NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley with Calgarian Dave Nitsche, who has Stage 4 lung cancer, at yesterday’s news conference (Photo: Twitter/Rachel Notley).

New Democratic Party Opposition Leader Rachel Notley joined the trailing United Conservative Party leadership candidates yesterday in piling onto UCP frontrunner Danielle Smith for her remarks in a recent social media video that appeared to blame cancer victims for their condition.

UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith in her controversial July 21 social media video (Photo: Screenshot of Danielle Smith campaign video).

Ms. Notley appeared at an outdoor news conference in Calgary with former triathlon competitor Dave Nitsche, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2019. 

“I did not ask for cancer,” Mr. Nitsche told reporters at the newser, rhetorically addressing Ms. Smith. “I believe you owe all cancer patients and survivors a real apology.”

On July 21, Ms. Smith posted the video showing her speaking with naturopath Christine Perkins about cancer patients who received Stage 4 diagnoses. In it, she said that “when you think everything that built up before you got to Stage 4 and that diagnosis, that’s completely within your control and there’s something you can do about that that is different.”

This was widely interpreted as blaming cancer victims for their illness.

At the NDP news conference yesterday, Ms. Notley said she is “committed to listening to Albertans just like Dave on how we can make public health care better for all Albertans who rely on it.

Naturopath Christine Perkins (Photo: Screenshot of Danielle Smith campaign video).

“An Alberta NDP government will make policy decisions in health care based on Albertans’ needs and will be guided by medical and scientific evidence,” she said, a dig at Ms. Smith’s notions about “alternative” medicine, such as treating COVID-19 with Ivermectin, a veterinary deworming drug. 

Seeking an apology from Ms. Smith, though, is purely performative.

The front-running UCP candidate normally seems to be able to act as if being Danielle Smith means never having to say you’re sorry. There’s no way she’s about to apologize.

That’s especially true because right now she’s trying to appeal to the UCP base, for whom the worse she looks the better she looks!

Piling on with Ms. Smith’s UCP opponents is a risky strategy for the NDP.

UCP candidate Travis Toews, choice of the party establishment (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Adopting it suggests Ms. Notley has concluded Ms. Smith now has a lock on the UCP leadership and the keys to the Premier’s Office.

But it’s dangerous because Ms. Smith’s victory is not assured.

The UCP leadership vote is not a first-past-the-post plurality election. It gives voting party members the opportunity to choose their second choice and requires a 50-per-cent-plus-one margin by the eventual victor.

With the three leading candidates roughly holding a third of the vote each a few days ago, and a couple of others who might be palatable alternatives to the party establishment whose first choice is former finance minister Travis Toews, a winning Anybody-But-Smith campaign could still emerge.

And then what would the NDP do, having unintentionally boosted a candidate who might be harder for them to beat than Ms. Smith?

This is why it’s unusual for political parties to say much about their opponents’ leadership races until the dust has settled.

Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1984 – sometimes you just have to roll the dice (Photo: Wikipedia).

On the other hand, if Ms. Smith is truly destined for victory, there might be a benefit to the NDP in attacking her now – making her liabilities clear to Albertans who worry about the extremism, crackpot conspiracy theories, separatist sentiments, and anti-science views she represents.

And if NDP criticism now is seen as a plus to the UCP base, so what? 

Former NDP leader Brian Mason was probably right Wednesday night when he predicted Ms. Smith would be the easiest potential UCP leader for Ms. Notley to beat in 2023 or whenever the new premier gets around to calling an election. (Just because there’s a UCP law on the books setting voting day for May 29, 2023, doesn’t mean the UCP won’t change the date if its strategists conclude it’s to their advantage.)

As former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney once famously observed, sometimes you just have to roll the dice. 

But it’s still a gamble for Ms. Notley to join this fight just now. Because them bones could come up snake eyes!

Former U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Up to now, Ms. Smith, the former Wildrose leader and broadcaster, has dominated the UCP leadership election campaign to a remarkable degree, in many ways running an almost flawless campaign that has turned her seeming disadvantages into advantages.

