I was recently taken aback by an Advocate editorial wherein John Stewart raked Danielle Smith over the proverbial coals for comments she made about the premier.
“I think Ms. Redford doesn’t like Alberta all that much,” Smith said. “She doesn’t like who we are. She doesn’t like our character. She wants to change it.”
Stewart opined that Smith’s comments (his words were “rant” and “diatribe”) at a news conference on day three of the campaign were “offensive and more than a little disturbing.”
“She’s decided to draw a line in the sand,” said Stewart, “suggesting that anyone who doesn’t think the way that she does is not truly an Albertan.”
Does anyone really believe this is what Smith meant to imply? What she genuinely believes? It’s preposterous.
Are we honestly that afraid of the right-winged boogey-man?
I’m not sure this response is even warranted, since there are so many substantive issues to address in this election, but Stewart’s depiction of Smith (and by association her party) are so over-the-top reactionary as to demand fair context and balance.
Admittedly, Smith’s comments were badly-worded and unnecessarily personal; taken out of context, they do seem harsh and mean-spirited. So here’s some context:
Firstly, Smith was responding to comments earlier made by Redford.
“I think it’s about the future,” said Redford, “understanding that we’re a different community, that we’re a different society, that we have the opportunity to make some really wise and long-term decisions that will change the character of our province.”
The substance of Redford’s words echo what many political commentators have repeated since she assumed office: that the influx of people moving to Alberta for work over the past couple of decades has changed the cultural and political climate of our province.
We are collectively now less conservative is the theory advanced — more amenable to leftward shifts in “the character of our province.”
As an electorate, we are left to surmise what sorts of character changes Redford envisions for our future, but one thing is clear: it’s headed left on the political spectrum.
And this is precisely the distinction Smith was trying to make.
“Ms. Redford — who has only ever worked in government or for government, and spent many, many, many years working outside of Alberta — has a great deal of faith in what big government schemes can do,” said Smith later in the same news conference. “I don’t believe we need to have a pan-Canadian multi-jurisdictional government-led program on anything.”
“She is a big government liberal,” continued Smith. “I’m a small government conservative. That’s really what it comes down to.”
When Smith says that Redford doesn’t really like the character of our province — that she wants to change it — Smith is, in fact, playing off the premier’s own words and stated aspirations.
Should Smith have been more diplomatic in her discourse? Less personal? Absolutely, but I would call it a minor misstep in an otherwise civil campaign thus far.
Essentially, Smith is saying that many Albertans like the conservative nature of our collective character, and aren’t comfortable with left-leaning change.
Secondly, Stewart not only jumps, but flat-out free-falls, to all manner of puzzling conclusions respecting the concept of change in his aforementioned editorial.
“If you believe that change in Alberta is good and necessary,” said Stewart, “if you believe that evolution is part of the political and social process, then you apparently don’t belong in Smith’s Alberta. She may not even like you very much.”
What? I feel like I just stepped into the twilight zone or something.
Not only does Smith believe that change is good and necessary, but her entire campaign hinges upon it.
Every page of the Wildrose playbook speaks of changing the politics of complacency and entitlement, of inertia and bureaucracy, of promises broken and resources squandered by the embattled PC dynasty.
No one speaks louder for change than Danielle Smith.
Finally, Stewart ended his piece with an abstruse reference to polling numbers: “The latest polls show that Smith and the Wildrose party have between 34 and 41 per cent of the popular support,” said Stewart. “If those numbers are anywhere near accurate, that still means that the overwhelming majority of Albertans aren’t interested in a stand-pat Alberta.”
Again, here’s the context: based on Forum Research’s latest poll, if the election were held today, the Wildrose would form a majority government with 58 seats, and the PCs a distant second with 22.
Another poll (ElectionAlmanac.com) projects as follows: Wildrose — majority with 50 seats (39.6 per cent of popular vote) and PCs — 27 seats (30.3 per cent of popular vote), at time of writing.
Evidently, enough Albertans are interested in Danielle Smith and her message of meaningful change that they just may hand Redford and her Tories an historic pass directly to opposition. The race is clearly on.
Vesna Higham is a local lawyer, former Red Deer city councillor and a freelance columnist.