Alberta Politics
Then Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and then Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason ham it up their campus debate series in September 2013 (Photo: The Gateway).

Has former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith become a (not so) secret admirer of NDP Premier Rachel Notley?

Posted on March 24, 2019, 2:27 am
7 mins

Danielle Smith nearly became the first woman to be elected premier of Alberta.

As leader of the Wildrose Party, which despite her efforts was never quite successful at portraying itself as a party of the centre right, she came close, tantalizingly close.

Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alas for Ms. Smith, the Wildrose Party’s opportunity to form government foundered in a Lake of Fire in 2012, and Alison Redford, who had already been chosen as the Progressive Conservative Party’s leader and appointed premier, became the politician whom history will record as the first woman to be elected to the province’s top political job by voters.

After that came Ms. Smith’s 2014 effort to reunite her party with the PCs, by then led by Jim Prentice – a partial tactical success but a catastrophic strategic failure – and the election of Rachel Notley as Alberta’s first NDP Premier five and a half months later.

Ms. Smith was rejected by PC party members as their candidate in her own Highwood riding in March 2015, ending her political career, and today works as a broadcaster hosting a popular right-wing talk radio show in Calgary.

Now, the question must be asked: Has Ms. Smith become a secret admirer of Premier Notley – or perhaps a not-so-secret admirer?

Peter Lougheed (Photo: Internet, source not attributed).

At least, one wonders, does she think Ms. Notley is a preferable premier to Jason Kenney, the leader of the Opposition United Conservative Party, which is the product of the merger of the two conservative parties Ms. Smith represented during her three years as an Alberta MLA?

This might not be quite as astonishing as it would seem had we gone by political labels alone. As many have noted, Premier Notley’s government, despite the surprise of its election in 2015, has turned out to be quite fiscally conservative, surprisingly open to “free market” neoliberal economics, administratively capable, vigorously supportive of the petroleum industry, and at times aggressive in its relationships with other Canadian governments.

At the same time, unlike the UCP and Mr. Kenney himself, the NDP and Ms. Notley are untainted by the extreme social conservatism of the very sort that led Ms. Smith to try to reunite her party with the Progressive Conservative mothership in December 2014.

In other words, notwithstanding the noisy rhetoric emitting from the UCP, there’s not actually all that much light between Ms. Notley, the former labour lawyer, and Ms. Smith, the former Fraser Institute apparatchik.

Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

While Ms. Smith is a doctrinaire utopian market fundamentalist, she is socially quite liberal, as Ms. Notley is and as Mr. Kenney emphatically is not.

Ms. Notley, as has been frequently observed by supporters and detractors alike, is the best progressive conservative premier Alberta has had since Peter Lougheed – or perhaps even the best including Mr. Lougheed, who founded Alberta’s 44-year Tory dynasty in 1971 and died in 2012.

Which may explain Ms. Smith’s remarkable essay in the Calgary Herald on Friday, in which she came quite close to endorsing Ms. Notley, and apparently had to struggle to find anything nice to say about Mr. Kenney.

Ms. Smith framed the difference between Premier Notley and Opposition Leader Kenney as essentially the same as the difference between Mr. Lougheed and Ralph Klein. If you think Mr. Lougheed was Alberta’s best premier, she wrote, “I bet you are voting for Notley.” If it’s Mr. Klein you place atop our pantheon of premiers, “my guess is you are voting for Kenney.”

Ralph Klein (Photo: Collection of a Friend of Klein, used with permission).

As Ms. Smith is surely aware, history remembers Mr. Lougheed as a competent, prudent and visionary manager, and Mr. Klein as someone who sacrificed the province’s infrastructure and savings in the name of tax giveaways, irresponsible Ralph Bucks payments, and phoney balanced books.

Ms. Smith devoted the largest part of her 700-word op-ed to describing Mr. Lougheed’s successes – and the Lougheed-like qualities of Ms. Notley’s management.

“Notley is, without question, the inheritor of the Lougheed tradition,” wrote Ms. Smith. “That’s not to say he was a full on socialist, but Notley isn’t either. I think most Albertans have been shocked to see how pragmatic (sic) she has governed, particularly as it concerns natural resources.”

Almost as an afterthought, Ms. Smith devoted a short paragraph to half-heartedly criticizing Mr. Lougheed, and another to describing Mr. Klein’s good points, one of which she noted was that he had a nice smile, which is true.

