“Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.” That’s the famous line said by Lord Farquaad in the Shrek movie that’s since become a popular meme, and it might as well have been what Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said to her province’s post-secondary institutions last week. In her forever war against Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, Alberta will now vet all research grant funding coming from Ottawa in search of its supposed ideological bias. And you thought Jason Kenney’s war on expertise was self-defeating.

The Smith government’s new Provincial Priorities Act, which she described as a “stay out of my backyard bill,” will effectively erect a massive gate between the federal government and Alberta’s municipalities, universities, school boards, housing agencies and other provincial entities. It’s modelled after Quebec’s Act Respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif and states that any new, amended or renewed agreement between Ottawa and a provincial entity in Alberta must be approved first by the UCP government. For a government that likes to talk about the importance of freedom and the need to reduce red tape, this is laughable hypocrisy.

The entire thing is a bad joke, really. As she told the crowd in Ottawa at last week’s ManningFest (a.k.a. the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference), “We don’t need [Ottawa’s] policy advice on school lunch programs, on pharmacare, on dental care. Just give us the money and trust that we will be able to deliver.” But why would Ottawa trust a government whose recent track record includes blowing $1.3 billion on a glorified election bet and $80 million on off-brand Turkish Tylenol that the province couldn’t even give away in the end?

And when she says that “when we do spending, it doesn’t have an ideological tinge to it,” well, the jokes write themselves. For Smith, the almost biological need to own the federal Libs at every available opportunity clearly supersedes mere trifling concerns like honesty or intellectual consistency.

But her willingness to inflict lasting damage on Alberta’s universities in the process is no laughing matter. The data on federal research grants was already available for review, and the UCP could have simply looked at it to assess whether there’s any nefarious ideological agenda at work. If they had, as University of Alberta PhD student Andrea Dekeseredy did, they’d discover nothing of the sort. “There is simply no factual basis whatsoever to suggest that Tri-Council agencies like SSHRC favour research with a 'liberal' agenda,” she said on social media. “Whatever Danielle Smith is going to impose on post-secondary institutions in the province, it is based on nothing but ideological misinformation.”

Oh, but the unintentional ironies here are just getting started. As University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach noted, “If this were a progressive government testing grants for their DEI bona fides or other characteristics, Smith would be front and centre as a defender of academic freedom. But now, she's mad because there are academics who point out when the evidence doesn't support her positions.”

It’s not just about academics and their research, either. When the CBC’s David Cochrane pointed out that the data on federal research grants was already available, Smith pivoted to a familiar complaint about the supposed anti-conservative bias in the mainstream media. “If we did truly have balance at universities, then we would see that we have just as many conservative commentators as we do liberal commentators… Out of our journalism schools, we’d see just as many conservative-minded journalists graduate as we do progressive-minded journalists graduate. We don’t see that, and so that leaves me to be concerned.”

This is obvious nonsense, not least because Canada’s largest national newspaper company is unapologetically conservative. Postmedia’s papers, especially in Alberta, are staffed almost exclusively by conservative commentators who Smith routinely cites in defence of her government’s policies. But it’s also nonsense because Smith, an avowed and proud libertarian, is arguing for the academic and intellectual equivalent of affirmative action. Are journalism schools now supposed to test their students for partisan orientation and affiliation and ensure they enforce a standard of ideological equality? Once again, it’s hypocrisy and irony all the way down.

It might be tempting to dismiss this as just more chaos and confusion being sown by a government that thrives on it. But for Alberta’s universities, which punch well above their weight at the national level, this is an existential crisis. As University of Calgary political science professor Lisa Young noted on her Substack, “Take away the ability to hold federal research grants, and decades of work building these institutions into nationally and internationally recognized research universities is gone overnight. As are the top researchers.”

Danielle Smith's government has decided to smother every aspect of Ottawa's relationship with her province in red tape and gatekeeping, including the funding of individual post-secondary research grants. And you thought Jason Kenney was bad.

Young suggests that this couldn’t be the government’s actual intention. “Surely her comments were meant to please the party base and rattle the ‘so-called-experts’ in their ‘ivory towers’ but not to signal an actual intention moving forward.”

I think this is unreasonably optimistic, and maybe even a bit naive. Like all populists, Smith resents what higher education represents. Universities tend to produce people who are more evidence-oriented, more educated about their society and less susceptible to things like misinformation, conspiracy theories and other forms of weaponized stupidity. If she continues down this road, she’ll turn Alberta’s first-rate research universities into third-rate intellectual backwaters. Worse, she might see that as a win so long as she can blame Justin Trudeau for it.