Drawing on her background as a right-wing radio bloviator, she has set the narrative for all other candidates with her nutty pronouncements about alternative health care and her constant separatist chatter based on her campaign manager and former Wildrose House leader Ron Anderson’s “Free Alberta Strategy.”

This has forced all the other major candidates to dance to her tune. 

If her victim blaming was a blunder, it was the first big one of her campaign. 

Remember that she didn’t get in trouble for talking to a naturopath in her TV-style video interview. That was an obvious pitch to the UCP’s anti-vaxx, conspiracy minded base. It was only the apparent victim blaming that got her in hot water. 

She walked it back a bit Monday on social media and during Wednesday’s UCP leadership debate by claiming she was “misunderstood.”

If the controversy continues, Ms. Smith can be expected to turn to her tried-and-true strategy of announcing something completely new and equally outrageous. 

That’s a strategy that helped get Donald Trump elected as president of the United States. 

Join the Conversation


  1. Notley can be a very capable leader and politician. But she does have this tendency to save the enemy’s hide while they are shooting each other in the face.

    Ideally, Notley should just leave the UCP to their Troubles with Danielle and let them make her their leader. What can possibly go wrong? The comedy will be inspired and watching the UCP spin themselves inside-out will be par for the course.

    But Notley, in a less than inspired idea, decides to join in on the pile-on and attacks Smith with considerable fury. While it’s sound practice to present the sensible alternative to the UCP’s policy options/charnel house approach to everything, I have a feeling this will backfire impressively.

    A new vision for public healthcare, as presented by the NDP, would have been far more effective. Considering that the UCP is seriously entertaining the validity of faith-healing, aromatherapy, and magic crystals as credible healthcare services, it’s more than apparent that a literate response to the lunacy is desperately needed.

  2. One of the problems with Danielle Smith is that her mouth goes off before her brain does. There are people who have gotten cancer, from no fault of their own. They can be of any age, and can even be healthy, otherwise. Naturopathy isn’t a certifiable cure for cancer, or for other chronic health conditions. Kicking people who are already down isn’t a smart thing to be doing. Ralph Klein, someone whom Danielle Smith admires greatly, did that, at various times of his political career. Throwing change at residents of a homeless shelter, when he was sloppy drunk, and later offering an insincere sounding apology for it, and standing in front of television news cameras with some of his MLAs, and ridiculing some A.I.S.H recipients, claiming they didn’t look handicapped to me, come to mind. These things are what helped to end Ralph Klein’s political tenure. Nothing he could ever do could bring it back. With Danielle Smith, she has a hard time learning when to keep her mouth shut. What she says, definitely will not advance her chances of getting anywhere in politics. Anyone who takes what Danielle Smith has to say seriously, needs to think again. Whatever Danielle Smith proposes, will only cause more problems that Alberta certainly doesn’t need. There is really no sense in supporting that.

  3. Yes, it is a risk to attack Ms Smith now, for a number of reasons. One of the risks is you might help bring about the outcome you profess to not want. By attacking Smith, it might provoke a knee jerk reaction from some UCP members to rally to her, even if they have reservations and might otherwise not have.

    It may be true that Ms Smith could be a weaker candidate than some of her opponents for the UCP leadership because of her extreme views turning off more mainstream voters. However, she does also seem to motivate supporters too. As with Trump, who almost everyone also initially dismissed for much the same reasons, it can be dangerous to dismiss or underestimate a political opponent just because they say things that are ludicrous, untrue or seem to not have much support initially. So, she might not be as weak a candidate as they believe her to be. Grievance and emotional messages can resonate much more than expected even if they are not well founded in fact, particularly if they are communicated in a shrewd way to the right audience. There are idealistic people in politics who don’t fully realize this, but voters do not always see things their way and the good argument does not always prevail.

    So, I feel it would be better to let the UCP come to its own conclusions about who should be their leader and then battle them after on that basis.

