Happy Easter!

Canadian Press reporter Dean Bennett in a typical pose in 2018 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Astonishingly, a full week after the CBC broke the story, the brouhaha continues unabated over Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s inappropriate chitchat in January with unsavoury anti-vaxx preacher Artur Pawlowski and the criminal charges he faces for allegedly trying to incite violence at the blockaded Coutts border crossing last year.

With a provincial election and the verdict in the pastor’s trial both expected next month, everything the panicky United Conservative Party has tried to make the scandal go away – threatening the CBC with a libel suit for its reporting, telling reporters the premier won’t talk about it because it’s before the courts, and shamelessly trying to appear tough on crime while falsely portraying the NDP as the opposite – has just made it worse. 

Yesterday in the small southeastern Alberta city of Brooks, site of a bitter meatpacking strike 17 years ago, Ms. Smith was at it again, ignoring her vow on Monday not to talk about it anymore and trying to make the bad impression created by her sympathetic 11-minute phone conversation with Mr. Pawlowski disappear. 

Alberta’s premier may not apologize, but, boy oh boy, does she ever explain!

The headline on the story by Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press didn’t say it all, but it said enough to give readers the gist of just how little sense Alberta’s premier was making: “Alberta premier says politicians cannot talk to accused, but her call was OK.”

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping in Brooks yesterday (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Standing just outside the entrance of the hospital in Brooks, part of the riding she represents in the Alberta Legislature, Ms. Smith let her instinct to start yakking and not quit get the better of her once again. 

She was there with Health Minister Jason Copping to re-announce a UCP campaign promise to expand and modernize operating rooms in rural areas, but that was soon lost in the bigger story of her constant evasions and excuses for talking to an accused person about the Crown’s case against him and her promise to pass on his concerns to Justice officials.

Video of the premier’s rambling and contradictory explanations in response to Mr. Bennett’s questions, which he asked by telephone, shows her digging ever more deeply into a hole of her own creation. 

Observing that Ms. Smith’s last comment on the topic “sounds like a de facto policy change,” CP’s Mr. Bennett asked: “Should Albertans facing criminal charges, or any charges, and feel they’re being treated unfairly by the system, now consider themselves free to contact their local MLA or any cabinet minister to discuss this?”

Ms. Smith responded: “The policy is what it’s always been, that the Crown prosecutors and the judicial system operates independently. … There is a lens that the Justice Minister can look at in assessing cases that is whether there’s a reasonable likelihood of conviction, and whether it’s in the public interest. That stays the same now, it’s always been that way and it will always be that way.

Street preacher Artur Pawlowski, who is accused of trying to incite violence at the Coutts border blockade last year (Photo: Facebook/Artur Pawlowski).

“My job as a politician is to consult with a broad range of people, raise their concerns, and then ultimately, in this particular case, take the advice of my Justice Minister. My Justice Minister said that we are waiting the outcome of several court cases and I accepted his advice. So there’s been no policy change, Dean.”

Mr. Bennett, obviously frustrated by this word salad, countered: “Premier, I’m sorry, yeah, with respect, I put it to you that this is gross hypocrisy on your part. That you get to contact and talk to accused before their criminal cases, but no other Albertans get the same opportunity. How do you justify that?”

Said Ms. Smith, in part: “This should be no surprise, Dean, I ran on that. I said that I would pursue and see if there were options for amnesty. And I asked my Justice officials if there were. They came back with some recommendations, and the recommendation was that we had to wait for the outcome of several court cases. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006 (Photo: Government of Alberta).

(Readers can click here to read my transcript of their exchange. Any errors in transcription, naturally, are all mine.)

Of course, if Ms. Smith wants this story to go away, she needs to act more like the late Ralph Klein, whom she purports to admire, and admit she was wrong to speak with Mr. Pawlowski, promise not to do it again, and make an effort to keep her promise.

Instead, she refuses to admit she has done anything wrong, offers ambiguous and evasive answers, and makes it sound as if she’s still looking for a way to get amnesty back on the table for convoy blockaders and her other friends on the extremist right.

She is, in other words, unrepentant and incorrigible. 

Join the Conversation


    1. It was a perfect call, like Trump Zellinski , Trump Raffensburger , Georgia just needs to find 1700 votes.

  1. I suppose Smith is allowed to try explain herself. However it seems odd right after saying she wouldn’t talk about this any more. Also, she needs to get a lot better at explaining.

    The headline from this is really bad and like most of what Smith has said on this matter, confusing and contradictory. Basically she is saying that elected officials should not do this, but somehow it is ok that she did. It verges on the Nixonian statement that when the leader does it, it is not illegal or improper.