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Danielle Smith's draconian plans to monitor and modify the content and direction of research and education in Alberta to mesh with her party's ultra right wing views is beginning to resemble the worst of what we see in the United States and other totalitarian regimes (e.g. Russia).

Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev made a comment way, way back in the 1950s that (to paraphrase) the USSR will not take over the USA by invading it from the outside, but by infiltrating it from the inside.

This is the same fellow who backed down only at the last second from a naval blockade ordered by US president John Kennedy that prevented the Soviet navy from delivering more missiles to Cuba.

WWIII was narrowly averted.

Today there is ample evidence that Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have completely succeeded in infiltrating (and nearly succeeded in taking over) some Western nations through right wing extremist propaganda and by paying prominent mouthpieces to continue sowing chaos and disruption using conspiracies and lies.

The Kremlin-infiltrated MAGA movement takeover of a major American political party and Congress, the interference in several US elections mainly through hacking and propaganda and all of that has spread to Canada and many European countries and strengthened right wing fringe parties who specialize in farming anger and discontent while sometimes praising mass murderer Putin for being "strong."

There is a Kremlin narrative and taint in the UCP and other right wing provincial parties, and in the federal Conservatives. It is no coincidence that their most radical supporters -- looking at the convoy -- get their world view from talking heads reciting RT News and Putin's Western lapdogs like Marjorie Taylor Greene (now nicknamed Moscow Maggie for good reason), Tucker Carlson and their Canadian alternatives.

The Kremlin doesn't need nuclear weapons, except to conduct blackmail on the resistance to its various wars, most notably Ukraine where the threat to use nukes has been issued so many times it has grown thin. Nope. All it needs is to continue composing and perfecting its playbook of propaganda and well targeted narratives and money to cause the fragmentation of democratic societies.

Too many have fallen for it because they are too easily misled.

"Weaponized stupidity" indeed.

Propaganda runs on money. In North America, the amount of money spent by Russia is tiny compared to the amount spent by North American propagandists. The North American quasi-fascist right is home grown, sponsored by American money, particularly oil money but there are quite a few fascist billionaires, such as Peter Thiel, and of course fascist media outlets like Fox News and most US radio stations owned by fascists like Rupert Murdoch, and increasingly there are fascist "think tanks", many of whom used to be just on the neoliberal right but have more recently been taken over by Trumpist Christians, like the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They have an affinity with the Russian right because Russia developed a narrative that the West is the home of wokeness, particularly things like support for gay rights, and since the West has made itself Russia's enemy, Russia should be against whatever they stand for, so Russia is against wokeness. The North American alt-right has basically the same narrative except instead of "the West" or "America", their woke enemy is "the libs". Add in that the Libs clearly DON'T like Putin, and the alt-right are ready to like him. Not very much of that comes from the Russians actively doing things to court or influence the North American alt-right.

The Russians do some propaganda in North America. Probably not as much as the Americans do propaganda in Russia. And in both cases, it doesn't have a major political impact.

Huh? Mike Johnson and the MAGA clique in the House will prove that wrong, hands down. This is the most lax and unproductive House in US history with only a handful of bills passed. MAGA is a Russian-infiltrated entity that uses narratives that are identical to Kremin propaganda. Their goal is to disrupt US politics, not to enrich the corporate agenda.

I highly recommend Bill Browder's book 'Freezing Order' that documents 22 years of Putin's criminality using propaganda and lies and the pursuit of his enemies in the West by using Kremlin puppets in the West.

The traditional GOP was purchased by private money, much of it from oil. MAGA is another fish altogether.

No, it isn't. Sorry, this is a stupid thesis and just one look at the amount of money spent in a modern US election cycle just by the main parties, compared to the amount of money that seems to have been spent by Russia on trying to influence US politics, makes it amazingly clear that the Russia factor is WAY too tiny and stumpy a tail to be making any difference to that dog. We're talking millions versus billions. The Russians wish, maybe, and so do Cold Warriors who think Russia is still Communist, but wishing doesn't make it so.

There is so much dimissive stuff about Russia in your response. I had a long response but it was sent into the ether when I hit the Post button.

The facts are that America and Russia are on a level playing field with respect to funding propaganda and government policy, but Russia is far, far ahead in totalitarian state control, even in religion where orthodox priests are former KGB pals of Putin.

And just because I didn't cite the well known ancient history about pre-Cuba US missiles near the Black Sea isn't a reason to use the word "stupid." Once again, Mr. Polson, I know you are better than that.

I highly recommend the recent documentary on physicist Ted Hall, an alumni of the Manhattan Project who, like Einstein, spun a 180 on nukes after Hiroshima and after becoming aware of a plan by Truman and later Eisenhower, backed by Wall Street industrialists, to drop up to 300 atomic bombs on Russia. Hall then gave Project secrets to Russia, and the US plan ground to a halt when Russia tested its own bomb, based in part on Hall's research.

