From time immemorial it has been understood that when there is a crisis, or in the aftermath of one, leaders are expected to be there to provide hope, offer comfort, demonstrate understanding, and show they are in control.
This is axiomatic, intuitively understood in all societies, an expectation bred in the bone of all human beings.
Of course, for politicians in the democratic era, it is an opportunity as well as a duty.
Performative as it may seem, if they are seen at the site of a crisis, filling a sandbag, holding a baby while comforting its mom, or sitting head held high as rocks and bottles rain down – as Pierre Trudeau did at the St-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal in 1968 – they will be admired, even if they are not loved.
If they shuffle off on holiday or to a more congenial event, or simply fail to show without explanation, they can expect to be accused of dereliction of duty, even reviled.
So where was Alberta Premier Danielle Smith yesterday?
Not at Edmonton City Hall in the aftermath of the frightening – although thankfully not deadly – shooting and firebombing Tuesday.
One would have thought this would be a great opportunity to speak about the need for peace in our society, how our differences ought not to divide us, and how attacks on symbols of democracy are attacks on us all.
Nope. Not a word. No sign of her.
No sign of anyone else from the United Conservative Party Government, either.
Not even a statement on the government’s official website, where there is always room for a spurious attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It’s not as if there was any risk. A suspect has been arrested and the Edmonton Police say they are certain he acted alone.
But City Hall was locked down tight yesterday, someone is bound to say.
Well, so it was, but there’s still a street out front, isn’t there?
So where was Premier Smith, and what was she doing?
Well, as it happened she was not that far away – just a short flight south in Calgary.
But then, Ms. Smith doesn’t really like Edmonton City Hall at the best of times – and presumably even less so at the worst of times.
When was the last time she visited the place in any capacity?
Did she even call Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who was in the building when the bullets and firebombs started flying? (Could be, I suppose. But if so, there’s no official indication of it.)
If this had happened in Calgary, you can count on it Ms.Smith would have been at the Municipal Building with every member of her cabinet wearing cowboy hats and serious expressions.
But Ms. Smith was not available for a reason that is entirely on brand.
The former right-wing Corus Radio broadcaster – freshly back from an out-of-province vacation during which she also ignored the state of the province’s shaky electrical system, its collapsing health care system, and the housing and homelessness crisis – was excitedly awaiting lunch with Tucker Carlson, the fired Fox News talking head and “leading voice of white grievance politics.”
After lunch, she joined him on stage to chitchat about their shared enthusiasms in front of the Cowtown audience, some of whom had even paid for their own tickets.
She’d already had dinner with the social media bloviator and advocate of a U.S. invasion of Canada the night before and, by all accounts, a wonderful time was had by all.
Mr. Carlson was then off to Edmonton for more of the same, this time an evening on stage at Rogers Place where he was supposed to be joined by the Three Stooges of right-wing Canadian journalism, Conrad Black, Jordan Peterson, and Rex Murphy.
Alas, Mr. Murphy couldn’t make it, and suspended lawyer John Carpay, famous for hiring a private dick to follow a judge, had to step in for him.
Ms. Smith, characteristically, cheerfully tweeted a picture of herself with Dr. Peterson, Mr. Carlson and Lord Tubby in which she commented that “free speech means you don’t just have to talk to the mainstream media.”
You can’t make this stuff up. If the National Post, the now moribund rag founded by Mr. Black in 1998 that congenially hosts Moe, Larry and Curly on a regular basis and depends on federal grants to survive, is not mainstream media, God only knows what is.
Let’s not waste time troubling ourselves about what any of them had to say. It’s all far-right drivel and you can read plenty of accurate accounts on social media and in mainstream news right now. There are also video clips.
There will be so much of it in the next few days that you’ll grow weary at the repetition.
Meanwhile, though, people throughout Alberta are deeply concerned, and deserved to hear from their provincial leader, if only briefly, about what happened on Tuesday in Edmonton.
But their premier and the rest of her cabinet had better things to do.
It is another sign, if we needed one, that Ms. Smith is a dangerously unserious politician who doesn’t even understand this simple obligation of leadership.
She should return to broadcasting, or at least social media vlogging like Mr. Carlson in the post-Fox remnant of his career, as quickly as possible.
We would all be happier.