    Few have Klein’s ability for contrition and changing course, whether it was always genuine or not, it came across convincingly. I suspect it helped he was not as much of an ideologue as was portrayed, although he often also used that image for political gain. Smith seems more rigid in her thinking and seems to have an uncanny ability to be able to reconcile things that seem contradictory, at least in her own mind. I suppose the problem for her is the inherent contradictions are very difficult to explain to any one else.

    1. Hi Dave. Yes, anyone who’s made a mistake should be given an opportunity to explain their actions. It’s a critically important part of what we call, “making sure it won’t happen again.” Ask any boss why it’s important.

      The yin to this yang, though, is making excuses. That’s what happens when someone who’s screwed up won’t admit it. When “Not my fault, I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me” is your mindset, any feeble excuse can come popping out the instant you’re asked to “explain yourself.”

      That’s what Smith is doing. This latest excuse, “I was talking to a party leader about politics,” only appeared AFTER the media reports of Pawlowski being kicked out of the Alberta Independence Party. That’s how it made it onto Smith’s personal “it wasn’t my fault” list.

      Check of postulate: was there ANY mention, by ANY participant, at ANY time in that 11-minute conversation, about Pawlowski’s status as a party leader? Even a passing reference, implied, no matter how obscure? If not, then Smith’s latest story is an after-the-fact excuse.

      (As for Smith’s “uncanny ability to…reconcile things that seem contradictory,” she’s too much like the Red Queen. She can believe “six impossible things before breakfast” without effort and without qualms. This might be a great way to get elected—but it’s the worst possible mindset for doing the job.)

      This leads us to the next step in the process, and your point about Ralph Klein. People make mistakes. It’s normal, it’s human. What do you do then? You can go to the boss and say, “Wish I didn’t have to say this, but I screwed up.” Or you can wait till the boss comes to you and says, “Hey, I just learned you screwed up.”

      That’s the difference between taking responsibility and being blamed. People respect those who take responsibility. They’re contemptuous of those who have to be blamed.

  2. Like the proverbial handbasket to Hell
    One should know when one is not doing well
    Everytime she opens her mouth
    The more things seem to go south
    For temporary premier Danielle.

    1. Gromster: You have reminded me of a verse from my youth …

      There was a young man from Japan
      Whose limericks just would not scan
      When told it was so,
      He replied, “Yes, I know,
      But I always try to cram as many words into the last line as I ever possibly under any circumstances can!”


      1. While observing the brightness of star Vega
        I was moved by a thought that was mega
        In the depths of my mind
        I thought I never would find
        Words that would rhyme with Climenhaga

  3. From the transcript of the Dean Bennet interview, at the end of the interview, it appears implicit that Madam Premier believes she can interfere once all legal issues are exhausted. I don’t think she understands the separation concepts in government. Let’s hope rural Albertans do. Or Alberta May have legal foundations built on sand.

    1. Albertan: I agree. that’s why I said it sounds like she still hopes to get amnesty back on the table for convoy blockaders, public health law scofflaws and their ilk. DJC

  4. Happy Easter, David.

    On another note, didn’t Smith recently say that she wouldn’t answer questions about this case because it was the subject of pending legal action? Should we take this to indicate that she’s been persuaded that pursuing this course of action is fruitless?
    The Globe and Mail mentioned on Wednesday that Rachel Notley had noted the existence (at least in the recent past) of an insurance policy specifically for the legal defence of MLAs who’d put their foot in it and had to deal with the legal consequences of that. Instead we find that the UCP footing the bill. Notley wondered if the underwriters had looked at Smith’s case and decided that it wasn’t worth their time. Not likely we’ll ever find out, though.

    1. Thank you, Lars. There is a UCP insurance fund for MLAs who are sued in the course of their duties. As you say, Ms. Notley said it might be usable in this circumstance, although I think it would be a harder sell to get the fund to contribute by an effort by an MLA to sue another party. At this point, I don’t understand the approval process for MLAs to get access to the fund, although I am looking into that. I am pretty sure the concept of the fund is that sometimes MLAs will be unreasonably sued by people who don’t have a good case but whose legal action nevertheless requires a response. I reported on the existence of the fund as well, but I didn’t use Ms. Notley’s comment to the Canadian Press (it was CP’s story that was in the Globe, I think) because I thought she might be wrong and there was no easy way to check it. As for Ms. Smith’s reasons for not answering the question, her statement is ambiguious, either because she intends it that way or because she doesn’t understand what she was told. When she quotes Mr. Shandro by name, the statement appears to be about the charges against Mr. Pawlowski. However, she frequently conflates that with other cases in the plural to give the impression she’s talking about the defamation suit – which isn’t a defamation suit but just a demand letter, which means nothing more than she had access to $1,000 or so to get a lawyer to write it. That matter won’t be “before the courts” until a writ has been dropped on the CBC. I expect the CBC’s lawyers will pretty quickly apply to have it dismissed as frivolous, although given the office held by the potential plaintiff, it’s hard to know what a court would do. DJC

      1. Thanks, David, glad to have an explanation from someone who understands these things better than I. Notley’s statement did puzzle me.