America and Russia are equal in today's propaganda efforts. Putin & Company stole the equivalent of a trillion+ dollars from the Russian economy, and directs a huge amount of the rest into a massive state-owned media empire where the Kremlin narrative flows on pain of jail time or death for criticism. Opponents are routinely murdered. Navalny was only the latest.

Sure, capatalist elites have goaded many Western entities into wars for economic gain and to build and protect empires. On that topic Russia is also an equal. But I am at a loss to name a single Western democratic nation that has a Murdoch or a Koch equivalent in state control of media, including a supposedly boundless internet, religion, and theft if the national wealth by government officials as Russia.

When it comes to Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly everyone who tells that story ignores the prelude that led to it. The United States had just, over the strenuous objections of the Russians, placed nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey. The ones in Turkey were of course right next to Russia; Russia was upset about them for exactly the same reason the United States would shortly become upset about the ones in Cuba--too damn close for any response before they hit.

So Khrushchever responded by placing missiles in Cuba, so as to have some leverage to get a deal where both would withdraw their missiles and things would be back to status quo deterrence. In the end, that is exactly what happened--Russia withdrew the missiles in Cuba, but the US also withdrew the Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy. They kept that part pretty quiet, though, and to this day most people don't know about it.

And so we end up with narratives that say the Cuban missile crisis was all about evil Russian/Commie escalation and brinksmanship, when in fact it was actually STARTED by American escalation and brinksmanship. This should not be surprising since throughout the Cold War, the United States tended to be more aggressive than the USSR, often looking for ways to break the stalemate (not that the USSR was UNaggressive--two states can both be aggressive, and yet one can be more aggressive than the other).

See above comment.

Control is everything to authoritarian governments and that is the goal of the UCP

First, my last name is Martenet, not Marten.
Second, Ms. PSmith is a not very bright person, elevated way past her abilities, beholden to the oil companies and kept in place by the gerrymandered vote in Alberta which gives less educated rural voters more weight than urban people. She plays on the fears of people who feel events are passing them by and challenging the world they know. She has no respect for knowledge, as she lacks it herself.

I think what's really disturbing about this is the people are the ones who suffer and yet, they stand by her. Other provincial governments are doing the same...just give us the money, and we'll make sure to spend it on healthcare, dental plan, pharmacare, housing, etc. And we know they haven't.
And yet...the likes of Smith & other Conservatives are still getting massive support. I've never understood people who vote against their own best interests just to "own" the other side.

My only complaint, after reading this troubling column, is the phrase about Alberta's universities "punching above their weight".

The suggestion that these are small, but mighty institutions does them a disservice. In particular, the U if A is a large university and one of the best and most respected in the country. uCalgary is no slouch but is (or was when I attended grad school there in the aughts) joined at the hip to oil and gas. (Then, there is/ was the connection to Friends of Science. https://www.desmog.com/friends-of-science/ ). The third that comes to mind is Athabasca U, which Kenney's gov't spent so much meddling with. The fourth is uLethbridge which I don't know much about but may fit the phrase best.

Nonetheless, the petty, parochial, myopic, self-harming and twisted logic of Premier Smith is pretty much WTF.

Danielle Smith's actions seem like authoritarianism cloaked in anti-Ottawa rhetoric. Can her government legally do these actions? When will Albertans say "enough is enough?"
It's all so disturbing-and another distraction from the Climate Crisis.

Speaking of the climate crisis. I read this as Smith saying. "Alberta Universities will never get federal funding for climate research again."

A couple of the authors here are getting federal money for research grants into oil sands disinformation and the Pathways Alliance in that context. This kind of thing makes the UCP nervous and wildly defensive on a couple of fronts, because they have ALSO been getting away with that weaponization of disinformation Max refers to; it's put them in proximity to their ultimate goal of "owning the libs" but that pesky, ubiquitous context of climate change is getting harder and harder to sweep under the rug as yet another "wokism." Current conservatism having become a cult means they stick ever closer together in comfortable, common denial, paying lip service to addressing it with "technology" by 2050 (right), about as useful as praying at this point. They know that time isn't their friend on this, hence the nakedly desperate attempts to call an early election and capitalize on what looks like momentum before another telling summer calls them out.
The other front the cons are juggling fretfully is trying to pretend that THEY aren't the ideologues with the closed minds who are "uncompromising and dogmatic" as per the definition, that WE are, which of course simply isn't true either. Talk about "a pack of lies." And since universities are considered to be the incubators and analysts of "ideas," including the particularly despised Humanities (remember Harper's contemptuous comment about progressives "practising sociology?") but have judged conservative "ideas" to be lesser by unprecedentedly excluding some conservative speakers, it's served to sanction the growing perception that the right wing has indeed "lost its mind." So another truth that hurts.
At this point, on top of the massive cuts, they might as well be hung for sheep as lambs, and stop trying to pretend that anyone can actually "work with" this government. Just go over their heads for help from the feds, who are still collecting arrows for future use, and who dispense this research money, and health care money, and housing money, and child care money, and dental subsidies etc. etc. and have the Supreme Court of the land, all of which Albertans ALSO pay taxes for.
Smith has seriously underestimated how many people are Canadian first, even in Alberta.