While she reached no strong conclusion about the better course for Alberta, this is certainly not the ringing endorsement of the UCP one would have expected from Alberta’s former conservative Opposition leader at this moment in history. Nor is it the stinging critique of the NDP she might have written during her previous career as a Calgary Herald political columnist.

Ms. Smith remains a respected figure on the socially progressive right in Alberta, despite the abuse she suffered from social conservatives in the years since 2014.

You’d almost think she’s done the math and realizes what a disaster Mr. Kenney would be if he won power, but as a former guiding star of the Alberta right can’t quite make herself unequivocally state the obvious.

21 Comments to: Has former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith become a (not so) secret admirer of NDP Premier Rachel Notley?

  1. Bob Raynard

    March 24th, 2019

    “Mr. Klein’s good points, one of which she noted was that he had a nice smile, which is true.”

    This could also be considered a backhanded criticism of Jason Kenney. Some people have a natural smile; it just happens, and they smile with their eyes as well as their lips, and people feel warm when they get that smile.

    Jason Kenney does not have a natural smile. The grimace on his face we see in pictures of him appearing with various candidates looks as phoney as a three dollar bill, and as such it produces a negative comparison with Ralph Klein, which is ironic considering how Kenney encourages people to make that comparison.

    Kenney’s forced smile makes me wonder what is really happening to cause that look: gas? underwear too tight? psychological discomfort because the person he is shaking hands with reminds him of one of the many people who gave him a wedgie in junior high?

    • B. Cote

      March 25th, 2019

      Andrew Scheer has the same problem.

  2. Jerrymacgp

    March 24th, 2019

    The thing about King Ralph, though, is that while he was far more conservative than Lougheed or Getty, or any of his PC successors for that matter, on fiscal and economic policy, he gave only lip service to the knuckle-dragging so-cons in his “big tent” party. For instance, if I recall correctly he threatened, but did not invoke, the “notwithstanding clause” on matters of human rights after the Vriend decision, and did not engage in any sort of legislative action on women’s reproductive rights after the Morgentaler decision. It was only after he stepped down, and was succeeded by the fundamentally decent Ed Stelmach, that the so-cons picked up their marbles and stomped off to form the Wildrose Alliance Party (later just Wildrose). It’s funny, really. Mr Stelmach is a devout Roman Catholic—as evidenced by his current role as Board Chair of Covenant Health—and so one would expect him to hold socially conservative views, especially on women’s reproductive rights and marriage. But while Premier, I saw little evidence he brought those views into the Premier’s office.

    Ms Smith tried to make Wildrose more accepting and broad-based in its conservativism, but got pushback from the party base. That was, IMHO, likely one of the factors behind her ill-fated decision to join the Prentice PCs a scant few months before the 2015 election that saw her and every other WR-to-PC floor crosser voted out of office.

    Now we have this political chimera called the United Conservative Party, a desperate attempt to paper over longstanding and deep divisions in Alberta conservative politics in a naked lust for power. Win or lose next month, it will be interesting to see how long this “unity” on the right lasts.

  3. Farmer Brian

    March 24th, 2019

    David Peter Lougheed was certainly a good premier but he created an unaffordable at the time beaurocracy that after his retirement in 1985 was creating a $3 billion dollar deficit in 1986 for his successor Don Getty! Realistically Peter Lougheed built the unaffordable government that created the appetite for Ralph Klein and not everything Peter Lougheed did worked out, look at Novatel(as Danielle pointed out in the article).

    Personally I look at all the parties platforms in this election and find them wanting. They had all the leaders on QR 77 one morning before the election and I was actually surprised David Khan the Liberal leader had some good ideas like making the carbon tax truly revenue neutral.

    • Farmer Dave

      March 25th, 2019

      Farmer Brian, if Kenney laid off every civil servant in the Province it would not make a dent in Alberta’s deficit. Your good old Ralph Klein, not knowing what he was doing (maybe he was drunk that day) cut civil servants, road building, hospitals (like the Calgary Cancer Hospital) and needed schools. Alberta’s population doubled since then and this was projected at that time however the government of the day chose to cut these important things out and gave you Ralpf bucks and a few oil companies some nice grants (sold as jobs) so you would vote for him. You for one should not be complaining today about where Alberta is if you are supporting Kenney.

