Premier Danielle Smith was sworn in yesterday morning and in the afternoon gave her first news conference in Alberta’s top political job, offering so much news it was hard to know where to start.
Say what you will about former United Conservative Party premier Jason Kenney’s frequent gaslighting, he’s an amateur compared to Ms. Smith, who tells nose-stretchers with an easy grace that’s almost totally convincing unless you give your head a shake and think about what she’s actually saying.
Not once in the hourlong news conference did Alberta’s 19th premier resort to telling a journalist that she rejected the premise of their question – but she still prompted more than one frustrated reporter to complain, accurately enough, that while she’d said a lot, she hadn’t actually answered what they’d asked.
Well, to update King Solomon’s famous observation, a soft answer turneth away wrath and a two-question limit for the media quickly changeth the subject.
For simplicity’s sake today, let’s break topics covered at the newser into manageable pieces:
The new UCP leader’s by now notorious Sovereignty Act will respect the rule of law and all Supreme Court decisions, Premier Smith promised. Plus, it’ll still give Alberta new tools to fiercely defend its jurisdiction.
So which is it? a couple of cranky reporters kept asking.
No answer was forthcoming.
“When the Supreme Court makes a decision we have to abide by that,” Ms. Smith conceded in response to a question about her campaign manager and office director Rob Anderson’s similar statement last week.
However, she continued to insist, “we can re-litigate” if circumstances change. (Well, as any constitutional lawyer will explain, you can’t re-litigate Ottawa’s right to impose a carbon tax because the question before the Supreme Court of Canada was jurisdiction, not circumstances.)
If she’s saying Alberta will honour the rule of law with her new legislation to undermine the rule of law, that raises the question of why bother to pass such a law at all.
The optics of doing nothing so soon after promising her supporters she’d do something probably explains her strategy, as well as the not unreasonable hope by Ms. Smith’s brain trust that the rubes can be fooled again, at least one more time.
Reading between the lines, it’s a fair guess that the UCP plan is now to obstruct federal law as much as possible for as long as possible until the Supreme Court finally rules, which can take a long time.
So there is still plenty of scope for mischief by people who continue to hold the idea of the rule of law in contempt.
That said, we really need to wait till we’ve seen the legislation before we take Ms. Smith’s word that her government will respect the courts and rule of law.
Caucus Retreat and a New Cabinet
Ms. Smith met yesterday with Mr. Kenney’s old cabinet. According to her, everything went swimmingly.
Why not wait till she’d named her own cabinet? Well, there were some Orders in Council that needed to be signed.
There will be a caucus retreat on Oct. 18, 18 and 19, Ms. Smith said. She will announce her new cabinet on Oct. 21. Cabinet ministers will be sworn in on Oct. 24.
Brooks-Medicine Hat By-election
As is well known, there will be a by-election for Ms. Smith to seek a safe seat in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding. MLA Michaela Frey, who had already announced her plan not to run again, has decided to quit early to make way for Ms. Smith.
The by-election will be held on Nov. 8, Ms. Smith said. Alberta by-elections are traditionally held on a Monday. Nov. 8 is a Tuesday. But it is the Tuesday that the midterm Congressional elections will be held in the United States. Coincidence, just an error by the new premier, or what?
Regardless, she added, this means the earliest she can be expected to have a seat in the Legislature to introduce her own Sovereignty Act will be Nov. 29.
Calgary Elbow By-election
Also, there will also be no Calgary-Elbow by-election.
By now, everyone understands that Ms. Smith is afraid of losing that election to the NDP and entrenching a narrative that Rachel Notley can motor her way back to the Premier’s Office.
But there is a new excuse, Ms. Smith’s third.
To wit: The UCP riding association hasn’t had time to do their paperwork and find a candidate.
A true student of parliamentary government would ask, “So what?” Surely that should be a problem for the party, not the voters of Calgary-Elbow? Alas, no one from the media asked the question – probably because of the two-question limit.
The previous excuses were: It costs too much, and we’re going to have a general election in a few months anyway, so one doesn’t have to be called.
Say goodbye to Deena Hinshaw. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has no place in Alberta’s new public health set-up.
While the details of how the deed will be done were vague, Ms. Smith was clear that Dr. Hinshaw will be gone soon.
“I think that we’re in a new phase where we are now talking about treating Coronavirus as an endemic as we do influenza,” she said. “So I will be developing a new team of public health advisors.”
Since Ms. Smith based her successful campaign to lead the UCP above all on Q-adjacent COVID conspiracy theories and belief in quack COVID cures like Ivermectin horse de-worming paste and Donald Trump’s hydroxychloroquine cure, this is not very reassuring.
Alberta Health Services
“A new governing structure will be in place for Alberta Health Services within 90 days,” Ms. Smith said.
So if you were thinking the new premier might smarten up and not sow even more chaos in Alberta’s already struggling public health care system, guess again.
Premier Smith was openly bitter about vaccine mandates for health care staff implemented during the COVID pandemic. And what do you do when you don’t like what the management is doing? She asked rhetorically. “You change the management! So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to change the management.”
You probably didn’t read this here first, but you’re going to read it again: This will be a catastrophe.
Former premier Jason Kenney is still pouting about losing his job and not getting his choice for a replacement, Ms. Smith said, although not in those words. “I reached out to him and he has not accepted my invitation for a meeting.” She said she’s confident he’ll get over it. I’m not so sure.
Replacing the RCMP, or something
“I’m very much in the mode of wanting to have augmentation to the RCMP by creating an Alberta provincial police very quickly so that we can address issues of rural property crime that is often fueled sadly by drug addiction, and so that’s why we want to make sure that there are extra hands on deck and that our Alberta provincial police are trained in the new policing priorities that we have.”
So will the new force replace the RCMP or just supplement it? That’s not yet clear.
In this context, she also said, “we are going to fully exercise our areas of jurisdiction under the constitution.” So keep an eye on your Canada Pension Plan!
Chief of Staff
Speaking of addiction treatment and policy, her chief of staff will be Marshall Smith, Ms. Smith said.
Mr. Smith is a controversial figure, both for his personal history and his strong views that abstinence is the best way to end drug addiction and that offering safe supplies to drug users leads to more drug abuse.
Just saying no to drugs may not work very well with addicts, but it works well with conservative voters, which may explain Mr. Smith’s appeal to the UCP.
Ms. Smith’s electoral base hates gun control and Alberta’s new premier hates it too. She couldn’t mention how Alberta isn’t going to co-operate with any stinkin’ federal gun grab too many times. If you’re concerned about public safety, just like if you’re concerned about public health, you’re not going to find living under the Smith Government a very reassuring experience.
The Most Persecuted Minority – The Great Unvaccinated
“The community that faced the most restrictions on their freedoms in the last year were those that made a choice not to be vaccinated,” Premier Smith said at the end of her news conference.
Alberta’s Great Unvaxxed, she said, “have been the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. That’s a pretty extreme level of discrimination.”
“We are not going to create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice,” she insisted, vowing to extend human rights protections to folks who refuse to take public health measures that involve vaccinations.
Jaws dropped and gasps were heard across the province at this pronouncement. There were many responses. I will give the last word on this topic to Alberta Senator Paula Simons, who summed it up about as well as I have seen:
“Tell me you’ve never been discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or disability, without telling me you’ve never been discriminated against on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. …”