PHOTOS: Young smokers, circa 1910. Below: A screenshot of Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt’s social media video, Mr. Fildebrandt himself, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose marijuana-legalization strategy Mr. Fildebrandt appears to endorse.

Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt is continuing his party’s tradition of supporting Big Tobacco’s right to get children hooked on smoking by targeting them with mentholated and candy-flavoured cigarettes.

Naturally, that’s not the way Mr. Fildebrandt, who has let it be known he is pondering a run for the leadership of the United Conservative Party, phrases it in a social media video for his “United Liberty” PAC – sorry, but that phrase used the way the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks does just screams out for scare quotes. Just the same, it’s what his attack on regulations banning flavoured tobacco really means.

In what is billed as opposition to the “nanny state,” the self-described libertarian’s fund-raising entity accuses Alberta’s NDP government of “even deciding what flavours of tobacco are appropriate for adults.”

In reality, Alberta’s regulations concerning flavoured tobacco have precious little to do with adults and plenty to do with protecting children and youth from the use of flavoured cigarettes as a gateway to tobacco addiction.

As Mr. Fildebrandt presumably knows, about four per cent of adult tobacco users smoke, for example, mentholated cigarettes, while about a third of youth smokers do. “Menthol cigarettes are starter products that make it easier for youth to get hooked on tobacco,” said Angeline Webb of the Alberta/N.W.T. Division of the Canadian Cancer Society when the government announced the flavoured-tobacco ban in May 2015.

What’s more, some say Premier Rachel Notley’s government has been too timid in its approach to tobacco regulation, banning candy flavoured smokes in June 2015 but failing to add menthol cigarettes to the general prohibition until the following September.

Last week, the Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta, a coalition of prominent health organizations, assailed the government for not yet banning all forms of flavoured tobacco and for failing, moreover, to actively enforce its ban on tobacco sales to minors.

During the 2014-15 school year, according to the Canadian Youth Tobacco and Drug Survey commissioned by Health Canada and cited by the coalition, more than 25,000 Alberta young people in Grades 6 to 12 had used tobacco products in the previous 30 days.

But defending tobacco industry wishes is nothing new for Mr. Fildebrandt or the Wildrose Party.

As reported in this space in November 2015, Mr. Fildebrandt appeared then to be drawing on Big Tobacco’s playbook for arguments against higher tobacco taxes. In debate that year on the NDP Government’s amendments to the Tobacco Tax Act, Mr. Fildebrandt trotted out one of the tobacco industry’s favourite arguments against higher taxes, the claim they encourage sales of contraband cigarettes.

Back in 2012, when he was Alberta spokesperson for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Mr. Fildebrandt used the same argument in a handout on the supposed problem of contraband tobacco that was produced and distributed by the organization.

Most tobacco experts, however, dismiss such claims. A 2015 study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, funded by that province’s health ministry, debunked the argument tobacco taxes contribute to contraband smuggling, describing the claim as a “myth.”

Moreover, according to estimates from other sources, contraband tobacco today accounts for less than 2 per cent of legal tobacco sales in Alberta, which has effective laws in this area, making a rise in smuggling here unlikely.

Also in 2012, then Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith was vowing never to raise taxes on tobacco – or, in her defence, on anything else. In 2003, Ms. Smith was making the same arguments in her Calgary Herald column. “Tobacco companies are not to blame for the trade in contraband cigarettes,” she wrote. “Unless governments realize high taxes are the real cause, the smuggling business will thrive.”

In 2007, as Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, she wrote to then health minister Dave Hancock to argue against the restrictions on retail displays of tobacco products then proposed by the Progressive Conservative government.

When Mr. Fildebrandt announced the creation of “United Liberty” on June 22, his press release called for the UPC to embrace “a new, liberty-conservatism that limits the role of government in both the economic and the social spheres, that respects the right of the individual to live their life however they choose.”

With that in mind – not to mention his stated wish to target Millennial voters – Mr. Fildebrandt’s “liberty” video complains that “people are being charged for consuming marijuana in the privacy of their homes” and “for daring to drink a glass of wine over a picnic at the park.” Restrictions on the public consumption of alcohol, it says as a sinister soundtrack plays in the background, are happening “despite being legal in countries like France.”

While it’s interesting to see Mr. Fildebrandt supporting Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s marijuana-legalization policy (which similarly conservative former prime minister Stephen Harper called “something we do not want to encourage”) and the French approach to regulation (which the similarly conservative Washington Post condemned as “a vast straitjacket holding back economic activity”), one suspects this isn’t really what he has in mind at all when he says “liberty.”

More likely, one imagines, the founder of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University is thinking of the liberty of U.S. lung cancer victims to choose whatever level of health care they can afford to pay for under Trumpcare.