      Go ahead and vote for Kenney and you’ll see where you’ll be in about 10 years down the road. I see the great Kenney is now starting to believe in climate change however never allowed the grassroots in his party (which he said is important) to make policy. Farmer Brian have you been allowed to advance your views for UCP Policy or do you believe in climate change? Have a nice day…………

  4. Vince

    March 24th, 2019

    What a BS commentary , Smith and Notley are not respected , there despised! By Albertans!!! You guys are completely out of touch with Albertans

    • Rocky

      March 24th, 2019

      Nice to know the members of the loony right are reading occasionally outside their silo. “Vince” speaks the truth when he speaks of “Albertans,” with the caveat that he’s actually talking about the very substantial segment of social conservative, mysoginistic, racist, homophobic, climate-change denying, etc. folk concentrated in those parts of the province where there aren’t many stoplights. They do despise Ms. Smith and Ms. Notley with equal passion, because neither is a bigot, just as they hate new Canadians, gays and anyone what does’t love the sound of jackboots and rural self-righteousness. All Albertans? Of course not. But it could happen that they’re all that’s left after the province has been depopulated by a Kenney Katastrophe.

    • Earl

      March 24th, 2019

      There are thousands of Albertans who respect Ms. Notley. There are thousands of Albertans who despise Mr. Kenney and the UCP for their repeated attacks on the human rights of Albertans. To claim that the author is out of touch is demeaning to the many Albertans who support policies other than yours; we exist, we have valid opinions, and we have the right to Freedom of Expression. We may not agree with you but we have that right. My ancestors homesteaded in Alberta before Alberta became a province and we have lived here since then. I am a true Albertan in every sense of the word but that does not mean I have to support the UCP. And the correct word is they’re.

      • Farmer Dave

        March 26th, 2019

        Earl, that is why Alberta needs many new schools so that people like Vince might go and learn how to spell.

    • Scotty on Denman

      March 24th, 2019

      Is something bothering you?

  5. Geoffrey Pounder

    March 24th, 2019

    “There’s not actually all that much light between Ms. Notley, the former labour lawyer, and Ms. Smith, the former Fraser Institute apparatchik.”

    In the Calgary Herald, the unflagging Ms. Smith has been flogging the zombie internet meme that our forests absorb more carbon that we emit. Since Canada is therefore a net carbon sink, there is no reason for us to change our high-emissions lifestyle and no justification for carbon taxes.

    Hogwash, as any NRCan forest scientist will tell you. Or just ask Stephen Harper. In 2007, the Harper Govt decided to leave Canada’s forests out of its Kyoto equation, because they would be a liability, not an asset.

    The science on Canada’s forest emissions is on NRCan’s website.
    NRCan: “Net carbon emissions in Canada’s managed forest: All areas, 1990–2015”

    Unfortunately, Ms. Smith doesn’t do science. Or research. Or reality. That’s for alarmists.
    Ms. Smith’s back-of-the-envelope math is unfounded. She consulted not a single scientist. Do facts matter?
    And to think this woman might have been premier.

    For her part, Premier Notley has been telling fairy tales about pipelines to any chamber of commerce or teachers’ conference that will listen.

    “To Notley, the NDP tensions are part of a long-standing debate within the party that she casts as one between workers’ ability to put food on the table and ‘longer-term, sort of academic-y concerns around environment.'”
    “Rachel Notley fought like hell for Alberta, but the province isn’t about to thank her.” (Macleans, Mar 11, 2019)

    “Longer-term, sort of academic-y concerns”. Our progressive Premier’s assessment of climate change. Notley’s science advisor is missing in action.
    And to think this woman became premier.

    “There’s not actually all that much light between Ms. Notley, the former labour lawyer, and Ms. Smith, the former Fraser Institute apparatchik.

    • John A

      March 24th, 2019

      I understand those who are defenders and supporters of the general ideas that the NDP espouse….I am one as well. I think the transformation of Notley and the Alberta NDP was absolutely necessary politically.

      You cannot let the good be the enemy of perfect. She either saw the pragmatic necessity of supporting the O&G industry or be flushed very quickly. It is also necessary imo to use that revenue to finance any green initiative to transformative levels.

      My hope is that she will move more clearly in that direction if she wins next week.

      I guess we’ll just to wait and see.

      BTW…Kenney is a non starter. He would be a disaster.

