Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: Searching for truth before trust

There were still a lot of unanswered questions after the Alberta provincial leader’s debate Thursday

An ethics breach.

A scandal of “lake of fire” proportions. (Lake of Fire was a scandal ahead of the 2012 election, when Danielle Smith, then leader of the Wildrose Party, looked like it had an election win in the bag, before damning comments an Edmonton candidate made about gay people. Smith refused to condemn the comments and the election swung back in favour of the Progressive Conservatives.)

Yet, Smith, now UCP leader, seems to have parried the blows and avoided drowning in the swamp of controversy.

Many are calling Smith’s performance in the debate Thursday with NDP leader Rachel Notley “a win.” Most of those are simply because she didn’t shout any crazy conspiracy theories and make any grand proclamations that she won’t be able to back up.

Smith is a great debater, there’s no challenging that. You could tell she was in her element. As a former media professional and long-time politician, she revels in the opportunity to go head-to-head in that arena. Smith had plenty of facts and figures about Notley’s record while she was premier and undercut her at every turn. When she wasn’t doing that, she pointed to the UCP’s record over the last four years and in her time as premier and proclaimed success.

“I am running on my record and Ms. Notley is running away from hers,” Smith said near the end of the debate.

It’s simple, clear and concise arguments like this that stick in the mind of voters. It’s not facts and figures. It doesn’t matter to Smith that’s a fabrication – she runs away from her record all the time. She’s constantly running from things she’s said on the record. It matters what people believe. It’s a matter of perception.

Unfortunately in politics, noise and heat are what’s rewarded, not reason, substance and accomplishment.

This was the bar and the place we’re at in this province and she tip-toed her way over it, as she’s seemed to do time and time again during her leadership run and again as premier.

Notley did as well as she could, bringing up Smith’s propensity to say something in her past, yet deny she’s interested in doing the same now that she’s in government. I’m just not sure how much that will really matter to voters who support Smith or the UCP.

Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary Lisa Young called Smith the “Teflon Premier” earlier this month and there is perhaps not a more apt analogy, considering the news of this week.

After denouncing UCP Lacombe-Ponoka hopeful Jennifer Johnson for her vile, hateful comments towards transgender children, Smith somewhat walked those comments back post-debate. Smith originally said Johnson wouldn’t be allowed to represent the UCP if she wins, before saying Friday she believes in redemption and second chances.

Here’s the thing, Smith knows this election will be close and if Johnson wins Lacombe-Ponoka and that seat is the difference between winning and losing for the UCP, Johnson is going to represent the party. We will get some speech about a magical 10-day transformation where Johnson has seen the light after her comments surfaced and she didn’t even apologize until what seemed like overwhelming public pressure.

But you see, that’s the world this version of the UCP lives in.

The premier, in the face of an ethics breach, in which she has called on other elected officials to resign when faced with similar conclusions, has instead blamed the media and claimed she had been exonerated by the commissioner. She completely ignored most of the conclusions in the report and zeroed in on that small portion of it.

That’s about the most cherry-picked conclusion in the history of cherries.

Sure, the Ethics Commissioner said there was no evidence that Smith or her office talked directly to prosecutors. However, that was not the only or main conclusion of the report.

Just read the words of Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler in her report Thursday related to the call with Artur Pawlowski and her conversations with then Justice Minister Tyler Shandro.

“In the whole scheme of things, it is a threat to democracy to interfere with the administration of justice,” Ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler said in her report.

“It is the first step toward the type of judicial system often found in a non-democratic or pseudo-democratic country where members of and friends of those in power are shielded from prosecution or are acquitted by the courts on the instructions of those in power.”

It was ruled that Smith contravened the Conflicts of Interest Act, and she may still face consequences when the legislature resumes. Yet, here we are.

There isn’t a lot of polling data yet on how this report will impact voters, but I just can’t believe it will.

Smith spoke so passionately in her closing remarks, but it’s just as easy to wonder if you really believe it.

“My commitment is to serve you with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times,” she said. “I will carefully listen to you and my UCP caucus, whatever I may have said and thought in the past on talk radio, Albertans are my bosses now and my oath is to serve you.”

Notley took a similar tone, the “who do you trust” angle.

“Every day is a new drama, you just don’t need to put up with this. Enough is enough. My offer to you is stable, predictable thoughtful leadership,” Notley said.

“You may not always agree with me, and I may not have always gotten it right. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. If I am premier again, I will work daily to earn your trust and focus on your priorities.”

We should live in a society where lies have consequences. We should live in a society where objective truth is valued. It seems like over the last few years, we’ve lost our path and strayed from that objective.

In a podcast earlier this week, conservative James Moore said, “We are wired biologically through our Darwinian impulse to look for risk on the horizon and we need to be informed by truth.

“I think in time, the avenues for people to believe in something that is genuinely true and objectively true, will present itself.”

Albertans will find out how true that actually is on May 29.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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