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On the eve of an election that will be determined by the votes — and voters — in Calgary, Danielle Smith just made a very big bet. Wearing a Calgary Flames jersey, the Alberta premier and United Conservative Party leader announced $330 million in provincial funding for a new hockey arena, one that’s been the subject of starts and stops for many years. “It’s a big amount of money,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure that it could be debated during the election, and we’d hoped we’d be able to get a mandate from the people of Calgary to go ahead with it.”

In other words: re-elect us or we’ll shoot this arena.

The new funding arrangement, and the province’s participation in it, managed to join fiscal conservatives like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and left-wing advocates like Progress Alberta in a chorus of outrage. If politics makes for strange bedfellows, they don’t get much stranger than this. Ironically, Smith would have been part of that chorus not long ago. When she was the leader of the Wildrose Party back in 2012, she rejected the idea of any provincial funding for the new arena Edmonton was mulling over at the time. “This sort of corporate handout was, after all, antithetical to the rock-ribbed libertarian principles of the Smith-led Wildrose Party,” Rahim Mohamed noted in a National Post column.

But Smith’s principles, such as they are, have been falling by the wayside of late. Her enthusiastic embrace of private health-care delivery has been a defining aspect of both her political advocacy and public commentary, one that was most recently articulated in a 2021 paper published by the University of Calgary. In it, she suggested: “Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves, then we can change the conversation on health care.” For Smith, those changes would include a proposal where “the entire budget for general practitioners should be paid for from Health Spending Accounts.”

She has repeatedly refused to disavow this paper, or the ideas presented in it. But she has also offered up a “public health guarantee” that echoes a similar guarantee made by her predecessor, Jason Kenney. “Under this public health-care guarantee, the UCP is committed to all Albertans that under no circumstances will any Albertan ever have to pay out of pocket for access to their family doctor or to get the medical treatment that they need,” Smith said. You can see why some Albertans might be a little confused here.

Then there’s her first budget as premier, which contained the biggest orgy of spending in Alberta’s history (one that has seen its share of spending orgies). Smith has long been critical of wasteful government spending, whether it was done by the Progressive Conservative government she opposed as Wildrose leader or the NDP government she criticized as a pundit. But when it came time for her to make the choice to spend or save, she couldn’t help but open the spigots as wide as possible — even in the face of a record bonanza of oil and gas revenue. As the Fraser Institute’s Tegan Hill said: “It didn’t have to be this way. The Smith government had choices.”

Its preferred choice should be abundantly clear by now, though. When faced with the option of adhering to its principles or trying to buy votes, the Smith government will always do the latter. Yes, it’s fair — good, even — for a politician to change their mind on an issue, especially if the facts underpinning it have changed as well. We want elected officials who adapt and adjust to reality rather than try to impose their own ideology on it. But we also need elected officials who are willing to explain why they’ve said one thing and are doing another.

So far, we haven’t heard a word of explanation from Smith about why she’s so willing to depart from her core beliefs on things like government spending, corporate welfare and health-care funding when an election is in the offing. Is it that she doesn’t actually believe these things? Or is it just that her beliefs aren’t as important as her proximity to power? One thing is for certain: the Danielle Smith who used to lead the Wildrose would be very, very critical of the Danielle Smith who’s running the province today.

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Old tricks by conservatives, play a fake Santa to attract votes before an election, while hiding the real issues they are not willing to confront with distractions. Don't be fooled Alberta, Danielle Smith doesn't care about you, just her oil & gas buddies.

Just take a look at Doug Ford, all sorts of Santa tricks and then proceeds to screw over Ontarians for the benefit of his corrupt developer donor buddies.

He has made several cuts to government programs and services since taking office in 2018. Some notable cuts include:

1) Cuts to education: In 2019, the Ontario government announced a plan to increase class sizes in high schools and make cuts to teaching positions. The plan was met with criticism from educators, parents, and students.

2) Cuts to healthcare: In 2019, the Ontario government announced a plan to cut funding to public health units and reduce the number of ambulance services across the province.

3) Cuts to social services: In 2019, the Ontario government announced a plan to cut funding to Legal Aid Ontario, which provides legal services to low-income Ontarians. The government also announced cuts to autism services, which sparked protests across the province.

4) Cuts to environmental programs: In 2018, the Ontario government cancelled the province's cap-and-trade program, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The government also cancelled funding for several green energy projects

The 2021 budget cut over $1.6B again from education, 2023, cutting another $21B between now and 2027/2028 with health care.

Like Smith saying health care cuts and privatization, won't result in out-of-pocket expenses. Total BS! Doug Ford said the same thing and now we have fees not covered by OHIP and a number of doctors are now charging extra fees.

Be very careful Alberta, conservatives are snake oil salesman and cannot be trusted.

Despite the well known fact that conservatives are incapable of good faith, rural Alberta voters care only about themselves in the short term so they eat that UCP nonsense right up. It's sad. Luckily for me, I am moving from Alberta back to Canada soon.

Glad to hear of your escape. I tunnelled out in '79 and didn't look back, though it's hard to ignore the cacophony from the West Coast, kinda like having an arrogant bully party animal for a neighbour.

"These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." (Groucho Marx)

"Politicians are weathervanes when they are supposed to be compasses."

Danielle is devoid of principles. Better rethink this critical situation and recast your article...

Calgary is supposedly crucial, and I think she's mis-read the room. I know three very long-term Conservative voters in Calgary, and they're all repulsed by her. One's a former Conservative party activist/volunteer, who is very grim about the almost-nauseating prospect of voting NDP, but he feels that merely sitting out might still hand Smith a win, so he's gritting his teeth. Another person I know can barely stand to vote Conservative, because he's more Libertarian, and he's in the same tortured mood.

I'm sure the pollsters are right, and it's a toss-up, but personally, I've just never seen such anti-conservative sentiment.