in another instance, characterizing the people who battled their way in as benign. “These were not insurrectionists. They were sightseers.”
Ms. Smith’s time would be better spent dealing with a myriad of provincial challenges rather than being interviewed by a man who abruptly departed Fox News one week after the network agreed to pay more than US$787-million to settle a lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, related to the network’s airing of false claims following the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Carlson now posts his commentaries to millions through X, formerly known as Twitter.
He’s also not a great stage partner for a Premier who’s trying to be a credible, steady leader in these politically fraught 2020s, who also wants to appeal to a broader swath of Albertans. It will of course appeal to the most conservative of her supporters.
But of course Ms. Smith has had her own struggles with outlandish commentary. “The only answer for Ukraine is neutrality,” Ms. Smith said on a livestream chat in 2022 – before becoming Premier – adding she understood why Russia would have a concern with a Western-aligned Ukraine armed with nuclear weapons on its doorstep. However, Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons in the 1990s.
Last fall, she took the higher road, issuing an apology for those remarks.
Perhaps there will be some clarity during this meeting in Calgary: Mr. Carlson might say for certain he was joking when he talked early this year of “sending an armed force north to liberate Canada” from the federal Liberal government.
But no matter what, the powerful personas of both Ms. Smith and Mr. Carlson mean this is much more than a fireside chat between an American television host and a Canadian premier. It’s a show. It’s also a clear signal to all they don’t care about any of the criticism that will result.