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In today’s Sun: Danielle Smith is lying

People who don’t live in Alberta should be paying attention to the Alberta election. And not simply because it may be historic, signaling the end of a 40-year political dynasty.
It’s historic, and worthy of your consideration, because Alberta is on the cusp of plunging itself into a divisive, needless debate, one that could spill over into other provinces.

The debate centres on some of the most difficult issues of our era: Reproductive choice for women, equal marriage for gays and lesbians, the wall that exists (supposedly) between church and state.
Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith wants to tear down that wall, although she would never be so impolitic as to say so out loud. When a microphone is pointed in her direction, the frontrunner in the Alberta election insists she doesn’t want to defund abortion.

She claims she doesn’t want to stop gay marriages. She will say, with a straight face, that she wants to keep religion out of politics.

But here’s the thing: Smith — who, with her background in TV journalism, knows how to lull voters to sleep — isn’t telling the truth. She’s lying, in fact. She’s trying to have it both ways.

Here are some of the things that Smith said before Wildrose existed, and before she became its leader. She was a lot more candid, back then.

Danielle Smith’s “conscience” – in her own words

The Wildrose leader says doctors, nurses, marriage officials and other public officials should be able to make decisions according to their own conscience. So, what does Danielle Smith’s own “conscience” have to say about important issues like reproductive freedom, equal marriage, health care, personal behaviour and the Charter of Rights?

Here she is, in her own words:

  • On abortion: “…abortions are a horrific practice… Any politician who challenges the status quo gets pilloried by the media, abortion-rights groups and opposing politicians…the taxpayer should not be on the hook to pay for it.” Windsor Star, December 4, 2000
  • On university behaviour codes: “It is perfectly reasonable [to] expect its students to refrain from practices that are biblically condemned, and sign a pledge not to get drunk, swear, harass, lie, cheat, steal, have an abortion, practise the occult, or engage in sexual sins such as premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behaviour and viewing of pornography.” Calgary Herald May 21, 2001
  • On two-tier health care: “Bring it on.” Calgary Herald, June 1, 2003
  • On queue jumping: “We already do have this two-tier system, so why not allow people to pay for private services?” Global TV, June 1, 2003
  • On democracy: “Democracy is pure theatre.” Calgary Herald, August 3, 2003
  • On the courts: “The courts are out of control [because they have been] striking down the abortion law, the change in the traditional definition of marriage, the legalization of swingers’ clubs.” Calgary Herald January 14, 2006
  • On overriding Charter rights: “There are ways around the [notwithstanding] clause.” Calgary Herald January 14, 2006
…and on what she really thinks of the leader she now claims is a friend?
  • On Stephen Harper: “He’s blown his moderate credentials, he got some of his facts wrong and he has come across as a kooky conspiracy theorist.” Calgary Herald, September 14, 2003

Whose “conscience”?

If it’s Wildrose’s “conscience,” get ready for social chaos:

Then there’s “conscience rights.” The Wildrose policy book says government should “implement legislation protecting the ‘conscience rights’ of health care professionals.” The policy doesn’t spell out what that means, but when party delegates voted for the policy they put it in the context of a health-care worker – who is against birth control – being allowed to refuse to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill.

And Smith, it seems, wants to take conscience rights one step further to include marriage commissioners.

In August, responding to a questionnaire from the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, she wrote “the Wildrose will ensure conscience rights for marriage commissioners and health professionals. This would ensure the protection of personal expression for individuals, while also ensuring that personal beliefs are respected for all Albertans.”

Again, Smith was vague, not specifying what conscience rights would mean for marriage commissioners, but when used in the past the term has referred to allowing marriage commissioners to refuse to perform civil ceremonies for same-sex couples. It smacks of state-sanctioned discrimination and a Saskatchewan court has deemed the idea unconstitutional.

Danielle Smith doth protest too much

For instance, if Ms. Wilkie’s tweet was so offensive, why did Wildrose staffers instantly begin retweeting it? Why did they want to ensure that the breathtakingly immature comments of a low-level staffer in the Premier’s Calgary office to a small number of followers got wider play? For partisan political reasons? That would be a reasonable conclusion.

And when you learn that some officials on Ms. Smith’s campaign started contacting reporters about the tweet and providing information about Ms. Wilkie’s role in Ms. Redford’s office you become even more suspicious about Wildrose’s motivations. They wanted a story. And when no media bit, Ms. Smith sent out a news release the next day.

It instantly created sympathy for Ms. Smith and made the Redford camp look mean and heartless. Ms. Redford’s call to Ms. Smith to apologize shortly after the release went out was unquestionably sincere, but by then the damage had been done.

On Sunday, Wildrose didn’t want to talk about the issue. And perhaps it shouldn’t. The sooner this incident is forgotten, the better.

Enemy Ottawa

When you are two or three time zones away from Ottawa — as B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford are most days — it is easy to dismiss the place.

From this distance, Ottawa isn’t just insular and puffed up with its own importance. When you are thousands of kilometres away, Ottawa is essentially irrelevant. It is the source of irritation, but not much in the way of government; it’s a place where a lot gets said, but far less gets done. Premiers, mayors and city councillors matter much more to people’s lives out here.  MPs don’t.

That’s why, one surmises, premiers like Redford and Clark weren’t as outraged as their counterparts in other provinces were about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent take-it-or-leave-it approach to federal-provincial relations. You’re not getting the 6% increase in health-care funding we promised you, said Harper, and too bad if you don’t like it.

That set off a chorus of provincial outrage, and understandably so. But from Clark and Redford — two women who have been unenthusiastic about Harper’s style of governance in the past — nary a peep. They did not protest Harper’s distinctly Trudeaupian approach to the federation at all. If anything, their governments sounded nonplussed. It may be that Alberta and B.C. have kept their powder dry because they agree Ottawa is entitled to fund health care at a lower level than promised.

Or, perhaps, it may be — as my university chum Pete O’Neil recently opined in an excellent analysis of Redford and Clark — the two western-most premiers need Harper more than he needs them.

Redford and Clark, O’Neil wrote, share many things. Both are 46. Both won power in a leadership race, not a general election. And both, O’Neil writes, “have political pedigrees that make them suspect in the eyes of some elected and unelected small-c conservatives in both provinces who happen to be unwavering Harper backers.”

Clark first attracted accolades when she worked as an adviser to the Liberal government of Jean Chretien. She was considered someone with an impressive mind and a bright future. Redford was equally impressive: She was a senior adviser to former PC leader Joe Clark, and then went on to work as a legal advisor to the secretary-general of the United Nations.

Harper and his acolytes, however, don’t have much regard for anyone who has been associated with the federal Liberals, the UN or Clark. They also haven’t traditionally been seen as keenly supportive of powerful women, either.

If I were assisting either Clark or Redford, I’d give them slightly different advice, in three points.

One, between now and the election, you’ll never eliminate the challenge you are facing on the right, from Alberta Wildrose and the B.C. Conservatives.

Two, you are never going to get Harper to trust you — he doesn’t trust anyone.

Three, make these perceived weaknesses a strength. Fight for your province’s fair share against far-away Ottawa’s diktats. Fight in such a way that Wildrose and the

B.C. Tories are seen as the servants to Ottawa’s bureaucrats.

Fight so voters know you’ve put the west, and not Ottawa, first.

Remember, from this distance, Ottawa is the enemy.

Treat ’em as such.