Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis by June 3

Goal: $100k

In advance of Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the New Yorker ran one of its signature back-page cartoons poking at the anti-elite fervour that helped propel him to office. “These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us,” says a man standing up from his seat in front of a sea of raised hands. “Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

It’s a picture that says at least a thousand words about the perils and problems with populist leadership, and one that should be particularly resonant — and terrifying — for Albertans right now.

That’s because in conversation with Derek Fildebrandt, a former Wildrose Party MLA and publisher of the latest iteration of the Western Standard, Premier Smith made it clear that when it comes to health care and the pandemic, her government would be listening to the passengers instead of the pilots. "I think that the experts let us down, so I'm not interested in taking any advice from them,” she said.

Those experts, to be clear, are at Alberta Health Services, the government organization, which manages the province’s hospitals and health-care facilities that helped steer the province through the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Smith has already pledged to fire the entire board of directors, replace chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and seems determined to press ahead with even bigger changes in the months to come. “It's going to be a bit bumpy for the next 90 days,” Smith said Thursday in a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. “I know that it's perilous to try to reform an area this big this close to an election, but we must do it.”

There were undoubtedly some mistakes made over that period, as Alberta’s health-care system nearly buckled under the weight of unvaccinated patients and a government that seemed determined to wait as long as possible to implement public health measures. But Smith’s biggest complaint seems to be that AHS doctors and other medical experts didn’t look hard enough at crackpot theories around hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin — failed treatment options she pushed hard as a pundit at the time. “I don’t want to have a scientific committee advising me that isn’t prepared to look at therapeutic options in the middle of the pandemic,” she told Fildebrandt.

The truth is that the scientific committee advising her predecessor, Jason Kenney, looked hard at her preferred treatment options and found them wanting. In an October 2021 analysis of the medical merits of ivermectin, the government’s COVID-19 therapeutics working group concluded that “there continues to be insufficient evidence of benefit.” It also noted that the drug’s manufacturer, Merck, had stated there was “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19” and “no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19.”

This was in the wake of a joint statement released a few weeks earlier by the Alberta College of Pharmacy and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta that stated: “There is no evidence that prescribing and dispensing ivermectin is beneficial but there is certainly significant risk of patient harm when ivermectin is used in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.” But apparently for both then-pundit and now-Premier Smith, the work of those experts pales in comparison to what Dr. Facebook is saying.

It gets worse, though. In her talk with the Western Standard, Smith again brought up one of the conservative movement’s most popular whipping horses: the World Economic Forum. She suggested AHS “signed some kind of partnership with the World Economic Forum right in the middle of the pandemic; we’ve gotta address that. Why in the world do we have anything to do with the World Economic Forum? That’s got to end.”

What she appears to be referring to is an invitation from 2020 for AHS to join the “Global Coalition for Value in Healthcare.” That coalition asks its members: “How can we eliminate the US$3.2 trillion of annual global health spending that makes no or minimal contribution to good health outcomes?” For a government that’s supposed to be interested in finding efficiencies and cutting red tape in the health-care system, this would seem to be an unalloyed good. But for someone who routinely flirts with conspiracy theories like Smith, it’s apparently yet another reason to take a knife to the province’s already wounded health-care system.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has said that when it comes to health care and the pandemic, her government will ignore the experts and instead listen to ordinary people. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #COVID #pandemic #Alberta #abpoli #opinion

This reflexive enmity towards experts, and particularly those working in Alberta’s health-care system, isn’t going to end well for anyone — including Smith. Expertise doesn’t confer immunity against being wrong, just as the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t make you incapable of getting sick. But its presence does dramatically reduce the odds of something catastrophic happening, and that’s something a political leader is supposed to care about.

Remember, Alberta is in a pitched battle for health-care talent with every other jurisdiction in Canada. Does anyone seriously think that doctors and nurses are going to want to come to a province where its leader is openly contemptuous of the expertise they spent years building? And if Alberta can’t attract those doctors and nurses, how is it going to improve health-care service delivery, which Smith states is one of her top priorities? Those are questions that an expert could help her answer — if only she was willing to listen.

Keep reading

The first obligation of healthcare professionals is to their patients. Does Danielle Smith really think those professionals are going to ignore science and evidence, and abandon their patients to Smith’s crackpot ideas? At best, the healthcare professionals will find creative ways to work around foolish and nonsensical ideas. At worst, they will simply leave Alberta and move to jurisdictions that still operate in the real world.

Daniel Smith is a bonafide Q anon crackpot. I don't say this in jest as it is very apparent that she swims in conspiracy theories that are no less absurd than those spouted by Q supporters, Trump and the likes of Marjorie Taylor Green. That she is now the premier of Alberta is just the cherry on top of the crazy cake. She is going to go down in flames before the next election or Alberta will.