  4. “Brian Mason … predicted Ms. Smith would be the easiest potential UCP leader for Ms. Notley to beat”

    I would agree that Ms. Smith would be one of the least electable leaders in a general election, primarily because I expect (hope!) there are a lot of NDP-wary conservative voters out there who would hold their nose and vote NDP (they weren’t that terrible while they were in government) just to keep someone like Danielle Smith out of office. This will be especially the case when the well financed NDP starts running ads featuring some of the outrageous things Ms. Smith has said over the years.

    That comment applies to the general electorate, but of course that isn’t who will be voting for the UCP leadership. It isn’t difficult to imaging Danielle Smith spinning Ms. Notley’s attack into an argument for her campaign: “See? I am the one the NDP is most afraid of”.

    1. “Brian Mason…predicted Ms. Smith would be the easiest potential UCP opponent for Ms. Notley to beat.”
      First rule of politics: do not underestimate your opponent.

  5. Yep, RN and the NDP appear to be all in on the “vaccines are great” meme and are all in on betting the farm that this is going to stir up their base. As Lethbridge MLA Shannon Phillips tweeted this week over a pic of RN during a fundraising appeal, “One MLA who understands vaccines save lives, climate change is real, and horse dewormer isn’t a treatment for Covid-19.”

    I wonder if they are making a serious miscalculation. Yes 70 per cent or so of Albertans are vaccinated but many were coerced into taking the jab because they were forced to because of job requirements. It’s either the needle for you or stand in a food bank line. You have a free choice.

    There may be an undercurrent of resentment which Doug Ford tapped into this mood when he quipped last spring that it just didn’t matter anymore if you had one shot or ten shots Covid was going to get you and it was time to start using common sense. BTW Ford won an even bigger majority.

    1. DoFo’s majority came about partly as a result of vote-splitting between the Del Duca Liberals and the Horwath New Democrats, and partly as a result of low voter turnout. The two principal opposition parties each garnered just under 24% of the popular vote, although the NDP’s was more efficient in that they win more seats than the Liberals. But between them, 48% of Ontario voters that turned out, voted against the Ford PC government — not exactly a ringing endorsement. The PCs’ share of the popular vote was just under 41%.

      Of course, in Canada’s single-member plurality voting system, popular vote doesn’t really matter — only seat count does. But it does make a statement about a government’s level of support among the voting public, and Mr Ford only got 2/5 support from Ontarians.

    2. Just makin this your whole personality hey?

      Gotta say, speaking for the rest of us; get the vaccine or don’t, we don’t care anymore.

      But for the love of everything holy and pure in the world, shut up about it already!

    3. Waaaaaaa I was given life saving medicine for free, I’m like Jesus if he was also Spartacus and Rambo!

  6. Would that, maybe, she could reiterate that long-held view that hydrocarbon pollution leads to increased cases of asthma!! Oh, wait, that might work here me thinks!!!!

  7. The first time I heard about Danielle Smith, she was digging notes out of a garbage can in a scandal that led to the firing of the Calgary Board of Education school trustees. How far she hasn’t come.

    1. Haha I can absolutely see her furtively digging through someone’s trash looking for the Big Scoop. “This empty pizza box proves that the lizard people caused the plandemic, and they’re obviously in league with the raccoons, cause why else do they keep destroying valuable evidence from people’s garbages before I can get there?”

  8. If Ms Notley’s intervention is motivated by political considerations she is indeed rolling the dice.

    But, Ms Notley position may simply be Ms Smith’s opinion is wrong and this fact needs to be said loudly and publicly regardless of who wins the UCP leadership.

    If bats could could speak I imagine they would be agreeing that blaming stage 4 cancer victims for their condition is Danielle Smith crazy.