  5. To admit errors in judgment does not compute to that apparatus @ #UCP_Caucus comes down to cowboy logic expecting flood at the Saddle Dome on May 29 2023 #ableg

  6. Bottom line for me is that Danielle Smith has incredibly poor judgement. A bad case of foot and mouth disease and a seeming inability to remember one of her misstatements from another.

    I pity some of those UCP folks who are out, or will be out knocking on doors. This issue will not go away. Moreover, my prediction is that Danielle Smith will continue to make this issue even worse.

    I was watching the body language of Copping and the AHS VP who were standing behind Smith. They were both looking away…any way except at her.

  7. Letting this go isn’t possible. Letting this grow is worse. Premier Poppins never apologizes for anything. Her base wants her to keep on keepin’ on. After all, the “preacher” is just one of the people awaiting trial on charges of mischief over $5000 as a result of their activities at Coutts. Another one is a prominent member of Take Back Alberta, who complained that the mean prosecutors are proceeding with charges that could give him a criminal record.

    So what’s going to happen if the UCP win the May election? She can’t back up and she can’t go forward. Will she stop at nothing or will she be stopped?

  8. Why explain or justify anything when TBA is about to overrun every UCP held riding with their lackeys. In the coming weeks, more and more nomination fights will be decided as moderate UCP members and MLAs (hard to believe there are moderates in among them) are pushed out in favour of the crazies.

    At some point, Smith may decide to ramp up the Alberta Uber Alles rhetoric and go off on another rant about Ottawa not being a real national capital, or Canada not being a real country. TBA loves that stuff and they want to hear it more often.

    At some point, I will be making my trek out to the wilds of some rural Alberta backwater, attend a town hall meeting, and listen to what sort of lunacy comes off the stage and the floor. The last time I attended such a meeting it was during Jason Kenney’s Alberta tour to build the UCP. I enjoyed listening to the nonsense and watching all the Kool-Aid chugging from all those in attendance.

  9. When I see a photo of Ralph Klein, I don’t have good memories. He was very bad for Alberta. If Danielle Smith admires him, it contributes to the horrific mess we are in. We didn’t see this stupidity under Peter Lougheed.

    1. Anonymous: puhleese, can we stop with the incessant hagiography of Saint Peter Lougheed? The vast majority of Albertans living today either weren’t living here, or weren’t born yet, when he left office in 1984.

      Meanwhile, Alberta has seen eight (8) Premiers this century alone — Klein, Stelmach, Redford, Hancock (yes, while he was only “interim” PC leader, there is no “interim” in the office of Premier, and so he was simply Premier) , Prentice, Notley, Kenney, and Smith — and the only one to actually serve a full term in Government was the NDP’s Rachel Notley. And, while her government made some rookie mistakes, it was remarkably free of scandal and any hint of corruption or self-dealing … not something you can say about most conservative governments, including the current one. (RStar, anyone?)

  10. The youth vote will be critical. The NDs need a task force and policies to engage with the new voters and youth voters, in the 18 to 30 cohort. They also need to attack the UCP on their policies that diminish if not out and out destroy our grandchildren’s futures! They also need to get out the vote, in every riding!

  11. The hypocrisy of the person and her party is astounding! Here she is standing at the entrance to a public hospital. The very organization she and her party are doing their very best to destroy (privatize). In a riding she parachuted into. Engaged in babble gook about her inexcusable, and maybe illegal? actions on behalf of Pawlowski.

  12. David has reminded readers of Alberta Politics that scammers regularly pirate his writings and pass them off as their own. One such is called Canada Tribun, yes Tribun, and today posted,
    “Ms. Smith stood right outside the entrance to the Brooks Hospital part of the horsemanship she represents in the Alberta Legislature and once again let her instinct to start and not stop yakking prevail.”
    Spruce Meadows aside, my mind can’t escape the image of your premier atop a fiery steed bouncing and blabbing and thrusting a broadsword at anyone in her path.

