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In 1971, after more than three decades in power, Alberta’s Social Credit government was finally defeated. The kooky economic policies and constant red-baiting that defined its time in office — along with the good fortune of governing alongside an oil boom — were replaced by Peter Lougheed’s more pragmatic and market-oriented approach to governing.

Now, in 2023, the spirit of Social Credit is being resurrected by Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party, and it’s already wreaking havoc on the province.

Like the Social Credit governments of Ernest Manning and “Bible” Bill Aberhart, Smith’s UCP depends heavily on rural Alberta for its political base. Case in point: In the 40-plus years of the Progressive Conservative dynasty, along with Jason Kenney’s three-plus years at the helm of his UCP government, they always had the biggest caucus from Calgary and Edmonton — and it was never really close. In the 2023 election, though, Rachel Notley’s NDP won more seats in Calgary and ran the table up in Edmonton. That makes Smith’s UCP the most rural-oriented government in Alberta, by far, since the last one Manning led in 1967.

Like Aberhart and Manning, Smith’s government is backstopped by right-wing religious conservatives. David Parker, the head of “Take Back Alberta” (and a personal friend of the premier), has made it abundantly clear he sees a much larger role for religion and faith in Smith’s government than the ones preceding it. “I grew up in rural Alberta and these are my people,” he told Global News during the recent provincial election. “Are they more Christian and right-wing, by and large … in rural Alberta? Absolutely. But I was seeing them being completely pushed out of society.” Parker’s group has already taken over half of the UCP executive and intends to capture the rest at this fall’s AGM in Calgary.

Smith’s UCP has also been unafraid to do things that would instantly be described as “socialist” if they came from her political rivals. Alberta’s recent moratorium on new wind, solar and geothermal projects has damaged confidence in the renewable energy sector, which was growing more rapidly there than anywhere else in Canada. Dozens of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, along with Alberta’s reputation as a safe place to invest capital. But because Smith’s rural base was apparently uncomfortable with the sight of solar panels and wind turbines in their communities, she put a stop to all of that.

Her decision to nationalize (provincialize?) Dynalife Medical Labs, an Edmonton-based company that took over previously publicly operated testing and lab services just last year, is yet another decision that would surely be characterized as creeping socialism by the far-right journalists and pundits who seem to cheer her every move. Indeed, when the previous NDP government tried to centralize testing services under one publicly owned umbrella, it was characterized by Kenney and his UCP allies at the time as “ideological.” "We're standing by our commitment to cancel the expensive and disruptive superlab project and the ideologically driven plan to nationalize Dynalife," said then-health minister Tyler Shandro in 2019. All told, his government spent more than $35 million tearing down the so-called “superlab” that was already being built.

Smith’s willingness to trade in conspiracy theories invoking the spectre of “Marxism” — whether it’s in reference to UNDRIP or the World Economic Forum — harkens back to Ernest Manning’s obsession with the same, especially when it came to the media. “There are always a goodly number of men in that field who are sympathetic to the socialistic and even communistic philosophy. You even have the same thing, to varying degrees, in the field of education. It isn't by chance that you find these agitations of Marxism and so forth in many of our universities."

But it’s Smith’s plan for the oil and gas industry and its ever-growing environmental reclamation debt that might be the biggest throwback of all. The controversial “RStar” program, which would hand taxpayer money to highly profitable oil and gas companies in order to get them to clean up their old wells, has been on Smith’s mind ever since she lobbied for it as the CEO of Alberta Enterprise Group. It’s in the mandate letter for Energy and Mines Minister Brian Jean, who has been charged with “developing a strategy to effectively incentivize reclamation of inactive legacy oil and natural gas sites and to enable future drilling while respecting the principle of polluter pay.” And while the premier was conspicuously quiet about it during the recent election campaign, expect that silence to end shortly.

Cleaning up these old wells is, of course, something companies are legally obligated to do, even if those obligations are rarely enforced. The irony of suspending permits for wind and solar development on the basis that its own future reclamation liabilities aren’t sufficiently funded, while continuing to push for more oil and gas production, isn’t lost on anyone who’s paying attention. But Smith has made it abundantly clear her first loyalty is to the near-term interests of oil and gas companies, and cutting them a multibillion-dollar cheque seems like a pretty good way to advance them.