Hey! That's the reason Prime Minister Harper fired thousands of federal scientists because they MIGHT discover the bafflegab and green washing our government and Pathways are subjecting us too.

I think your last sentence is particularly true. Every poll conducted around times the sovereignty and separation narratives are flowing from the mouths of today's Alberta leaders clearly indicate that the people will not allow the province to drag them away from their treasured Canadian citizenship.

The biggest problem I have with their separatist talk, which has been going on for over 50 years now, is that the rest of Canada -- especially the East -- does not recognize how much of it is hot air bluster and hubris issued by bullies. Too many mainstream media commentators fall for it and succumb to appeasement. Rinse and repeat over and over.

Federal dollars are FEDERAL dollars and do not belong to the provinces. The feds have every right to dictate how they are spent, and I believe any challenge to that right will not stand up in court.

The same principle exists for federal infrastructure like federal land owned by the DoD, airports and, unfortunately, TMX, which stood up as a federal project unanimously in the highest courts in BC and the nation.

Danielle Smith is naively drawing attention to the defeat of her grab-the-money-and-leave-us-alone stance, mainly that the feds can simply withold all or a portion of it, or establish untouchable federal investment program structures she will have no control over.

For example, Trudeau or his replacement could offer 50% healthcare funding across the board to the provinces, but that will necessitate 50% involvement in management and policy and require a national healthcare bureaucracy to set nation-wide standards.

Take it or leave it, knowing that a province that rejects federal involvement purely on ideological grounds will have to deal with the consequences of filling in the funding void.

It amazes me how often now I will read a legitimate news piece and wonder if it is a pitch for a Monty Pythonish skit or movie. Then 2 realizations surface 1) not funny 2) you really couldn’t make his stuff up. Thanks again Max for my daily dose of WTF.

It's not just universities. This will also hit municipalities, blocking things like money for housing or transit or school lunches.

Perhaps the feds could treat transit much as it did TMX. Own each project outright and it becomes federal infrastructure, which affords excusive federal legal jurisdiction even in the midst of cities controlled by the provinces under certain outdated clauses in the Constitution.

Will Danielle Smith herself stand in front of the construction crews?

I know, not gonna happen. Too daring and expensive. But one day the federal government will have to strengthen its hand to stop the continuing devolution of power to the little feifdoms we call provinces, a process that seems profoundly unconstitutional without defined limits.

This messing with the country is so tacky, stupid, and derivative that it's embarrassing, and gives new meaning to the word "provincial."
But I think Trudeau is a staunch federalist like his father so get the feeling he's doing the same thing with the provinces that he's doing with the oil companies, i.e. giving them enough rope to hang themselves. And meanwhile, working with the reasonable leaders to actually GOVERN. That includes Jagmeet Singh but I could have plowed him today as he prefaced everything that's been done via the agreement by pointing out how they FORCED the government!
It's worth watching Ms. Freeland's presentation on CPAC btw, minus the annoying commentary.

Hasn't Poilieve made the elite and gatekeepers the cause of everything bad, and of course those are always Liberal.
Yet the Smith UcP government is the worst of any and all. Grants to universities for unbiased research, or to our Alberta municipalities or for education, as well as the AER, our health service board, and most everything has to go thru the Premiers office and get the good house keeping seal from unelected politically appointed non civil service ideology brainwashed premiers staff ! If that isn't gatekeepersing combined with paranoia I don't know what is. Not only gatekeepers, Smith herself misinforms blatantly as to how the non biased system actually works pretending all is Liberal or liberal promotion. Ignorance is bliss is sunny Alberta with no solar electricity on the horizon and a hidden coal agenda that at last the courts exposed

The unfortunate and scarey thing about her plan is all her supporters don't consider it misinformation, it is true! The Word of their God no less.
When leaders get this far into ideology vs reality, we r in trouble, as if we didn't know that

The unfortunate and scarey thing about her plan is all her supporters don't consider it misinformation, it is true! The Word of their God no less.
When leaders get this far into ideology vs reality, we r in trouble, as if we didn't know that