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.”
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.
“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.”
(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.