  13. Campaigning Conservatives have never bothered to show up on my doorstep. Why bother? They could run a donkey in a blue shirt and it would win. That became their strategy for decades. It worked.

    Today? Whaddya know, they’re here, and I say that in my sincerest Poltergeist voice. There’s a first time for everything. They must be really desperate.

    The reception was frosty. I encouraged them to leave before they could speak. No foul language was involved. They left. The door closed firmly. The end.

    Do I need a “no lying liars who lie” sign on my door? Lies by the leader are lies of silent complicity by all of her MLAs. Back the seditionist “preacher” and your tenure on my stoop will be brief and unfriendly. Not on my watch. Not in my democracy. May the wind in your black “UCP Caucus” windbreaker carry you away like the witches of Oz. And take your flying monkeys with you.

  14. Danielle do shut up. She just gave her umpteenth explanation for the phone call with Art P.
    Her explanation, she thought she was gonna talk pollytix with Preacher Art, as given on her radio show. Cue the groaning noise. It’s the unfunny conniving political satire ongoing. UCP-SO. And Madame Premier if you are going to lie on an issue, keep the lie the same. Changing the lie is how parents absolutely know their kid is lying. It is the same for adults btw.

  15. Her rambling/explaining is beyond being ridiculous at this point.

    How many different explanations, clarifications, corrections of “imprecise language” or word salad can one Premier utter to the press and the public?

    Perhaps it is time to just put out a written statement with multiple choice explanations and the press/public can just pick one?

    This is unreal!

  16. It should be no surprise that Danielle Smith’s grasp of politics is so blinkered as to defy ‘the art of the possible:’ “I ran on that,” she says while defining her job to “consult with a broad range of people” by referring to the narrow bandwidth of a small but vocal minority that supports her anti-vaxxer stance.

    Okay, then. Maybe she’s more of a policy wonk, albeit one whose wonkiness has yet to be tested by 95% of the Alberta electorate. But a politician she cannot substantiate—at least not yet.

    Her re-entry from political orbit was too late in the UCP’s maiden term to afford much time to get her policy done, such as it is, before that 95% of voters passes judgement. Smith offers radical change based on the 5% endorsement she’s garnered so far. The remainder?—well, that’s what the judiciary’s for, right? “I ran on that,” remember?

    If Smith really were a politician she would know that Oath-Keeping is tactical politics, not strategic policy. Passing the Alberta Sovereignty Act might fulfil a promise to the maverick faction which elevated her upon the shield, but her very first act in the Assembly —only months before what will be one of the most critical elections in Alberta history —is effectively the most radical agenda any premier could possibly present to a province: to unilaterally rearrange its terms of confederation.

    Smith’s dearth of pith in naming her Act speaks indirectly to the euphemism implied: since amending the Constitution is not something a province may do by itself, it stands to reason that the kind of virtual independence Smith would have for Alberta could only be realized by way of actual independence. She barely disabuses accusations of secessionism—certainly not by way of the Act’s amended title which reads like a gastro-intestinal syndrome caused by a parasite with a long binomial name in Welsh. Whatever: it’s not a unilaterally declarative status. There’s a pathway to independence but it still requires ratification by the other nine federates and the federal government. Thus the upcoming election is effectively a referendum on her Alberta Sovereignty policy and Smith’s candidacy is her promise to figure out how it all works while completing her rule-of-law 101 and civics primer courses on judicial independence. She probably couldn’t do too much worse by promising an Alberta Judicial Sovereignty Act. I mean, people would believe her, at least.

    Her caretaker premiership has generously allowed a number of do-overs. Whether Albertans should expect more of the same after the election is totally up to them, of course —just so long’s they remember: raising the issue of Danielle’s grade-point average could get you sued for defamation. Naturally Danielle is just finding out about ballot-booth secrecy—but she’s already showing some improvement: if the constituted voting system is too imprecise to identify individual voters who might have maliciously defamed Danielle Smith by voting against her, she has already indicated she will treat whole ridings which elect NDP MLAs differently than those which elect her UCP MLAs. “I ran on that…” Yes, yes, of course you did, Danielle! We just haven’t heard from the “I-voted-on-that” crowd yet.

