The election of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance has brought an old word back into popular conversation: libertarian.
She has been described by detractors (most of whom probably haven’t talked to her very much, and probably aren’t all that strong on definitions, either) as everything from right-wing zealot to raving socialist. For her part, Smith says she’s comfortable as a libertarian.
What’s that mean? In general terms, it means Smith believes every person ought to be in charge of their own lives, ought to be free to make their own decisions — and be free to live with the consequences.
A libertarian doesn’t like being taxed to support other people’s choices. That echoes in her oft-quoted remark that she supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion, but that she doesn’t want to be taxed to provide it free to women who use abortion as a form of birth control.
Because you can’t separate politics from money, that means people can have all the choices they can personally afford.
It’s far too early (and far too simplistic) to paint the Wildrose Alliance in the colours of this one brief definition of someone who is really only one member among thousands.
Who can say? When the rubber meets the road, maybe Danielle Smith’s brand of libertarianism could become “doing the most good for the largest number of people, while we try to build a more free society.”
Who would disagree with that? Maybe she might. She hasn’t yet been put into that hard place between doing what people say will work and doing strictly what her personal views suggest.
Smith comes across in conversation as someone you’d like to have a conversation with. She is engaging, laughing easily in what could have been her 200th interview in the last two days. She understands a personal obligation to return a call for an interview, even though someone else made it for her, and she has plenty other things on her plate right now.
But her talk is not idle. In Alberta’s overheated kitchen of health care reform, she’s not afraid to say hospitals should be making the decisions for what happens inside them, not a central bureaucrat. Oh, and that hospitals should be free to be competitive.
Competitive for what, one might ask? There is no shortage of patients.
The province is the regulator, purchaser and provider of health care. It’s a public monopoly and, in her view, vertically-integrated public monopolies don’t work.
“Hospitals don’t need to be private, but they do need to be more responsive to patients,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.
Take from that what you wish, but Alberta has a new political leader driven by ideology as much as the practical desire to be put in charge.
Alberta hasn’t seen an ideologue political leader with even a sniff of a chance of power since the days of Ernest Manning.
In the living memory of almost all of us, Alberta has been governed by practical politicians who read the public mood and then did what they felt was needed to stay in office.
We certainly can’t say that about Danielle Smith, but she’s quick to remind the interviewer she’s not in charge of party ideology.
For 10 bucks, you could be. That’s the price of a party membership and Smith said more than once in our brief talk that the party as a whole will thrash through the issues that will formulate their platform.
That should be interesting. An ideologue thinks about things like “how much does freedom oblige us to care for people who have abused their freedom and the freedom of others?”
It was a short interview; we never got there. But I’ve never had the sense I could go there with a political leader before, either.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.