Dubious economic decisions? Check. Populist pandering and fear-mongering about global elites? Check. Rural power base? Big-time check. Why Danielle Smith is bringing Social Credit politics back to Alberta, and what it means for its future.

This flurry of questionable decisions has understandably left the province’s business community a bit bewildered. Both the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Alberta Business Council, organizations that should instinctively stand up against anti-free market behaviour, have been conspicuously silent about the renewable energy moratorium and the nationalization of Dynalife. Smith’s behaviour might even confuse some of her Calgary supporters, who thought they were electing a pro-business conservative rather than an anti-market rural populist.

But make no mistake: This is who she is, and she’s just getting started. Expect more pitched battles against reality, whether they involve “Marxist” environmentalists or a federal government that remains determined to do something about climate change. Brace for things like an Alberta pension plan and tax collection agency, ideas that don’t actually make economic sense but speak to the populist desires of her base. And know that as dumb as things might seem today, they can and will get dumber.

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"And know that as dumb as things might seem today, they can and will get dumber."

The story of Alberta politics is the story of "Dumb and Dumber 2023" for the world to watch. Hard to believe anyone could get this dumb and still breath, must have gone to night school to achieve this, maybe the Fraser Institute for the Dumb and Dumber's extended program to get to the bottom of the craft.

Can we talk about how the closer we get to what "true" believers ACTUALLY believe the dumber it's bound to get?
We COULD go on and on here, but herein lies the problem: the seemingly boundless Canadian tolerance for any and all religious belief (a.k.a. "social conservatism" because we can't even call it what it IS) has truly become a "stinking albatross" to quote Peter MacKay in a rare moment of honesty that may well have sunk his campaign. And did he ever end up tying himself in knots trying to mitigate that "raw" comment, which further illustrated the point.
And in that same vein there was the dead accurate comment near the end of the Harper era about "barbaric practices" around honour killings and sharia law, etc. that showed conservatives were at least capable of speaking/blurting the truth occasionally at one point. Same with "Islamophobia;" in the current context of what's STILL going on in Afghanistan except with renewed religious fervor in following Islam's appallingly misogynistic doctrine to the letter that is how being called "gender apartheid," with recent interest in how to charge the brutal Taliban with crimes against humanity.
Read the link Max has about TBA (i.e. "Take Back Alberta" which is derivative AND dumb but has a proven track record among this crowd) that quotes David Parker talking about "pro-humans and anti-humans" when referring to people who accept a woman's right to choose. We HAVE been slightly more civilized about it here but this outrageous sentiment has been percolating among conservatives since the religious Reform Party took them over. Remember all the talk about their "hidden agenda?"
Except even when it's in full view we've assiduously pretended otherwise, so now we have another true believer sailing confidently over the bodily human rights of full-grown adult women to focus righteously, even heroically, on the content of their uteruses, except this time the very Catholic health minister is on his side.
They've all been waiting for such a long time to put things right.

It is absurd that oil and gas companies should have to pay to clean up the environmental mess (e.g. orphan wells, contaminated soil and groundwater) that they created since to do so would cut into their record profits and seriously reduce bonuses to CEOs and shareholders. Instead, money could come from duties applied to any products meant to reduce oil and gas consumption. For example, the addition of extra insulation in attics and walls, energy efficient windows and appliances all represent a conspiracy encouraged by the federal government to undermine Alberta's oil and gas industry. Sale of electric vehicles, such as they are, should be banned and all electric vehicles crossing into Alberta should pay a levy to help support the oil and gas industry.

A startling claim is made by Fawcett here: "But because Smith’s rural base was apparently uncomfortable " that supported by polling? Really? Have they SAID they were more uncomfortable with wind turbines than with the 4.2 million oil wells already drilled into their farms and ranches? Or has Smith just claimed it?

Or is Fawcett just supposing it himself, with that "apparently"?

The other explanation is that the UCP gives no more care for the rural opinions about turbines than they did about the wells they refuse to order cleaned up. That the moratorium is strictly to please oil, not farmers.