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        March 25th, 2019

        John A wrote: “the transformation of Notley and the AB NDP was absolutely necessary politically”

        Because that was the only chance the NDP could be re-elected?
        Well, no.
        “Because of their dominance in the rural ridings, the UCP is essentially starting off the series with something like a 35-0 lead. They need only nine more wins in the rest of the province to capture a majority. This is why the math currently doesn’t work for the NDP.”

        The NDP doesn’t stand a chance. Ergo, no political conversion was necessary or justified. Notley’s pipeline hysteria helps only the UCP.

        “You cannot let the good be the enemy of perfect.”
        Oilsands expansion is predicated on climate failure. Irrevocable. Notley’s climate plan is irredeemable. Nothing good about it.
        The lesser of two evils is still evil. Notley is far more likely to get pipelines built than Kenney is.

      • Geoffrey Pounder

        March 25th, 2019

        John A wrote: “It is also necessary imo to use that revenue to finance any green initiative to transformative levels.”

        The classic “smoke cigarettes to cure cancer” argument.
        Funding the shift to renewables using oilsands revenues is like drug-dealing to fund hospitals and police.

        The problem underlined by climate change, fossil fuel pollution, and environmental devastation, is that the costs of burning more fossil fuels exceed the benefits.
        Wealth that degrades our life-support systems is illusory. The costs of climate change and fossil-fuel pollution are increasingly prohibitive. Hence, the need to shift away from fossil fuels ASAP.

        Harvard historian Naomi Oreskes on market failure: “The costs of climate change are so great that they now threaten the very prosperity that economic growth is intended to generate. So we can say we’re interested in fossil fuel development, gas pipelines, or fracking, or tarsands… because they’re going to generate economic growth. But the reality is that the cost of those things will be many times greater than the economic value that they produce.”

        AB’s oil & gas industry has barely started to fund its massive liabilities: north of $260 billion and rising.
        Taxpayers have already coughed up billions of dollars in subsidies to this destructive industry.

        The case for renewables INSTEAD OF fossil fuel expansion is clear. U.S. coal-fired power plants are shutting down, because it’s now cheaper for utilities to build new renewable facilities than maintain old coal and nuclear plants. We don’t need revenues from coal to build renewables, because renewables are already cheaper.

        The premise is that the oil industry accounts for such a huge piece of Canada’s economic pie that we have no other way to pay for a sustainable future.
        According to CERI, the oil & gas sector contributed 6.5% of total GDP in 2017. The oilsands industry contributed 2.66%. (Subtract externalized environmental and health costs and subsidies.)

        To avert greater disaster, the IPCC gives us until 2030 to halve GHG emissions and 2050 to eliminate them. We ignore the best available science at our peril.
        We need to start planning for the decline of fossil fuels, not expansion. When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

        The answer to this rhetorical flimflam is simple. Price energy properly. Put the real, true, full price on carbon emissions.

  6. David

    March 24th, 2019

    While I didn’t often agree with Ms. Smith, she could often be thoughtful and articulate. I too was pleasantly surprised when I read her article. She realized social conservatism was not the way to go and struggled to get her party to move past that, whereas Kenney seems to embrace it, although he takes pains to hide or minimize it as he knows it is not a vote getter. Unfortunately, you can see it in who his candidates are and in his refusal to apologize for his past actions.

    I wouldn’t quite call Notley a PC, she has done some things Lougheed probably never did or would have – farm safety and minimum wage increases come to mind, but she is probably closer to him than Kenney is. Yes, I could see Lougheed trying to diversify the economy to value added processing in response to pipeline bottle necks and remember he bought rail cars too. Lougheed’s legacy seems like a fine wine that ages well, Klein’s not so much.

    Yes, Klein could be likeable too and I think he also realized the dangers of social conservatism. I think this is in contrast to Kenney. We have already seen from the kamikaze scandal and other things he has quite a dark side. I do not see the grassroots thriving if he gets more power. What we have already seen is just a preview, but we can’t say we haven’t been warned if we have been paying attention.

    I think Ms. Smith has been paying attention and while there is some loyalty that prevents her from saying so too plainly, the message does come across in her article.

  7. Randy

    March 24th, 2019

    Ms.Smith crawled into bed with Jim (figuratively) and no disrespect for either. That’s why she has lost love for the Conservitve / UCP flavour, and is appearing to favour Notley. She was betrayed, welcome to politics. I respect Danielle that she can admit a mistake was made and move on.


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