If she means what she says, Ms. Smith should promise to never again go to a doctor, but rather trust fellow patients to diagnose and treat any maladies she might have.

Careful. Smith may feel obliged to don the white coat and administer her own medicine to patients. That would be after she promotes the pillow guy or Bugs Bunny as Chief Health Officer of Alberta.

For all those Canadians who think that what is happening in the United States can't happen here, one of those conspiracy theorists is now the Premier of Alberta. Doug Ford ignored the anti-democratic truckers headed to Ottawa for fear of angering his base. And Pierre Poilievre will be polishing his image to make him more palatable to the swing voters he needs to become Prime Minister.

It's real, it's here, and it's happening now.

We should probably stop separating these idiots from their "base" that they're supposedly "throwing meat to" all the time and start acting like the two are indistinguishable from each other because for all intents and purposes, they ARE.
It's the same with religion; people think oh, they don't REALLY believe that, how COULD they? The lake of fire incident comes to mind. Well, isn't that what being a "believer" means, that you "have faith" so truly believe such religious insanity? Under any other circumstances such outrageous delusion would be considered mental illness, but our refusal to call a spade a spade enables them to continue and win governance over the rest of us!
The parallel with conservatism is apt because it has become more and more indistinguishable from any other cult, which is what all religions ARE.

There is one thing I will say about some of the right wing cranks: They have the courage of their convictions. They are totally dead wrong about almost everything, and they are willing to ram through their insanely stupid policies no matter what anyone says about how insanely stupid the policies are. They just follow their basic intuition that if they hate sensible people, then something good is bound to happen if they do enough things that sensible people hate.

Consider by contrast the NDP. Their claimed policies are mostly pretty good, and indeed the average NDP politician knows perfectly well that the more left wing of his party is pushing better policy than the centrist wing. But when they get into power, and various vested interests tell them all the oh-so-sensible-sounding reasons why you must never do the right thing (mixed with a few threats), for the most part they wimp out and stop rocking the boat. If the NDP could get a spine transplant from the loony right, something useful might get done.

Admirable pith: Danielle Smith will be bad for everybody in Alberta—including herself.

We know Smith has an agenda with which it does look like she’s going to doom the party she just became leader of. So far, she doubles down on hot-button issues she well knows are very divisive. Another odd thing: she has a scant seven months before the next scheduled election next May (2024) to get a most ambitious agenda done, including no less than a challenge to Canadian federalism that will almost certainly wind up in the SCoC—a lengthy process that would take much longer than the seven months left in her processor’s mandate, factoring in the time it will take to draft the so-far notional “Alberta Sovereignty Act,” to table it in the legislature and put it through committees and readings, and then time for so-far only speculated ways to trigger implementation of the Act—some provocative issue which doubtlessly is already planned and waiting (I bet it’ll have something to do with ignoring federal firearms regulations—Kenney already created a special commission to challenge existing federal gun laws—but that’s just my guess).

It’s as if that’s all Smith intends to do: set the anti-federation ball a-rolling before her extraordinarily achieved premiership gets terminated by Alberta voters. Polls already indicate that if an election were held today the NDP (the immediately preceding government) would win. With just over half a year remaining in the term, those polls would normally be responded to with a mix of pacifism and a few positively popular policies, or ‘steady-as-she-goes,’—especially when a party’s under new management, a caretaker of a previous leader’s mandate, to boot. Yet Smith’s agenda appears destined to increase the NDP’s margin of popularity (former-Premier Rachel Notley has been observing Napoleon’s quip never to prevent the enemy from screwing itself up, but rest assured the NDP has a more formidable campaign planned). And Smith actually knows all this: it’s ‘damn the torpedos—full steam ahead!’ anyhow.

This Kamikaze-like feature of Smith’s careening political career is her most consistent one. Back in 1998 she got elected to the Calgary school board and although she wasn’t the only reason the province had to pull the pin on the entire board and assume its duties, Smith was a notable contributor to its terminal dysfunction. After some writing stints expressing right-wing views, she succeeded in getting elected to lead the Wildrose party but, as leader without a seat yet, failed to instil enough discipline that might have prevented a bigoted bozo eruption from spoiling the 2012 election campaign which, until a candidate’s offensive remark, Wildrose was predicted to win. If former ProgCon leader Jim Prentice were alive today, he’d admit that accepting Smith and half her Wildrose caucus into the governing PC caucus was his biggest political mistake: shortly after this unprecedented floor-crossing (not only in the number of MLAs, but including their party leader as well), Prentice called an early election which wound the 43 year-old governing party up on the losing end of an upset NDP win. One boggles merely counting the number of firsts in this whole episode.