    1. Sheldon, thank you! I laughed out loud at your closing comment. I’m gonna use that one myself, first chance I get!

  9. Allusion to tRump in weighing prospects of UCP leadership hopeful Danielle Smith was doubtlessly part of NDP Loyal Opposition leader and former Premier Rachel Notley’s risk assessment. It was assuredly calculated before making an unusual —therefore risky in itself—incision into the UCP’s self-inflicted intestinal inflammation that is its self-prescribed, critical, partisan-political, emergency-surgical excision of its founding carcinogen, Jason Kenney, and its desperate search for a replacement organ. It could be a heart or a brain, a lung or, in a pinch, a skin, but it has to be at least one that will put the party’s maiden malignancy into remission, and at very least until the pending general election when diagnosis and prescription will instead be delegated to a broader team of experts: the Alberta electorate.

    It’s not the first time the UCP has been equated —even by itself—with the disastrous tRump presiduncy, fomenting in Albertans and others altruistic dread or hard-hearted spite, especially when The Orange One won and the K-Boy was okayed. Surely the consistent events subsequent has not escaped Ms Notley’s notable political acumen: neither the totally apolitical Tiki-firebrand nor the prairie-conflagrate politician, nisi semper, made it through their first and only terms unscathed, and tRump lost the 2020 election (with fewer and fewer believing he didn’t) while K-Boy never made it to his own incumbency, conspicuously terminated by his own creation AFTER sixty US courts of law dismissed out-of-hand tRump’s appeals to overturn the most scrupulously reviewed election in US history. That equation, at least as far as Kenney is concerned, seems to have become toxic to even his own petrie-dish cult.

    Still, one can’t argue with such successes as tRump had, and it’s still galling that he continues to have them, such as they are, in diminishing prospect. It appears, however, that Danielle Smith is banking on such, and also, perhaps, as oft-observed, that she’s more intelligent and therefore more likely to succeed than tRump ever could be. But any observer should be confident that all of this is duly considered in Notley’s calculus.

    Naturally it’s about weighing a number of factors in both contexts of the UCP leadership emergency and the approaching general sawing of bones: although Notley’s single-term government failed to win incumbency, it will remain the more experienced one until the writ is dropped and, having retained a substantial Opposition despite the UCP’s initially convincing win ; that compares well against Smith’s notable failures—snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when she led the Wildrose opposition into the 2012 election, and the smashing of the veteran ProgCon party in 2015 after she and half her caucus crossed the floor to join it. The outstanding factor here is the comparative metric of party unity and discipline: in this respect, Smith poisoned Wildrose electoral prospects by neglecting to rein in a particular ‘bozo eruption’ before it sunk the party’s projected odds of winning in 2012; then again, her crossing to the PCs was the epitome of party schism; again, now, her entry into another schism-in-progress may be calculated—safely now—to pry on the giant fissure that exists in ever party of the neo-right these days (hence facilitating comparison with tRump and, likely, the federal CPC party). She has what may be justifiably called the King (or “Queen,” in her case) Merde-ass touch—every party she insinuates herself into turns into—well, merde.

    Notley, in stark contrast, maintains enviable respect and discipline within her handsomely-poised caucus, and her record is not the least blighted by failure to win incumbency: the single-term NDP government didn’t have or need such a deeply contrasting comparator in order to deal with a number of serious crises afflicting the province when it took power away from the geriatric PCs. Many Albertans recall fondly the down-to-earth basics of the NDP term, bread-and-butter protected amidst very challenging economic, environmental, and partisan times. But on the generally appreciated healthcare system —I dare say, converting naysayers who were affected by a certain little pandemic—there is virtually no comparison: the NDP has already won, the UCP has already lost.

    The very tRump-esque underscoring of the UCP’s incredible, purely ideological and pervertedly psephological rejection of Covid prudence is what Smith is doing, depending on reopening the scar it inflicted itself as proof, as shibboleth, of iniquitous virtue-signalling between rote converts inside the circled wagon laager which is the party she hopes to lead.

    Notley is correct is striking at the UCP’s weakest and her own party’s strongest point. It is truly remarkable that Smith would eschew the fact that she was not part of the UCP government when it bobbled Covid and scourged the medical system to its nearly-flayed bones: instead she does the Donald and doubles down.