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  1. This Derrick Fildebrandt character is nothing more than a pretty boy right wing clown. Somebody should check into his past. What experience does he have other than being a poster boy for The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation? Has he ever had a real job where you get dirty either by sweat or mud. Had he ever did a job that involved doing shift work such as working night shifts and weekends for a prolonged period of time in o job? Finally, why did the voters of Strathmore-Brooks vote in the dipstick when he does not even live in the riding but resides in the Bowness area of Calgary. I don’t think the power brokers in this province will tolerate a 32 year old, know it all punk to be a leader of a political party that is alternative power in waiting.

    1. He’s not that pretty. Have you seen how much lard he’s packed on in the last year? The hipster beard doesn’t help either. Yuk!

  2. I happened to read the story of Derek Fildebrand’s new organization in the Calgary Sun, both in a news story and in a very supportive Ric Bell column. It was a week ago, but I have a vague impression Mr. Fildebrand used condo owners wanting to rent their units as Air BnB suites as another example of the types of liberty he was in favour of.

    Since there is already nothing in provincial law prohibiting condo owners from listing with Air BnB, presumably what Mr. Fildebrand is referring to is that his version of government will prohibit condo boards from passing bylaws prohibiting Air BnB rentals. It is wordy, and just confusing enough to leave many of Derek Fildebrand’s man-crush followers bewildered, but that is what is already the case with conventional condo renters. Alberta law prohibits condo boards from passing a bylaw preventing people who own a condo from renting it out.

    So who is the liberty sucking Big Government here, the condo boards who want to step on the private owners right to do with their property what they wish, or Derek Fildebrand’s ideal government, who are stepping on a democratically elected condo board who are trying to avoid all the problems that can come with Air BnB guests?

    If Mr. Fildebrand is truly committed to the idea of using the provincial government’s clout to prevent lower levels of government from using their authority to limit someone’s freedom, it appears we also know his position on Gay-Straight alliances. Contrary to what a lot of commentators would have you believe, the GSA law does not require schools to form GSAs. What it does is dictate that if students want to form them, the school administration, board etc are not allowed to prevent their formation. As such, it is exactly the same situation as the Air BnB issue Mr. Fildebrand used as an example of what kind of liberty he is in favour of.

  3. Tobacco use is the most prevalent cause of preventable death in Canada, and the only legal substance which is lethal when used exactly as intended. Why wouldn’t we do whatever we can, short of outright prohibition (which we know doesn’t work), to restrict its presence in society and keep minors from getting their hands on it? The evidence of harms related to tobacco, unlike that for harms attributable to canabis use, is extensive and virtually undeniable.

    Of course, that is not to say that there aren’t other harmful substances out there. Part of the lack of evidence of harms attributable to cannabis is a lack of credible scientific research on the subject. Its very illegality has been a barrier: it’s hard to do research on a substance whose very presence in your lab is unlawful. So, after legalization of cannabis, we may very well see studies emerge that demonstrate health risks associated with its use. But will those risks be so great that they would warrant re-prohibiting it? Only time will tell.

    Then there is beverage alcohol. While there are many Canadians whose alcohol consumption is below the threshold of safety (, there are many others who drink to excess. The harms associated with such abuse are legion, and cost the Canadian health care system billions of dollars a year ( Given this concern, why do provincial governments, political commentators, courts and trade lawyers persist on treating alcohol as a commercial commodity like any other when discussing interprovincial commerce? It needs more control over its distribution than that of widgets or farm products. (And yes, I do enjoy a brewski from time to time, so I’m not some judgemental teetotaler, but I am a health care professional, all too aware of the harms of excessive imbibing).

  4. I suppose Fildebrandt has to prove his extreme right wing credentials somehow. He has probably figured out that advocating to get rid of dairy quota’s may not sell well in rural Alberta. After all, it seemed to cause dairy farmers to come out and vote against the Federal Conservative Bernier, whose campaign he supported.

    Perhaps supporting the tobacco companies is a safer strategy and perhaps it might also bring in a few dollars for his leadership campaign from some organization of tobacco company executives. On the political down side, being opposed to dairy quotas is not likely to cause any increase in cancer rates.

    I am not sure if this strategy shows the desperation or naivety of Fildebrandt. I suspect Jean and Kenney are both too clever to risk being labelled the “tobacco” candidate. Fildebrandt’s questionable choices could cause his leadership candidacy to go up in a puff of smoke.

  5. .The substance that makes addicts is nicotine. Tobacco smoke is the carrier and is the cause of cancer which is why governments make minor efforts to control it.

    Sadly governments are also addicted and conflicted by the tax revenue which is substantial.

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