In any case, it was the end of the PC party which, demoralized, elected former-HarperCon Jason Kenney as its very last leader: Kenney immediately negotiated a merger with the rump Wildrose party, then led by Smith’s replacement, Brian Jean, another former-HarperCon MP, now former-Wildrose leader. Jean lost the leadership race for the new UCP to Kenney, and soon quit politics. But as Kenney’s popularity spiralled from north of 60% to about 20%, Jean returned to capture a by-election seat for the UCP on an unusual platform to overthrow premier Kenney. And Jean was a major force in doing just that. The twice-former-UCP MLA subsequently ran for the vacated UCP leadership but lost to Danielle Smith, the former-Wildrose leader and former-PC MLA who had dropped into the race from talk-radio-land. Even in caption, these events read like a soap opera: ‘As the Stomach Turns.’

Smith lost her own seat in the PC’s 2015 terminal route, and failed to win the UCP nomination for the 2019 election which it easily won. Thus, Smith’s only general election success was being elected to her Wildrose opposition seat in 2012. That singular success still stands if her recent elevation to Alberta premier is discounted as any kind of electoral success at all: it took six ballots for her to garner barely 2% more party approval than the 51% which got her predecessor ousted, all UCP members comprising a mere 3.5% of the electorate, or about 1% of all Albertans. She is a one-percenter but she’s 100% sure of herself for reasons one has to wonder at.

Smith’s pronouncements have been bold, to say the least. Her incendiary remarks at the party AGM were given warm applause, but only perfunctorily from a party which is so ideologically riven that it’s members have been described as “walking on eggs.” It’s odd that her remarks didn’t seem to acknowledge this critically existential fact—or it would be if she was a normal leader of a governing party so low in the polls with not much room or time to manoeuvre before the next election. Another thing she doesn’t seem to worry about is the electorate’s familiarity with her, unlike many a new party leader might—that is, she is pre-packaged notorious if not infamous. But that near-half of the UCP membership which didn’t support her leadership must surely be worried exactly about that familiarity and the contempt it ought to have bred over the years. Indeed, Smith was arguably instrumental in destroying two parties of the right so the fear that she’s on her way to carving a third notch in her gun belt cannot easily be assuaged. With virtually equal heft as Smith’s supporting faction, one would normally expect the Kenney faction (it seems incredible to call it ‘moderate’ except in comparison with its counterpart—and Kenney did call her and her supporters “lunatics,” after all) to temper Smith’s enthusiasm for controversy for the sake of the whole. But neither is the leader and her path to power, nor a party so divided, nor such wild circumstances anything remotely like normal. And this abnormality presents Smith with precisely the opportunity upon which she thrives: division.

Not only is that abnormal for a party leader, but extra for a premier who’s presumed to govern for all citizens, regardless their partisanship. Smith has already announced her plan to purge the non-partisan public apparatus of NDP appointees and recently made noises about expecting fealty from municipal governments, a highly loaded notion since the biggest cities in the province have elected centre or centre-left mayors and councils, the provincial NDP has made inroads into the three biggest metropolitan areas, particularly Edmonton, a longtime NDP stronghold and, indeed also the lone bastion of federal MPs not of the conservative persuasion. Smith even went so far as to dismiss the necessity of winning any urban seats at all, underscoring her appeal to rural voters and sparsely-populated ridings which are over-represented in comparison with more populous urban ridings. She allowed at least a bit of contrition in this respect—presumably at the behest of urban UCP MLAs, but the fact that she walked it back does not necessarily indicate a new attitude about divisiveness in Danielle Smith.

Smith’s comments during the worst of the Covid pandemic and her pointedly repeated dismissal of expert medical advise—said over and again that she’s simply “not interested” in whatever they might have to say about epidemiological science—has instead seized upon the near-terminal party division over Covid protocols. Now she speaks almost exclusively to the extremist faction—the anti-vaxxers, Freedumb Convoy sympathizers, and Western separatists —as if it alone can win a UCP sophomore re-election, which of course it cannot. Normally Smith could count on the moderate faction to hold its nose and support the counter-faction because neither side can win by itself, but surely many of her MLAs are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the prospect of losing their seats because of her radical policies, and I dare say some of them might be in the extremist faction Smith hooked her wagon to.

Of course Smith’s rhetoric might simply be honeymoon horniness that will temper as time and pressure get along. But there are two things that could go viral on her in any case: virulent anti-vaxxerism and the virus Covid itself. The pandemic isn’t over, but just as citizens are being called upon to get fourth and fifth vaccinations (not to mention flu shots since influenza has reappeared as a kind of ‘canary in the coal mine’—flu spreading exactly the same way as Covid), masks and other protocols are bing actively discouraged by the UCP government just as epidemiologically typical factors of cool-weather indoor gatherings and super-spreader events like family feasts and holiday parties send infection rates soaring. Again. And, not to sound too negative, there’s always the possibility that a new, more deadly variant will arise.