    Of course she did that to herself and Notley needn’t have pointed up what most citizens already know—all too well. But does that comprise a risk for the NDP? Undoubtedly, yes, but I would suggest it is carefully calculated as worth taking by a pragmatic leader of a solidly unified party in a very good position to weather whatever polling blips this unusual commentary might cause.

    For one thing, it risks dirking the NDP’s preferred opponent. Forgive me, but that consideration is far below Notley’s style and intent. She looks credible against Smith’s intentionally controversial jibes. Albertans will recall that, despite the crisis it insisted it was averting by defeating the NDP, the UCP buckled when the going got tougher—and got that way by its own machinations, so obsessed with ideology and power that the dust-up blinds it to the world two arrow-flights outside its tightening redoubt.

    But so what if Smith’s project stumbles because of Notley’s inconvenient commentary on another party’s business? Again, the calculus suggests the NDP can parry with any of the would-be UCP leaders—and especially on healthcare and Covid (which, btw, ain’t over yet).

    This is why the neo-right has to continually fear-monger: it lives itself in dreadful fear of losing relevance, of becoming the irrefutable petard of its own hoisting. The tyrants of Ancient Greek poleis did much the same in order that democracy, the Hellenes’ own invention, vote itself out. The UCP is truly in a crisis—not the ones it proffers to thwart the socialist hordes—but within its own riven soul. Notley makes the responsible, loyal move to focus Albertans on not only policy contrasts, but also on the UCP’s basic flaw: it is a frankenparty with a permanent fissure ready to tear at the stitches at any moment, and under any leader.

    At least I got my wish—and my Schadenfreude—just in case Smith does stumble and gets hoisted on her own petard—again. Still, I eagerly await the real contest, whenever it comes: the solid Mother Goose versus the cracked bowl of broken eggs and its dear leader helmed with ostracons of shell-fragments.

  10. Humourous, not stage 4 cancer, but Notley’s use of it for political ends. Pretty much exactly as expected. So now Notley has come down on the side of sick people, maybe she can explain how to fix the healthcare crisis? You know, like she already had 4 years to do that. And what did she get done? People still get stage 4 cancer. I’d rather somebody who is looking for solutions rather then making political hay off sickness.

    1. Bret Larson: It’s very difficult to fix many years of healthcare cuts and neglect, from Ralph Klein in just four years. The UCP aren’t helping on the healthcare front. They want to privatize it, just like Ralph Klein did. This doesn’t help.

      1. You can thank the federal provincial dynamic for the situation the healthcare system is in. Neither the feds or any province wants a good system, they just want the other level of government to foot the bill or the fallout. The federation is in tatters and unless there is 3 we will be stuck with the political arrangements of Canada past.

    2. Maybe Bret Larson would like to explain to the true conservatives in my world how anyone was going to fix the horrific mess Rachael Notley inherited in only 4 years when these fake conservatives created it over a 25 year period. Can he explain how you replace 14,783 health care workers overnight like stupid Albertans wanted Notley to do. We are told that Ed Stelmach was a hero for wasting millions on buying up foreign workers to help save our health caste system, but it still wasn’t back to how it was before Klein deliberately destroyed it. Most young Canadian doctors and nurses still refuse to work in Alberta, thanks to how they have been treated by these damn reformers, we never saw Lougheed being this stupid. I had four operations done over a four year period and three of them were done by foreign doctors and the vast majority of the nurses involved in looking after me were foreign and I was in hospital for a total of 42 days.

      1. True conservatives? Are those like true believers? If so what do they believe? The failing healthcare systems is based on demographics. Something Lougheed didn’t have to deal with. So historic president needs to be viewed in the correct context. As to foreign doctors and such, we all came from somewhere else. It’s are job to make the environment in Alberta conducive to attracting people rather than repelling them.

    3. the idea that anyone should take anything you say as a serious statement is beside me, but here we are.