    The neo-right movement puts great stock in oath-keeping as part of the plain-spoken, rustically resolute, and ferally loyal persona it champions. Danielle Smith weighed its value as greater than the obvious risk of whipping a suspect, reluctant, near-mutinous and schizophrenic party through a fundamentally existential and wrenching referendum on that sovereignty promise. But what about Jason Kenney? He, too, took a big risk by actually following through on his campaign threat to track down and embarrass to death the globalist cabal he claimed was conspiring to beggar Alberta’s bitumen industry. That promise could have easily been fulfilled with a white-paper report fobbed off onto a deputy minister without portfolio, and then buried in the litter of bureaucracy’s Potter’s Field, but apparently higher value was sought in showing the promise was kept over the actual substance of the matter which the eventual full public inquiry was able to discover—which was virtually nothing. Really, one had to wonder if K-Boy’s fingering of a cartoon Sasquatch was some kind of inside joke, or group snook-cocking between virtue-signal junkies. IMHO, then-energy minister Sonya Savage didn’t look like she was having much fun when she presented the Inquiry’s nothing-burger—in fact she looked mortified. But, damnit!—the promise was kept!!

    Jason Kenney certainly wasn’t an inexperienced politician, yet his pursuit of the alleged conspirators was as doggedly sustained as it was dogged by critics the whole way, their own investigations early-on revealing K-Boy’s conspiracy theory unfounded, therefore so too the expense of setting up the “War Room” and paying the commissioner and his research staff. Indeed, the baselessness of his alleged conspiracy was widely acknowledged even long before minister Savage was compelled to admit the inquiry was all for naught. It was almost as if that was the point.

    Working sheepishly on her silk purse, Savage rationalized the dud by reminding that if the report did nothing more than show that some Albertans were “hurting” then it was all worth it. The only measure of that so far is the UCP’s review of K-Boy’s leadership which, granted, was more about his mishandling of Covid (a near and rare unanimity in this sometimes bipolar province). Savage’s recent dropping out of the race might have been influenced by this embarrassing episode that didn’t have to happen—but for the oath-keepers’ promise.

    But that’s not the issue now. Rather it is about defaming Danielle Smith using her own tape-recorded words.

    Smith wants to return frequently to the wellspring of her support, but rather than broad support, hers is more like the Long Walls without which Ancient Athens could not be re-supplied through the port of Piraeus during a siege. Ancient Sparta realized that as long’s Athens controlled the narrow, four-mile defile it would presume upon its neighbours, allies, colonies and rivals. At the end of the long and pointless Peloponnesian War the Long Walls were torn down so that never again could Athens ignore its surrounding city states by controlling this tiny bit of territory.

    I’m thinking Danielle Smith hasn’t studied Thucydides much lately.

    Plainly the UCP puts more value on riling its base than on cogent governance. Nevertheless, there is an important distinction between Smith and her predecessor: K-Boy’s inquiry promise was a nothing-burger to start with, and voters’ okaying its cost was more to thumb their noses at climate-change activism than to realize any vengeance against the alleged Anti-Alberta conspirators: even if any were found (which there wasn’t—except for an imaginary Big Foot), what could anybody do about it, anyway? Smith’s proposals, in contrast, promise to cost Albertas a helluva lot more than the War-Room ever did, and in many more ways than merely money. In addition, K-Boy had the luxury of a whole four-year mandate to do something —or even nothing—with his inquiry promise, while Danielle had less than five months to pass her signature Act and carry the hot-potato under fire to the fast approaching finish line. In short, he could have gotten the value he wanted from his promise (the 2019 win) and then easily squelched it after winning power, whereas she hasn’t the calendar to take that route. However much the Sasquatch Inquiry contributed to K-Boy’s demise (or, for that matter, minister Savage’s demise since she, too, won’t be seeking incumbency on May 29), the point is he could have, but didn’t ditch that stupid campaign promise. However much Smith’s secessionist rhetoric contributes to her success or failure remains to be seen, but it’s certain that it will be thoroughly parsed in any event—and that’ll either be about how dumb it was to ‘make good’ on her promise before the election, or how crazy it was for Albertans to re-elect her party in spite of her proposal’s difficulties and expense.

    Smith is banking on Albertans being as politically fantastic as she is, just like Ancient Athens depended on the Long Walls to the port of Piraeus only four miles away.

  17. How is all this chatter going to help Alberta, what is the bottom line, everyone has an opinion just like all the biased radio and television stations .

    All Albertans are still pissed at what happened with the invocation of the emergency act.
    You can intellectualize this crap as much as you want however it is always good to analyze what really needs to be focused on as a province .

    Like jobs, the economy and what is a priority , like health care and affordable housing.
    Now you have a ton of controversial information where is the politics .

  18. I’ve noticed with many potential and current Dystopian Dictators, that they really like the sound of their own voices. Perhaps they’re overdosed on their own Hubris and can’t stop themselves. Anyways, their disingenuous, dysfunctional ideologies invariably sabotage their own ambitions, while countless citizens suffer during the process.

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