Smith’s escalated attack on hospitals ( a boneheaded policy initiated by her predecessor) and, ultimately, medical staff, any school kid could determine is a disaster in waiting. And then where does Danielle run to? It’ll be a case of ‘darned if you do and darned if you don’t’ because the maverick faction which elevated her is, by its own reckoning, owed twice: first for crowning her leader, but also for forgiving that so-damnable 2014 floor-crossing, a debt that even the most evangelistic interpreter of the Biblical ‘seven years’ would be stretched to forgive. Kenney, in contrast, might have got caught in the middle of Covid, but otherwise committed no such sin as Danielle did. Recall that Alberta’s partisan right has been known to get in a mood to punish whomever they feel betrayed by—last time by electing the NDP instead of the veteran ProgCon government, a poignant slap to the PC’s face. Already forgiven (evidently) once, Smith cannot dare betray her supporters again by compromising on anti-vaxxer/Freedumbite demands without expecting a twice-burned reaction. We’ll have to wait see how her government addresses Covid as it progresses through its typical seasonal phases, but if she appears to spurn her supporters in the face of a sudden Covid spike, it’ll only underscore the theory that she’s not in it for the party’s sake but, rather, for some other objective.

The “Alberta Sovereignty Act” is hard to miss: the most audacious, drastic measure any federated province can possibly do. And it’s hard not to suspect Smith’s obsession with it, what with the little time her increasingly unpopular party has remaining in its mandate. Democratic consequence has never been a part of her calculus and, given the notion of secession, Wexit, Buffalo, or Maverick-style, is very unpopular among Albertans, and the Act itself quite nearly so, it would appear Smith is preparing to get it done while she can in the time remaining, even at the expense of the party’s prospects for re-election, if necessary—or, maybe, even of official party status: even big, successful parties of the right have vanished completely before in Alberta, and scattered remnants have gathered up their marbles into parties too small to be awarded official party status —that is, if they’re not too small to get elected in the first place. Then another round of “unite the right” ensues.

Some have raised the possibility that Smith might repeal the fixed-term statute in order to extend the term she inherited. The reason, we might suppose, would be to buy time in order to get that Sovereignty Act on the road and into gear. If that were the case, it would only underscore the suspicion that she is a Kamikaze saboteur since approaching five years (the constitutional limit) instead of the current four (the statutory limit) would only subtract from whatever popularity the UCP has left by resorting to that traditionally very unpopular tactic. That is, if she does it for the sake of the controversial and suspect Act, she’d be doing it knowing full well a UCP defeat is assured. As if everything she’s done so far isn’t evidence enough.

And then another round of “unite the right.”

But uniting is plainly not what Danielle Smith is all about. At this point I don’t even think winning the next election is what Danielle Smith is all about. It sure don’t look like it, anyhow.

Dear BC Premier-elect David Eby,

Please look seriously at offering a great bailout package to the healthcare professionals of Alberta to help repair our own pandemic-damaged system. Their government now has a death wish to impose on the people based solely on ideology. In essence, their best and brightest in the healthcare field should be offered an open door to escape the steep decline in sanity at the highest echelons of their provincial leadership.

Thank you.

A BC resident and user of the healthcare system.

Complete illogic from wingnuts like Danielle Smith: don't trust experts, but trust ignorant and arrogant mouthpieces like her, because she feels like her distrust of expertise is a reasonable substitute for science. In fact, the more subjects she is completely ill-informed about, the more we should all substitute her opinions for demonstrated evidence and fact. Thus, being devoid of any knowledge or training on such a wide sphere of subjects, is she not then the biggest expert, with an opinion on everything? And why should we trust her as the big-mouth expert on everything, if we're in the business of distrusting experts? Clearly, if her ignorance and arrogance places her at the pinnacle of guesstimated knowledge, she is the top expert, and thus should be roundly ignored and preferably, locked out of the room. Some hand that woman a mirror, that she can spend her time yelling into.

What has it come to that people take pride in voting for ignorant loud-mouthed sociopaths, whose only claim to fame is lack of the good sense to have some shame and shut up?

I think "crashing" the health care system is the entire point. It's exactly like what every far-right government does when they get into power. The point is to dismantle the public assets and anything else that elevates us beyond the level of serf or slave. In the case of healthcare, the idea is to crash the public system so that people will be open to a US style private system. Large employers will like this because they will provide the insurance for this system (minus a co-pay of course), and workers will be more beholden to their employer than ever before. In Ontario, we're doing the same thing, but Ford is smarter than Smith - he's doing it more slowly, but guaranteeing no more nurses enter the system with wage caps that mean the public system can't pay market rates.