      The NDP set about restoring our province in favour of regular working folks, Alberta bros and finance bros lit their hair on fire and here we are, back in the hell the PcAA created. Only a muppet or cretin would hang this on the NDP

  11. Danielle should win because she is truly representative of UCP policy, and I need only a slight nudge to leave this province. Hard to live amongst so may looneys and crazies -day in, day out.

  12. I think it is important for Rachel Notley to call out grotesque behaviour whenever it arises. She can’t control who the UCP chooses as their leader in any event. By making clear that she is the alternative for voters who reject Smith’s extremism she’ll make it easier for conservative-inclined folks who can’t support Smith if she becomes leader to go over to the NDP if only this time around. And by “joining” other UCP candidates in attacking some of Smith’s beyond-dangerous claims–she actually attacked before they did–she’ll help the Wildrose Independence Party steal more support from the UCP should Toews or Jean win. The WIP will point out that they were on the same side as Notley on issues during the leadership campaign, which would be harder to claim if Notley just said nothing.

  13. I am reminded of the mercifully brief tenure of Stockwell Day as CRAP/CA/CPC leader and seeing, with complete joy on my part, watching him flap his yap into his own oblivion.

    The one great failing of Day was that he didn’t know when to STFU. Even when he was being polite and sociable, he didn’t STFU. I recall when he made an appearance on Mike Bullard’s sorry excuse for a late-night talk/entertainment show, Day not only appeared confused, but also couldn’t stop talking. The hilarity grew even better once the following guest came out and noticed Day was answering the questions that Bullard was giving him. It was at that point that the guest gave a death stare to Day and Bullard piped in, “Day, your segments over.” This pretty much summed up what everyone thought of Day.

    As Leader of the Opposition, Day provided to be a never-ending train wreck of a leader, with daily changes in policy positions and opposition actions against the government in the House. It was bad enough that Day’s chief advisor and second brain happened to be Jason Kenney, but when Ezra Levant was hired as the new communications-director for the official opposition, it was clear that the dementia ran deep. The best part was even members of the CA caucus, including Deb Grey, left to form the Independent Conservative Caucus, Kenney and Levant went to work attacking and sabotaging the enemies within. Grey’s own riding was hail-bombed with robocalls attacking her integrity and record, while Grey’s own town hall meetings became regular shite shows, thanks to the persistent presence of Day’s loyal youth wing/mob, who among them was a very young Michael Cooper.

    Eventually, Stockwell Day took a leave of absence from his own leadership and urged the caucus to seek unity without him. Of course, Jean Chrétien and the Liberal caucus quietly and happily sat and watched the self-immolation of the CA caucus. Surely Rachel Notley remembers this and would be wise to repeat Chrétien’s happy indifference.

  14. I am a regular listener to the ‘Curse of Politics’ podcast, hosted by pollster and former federal Liberal backroomer David Herle. One of his regular co-hosts is another former former federal Liberal backroomer, Scott Reid, and ever since the federal CPC leadership race got going, Reid has been basically pounding the table that the Liberals have to start going after Pierre Poilièvre now, not wait until the announcement of the vote result. His take is that PP is the shoo-in first-ballot winner, and that the Grits should not waste any time attacking him before he gets any opportunity to pivot to a more palatable message for the next general election. They need to keep his crazy messages front & centre before the voting public.

    I personally disagree with part of the premise of his argument, as I really don’t see PP pivoting on anything, but his argument has merit, and the same argument may also appeal to the Alberta NDP in going after Daniellezebub. But that argument would only hold water if she’s the shoo-in first ballot victor, which is no certainty.

  15. “[A new, outrageous announcement is] a strategy that helped get Donald Trump elected as president of the United States.” The strategy also worked for Rob and Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, and it’s apparently working for Pierre Poilievre, too.

    It works to become party leader. To govern a province? Not so much. The question is whether Smith and Poilievre are smart enough to know the difference.

  16. Listen, Ms. Notley is playing a game of multi-dimensional chess here. If we all STFU about it, it may work!

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