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Alberta

Redemption: Danielle Smith aims to be ‘force of unity’ as new Alberta premier

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By Dean Bennett in Calgary

The political story of Danielle Smith is one of triumph then defeat, followed by betrayal, banishment and, now, redemption.

Smith, a 51-year-old Alberta-born journalist and restaurant owner won the leadership of the United Conservative Party on Thursday to become its new leader and the next premier of Alberta.

It’s a stunning comeback for Smith, who eight years ago was a reviled outcast in the conservative movement after she engineered a floor crossing for the ages.

“(It’s) unfinished business for me,” Smith said in an interview earlier this week when asked why she decided to re-enter politics.

“After everything I’ve done in the past to divide the movement, then try to bring it together the wrong way, I feel like I owe it to the conservative movement to do what I can to be a force of unity.”

Smith was born in Calgary and got into politics in junior high school, after she told her dad that her teacher was lauding the virtues of communism. Her father had roots in Ukraine, where millions died under Josef Stalin, and gave the teacher an earful. He then ensured politics was discussed around the dinner table.

Smith attended the University of Calgary and found herself entranced by soapbox lectures of conservatives like Ezra Levant and Rob Anders.

She joined the campus Progressive Conservative club and soaked in teachings of the “Calgary School” of economists and political scientists advocating for free markets and small government.

She devoured the works of John Locke and Ayn Rand and got tongue-tied when she met her idol, former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She took leadership courses and attended Toastmasters meetings to hone her debating skills and smooth out a public speaking style now considered to be her strongest political attribute.

In 1998, at 27, she won was elected a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education.

It was a short, rocky ride. Smith clashed with the liberal majority on the board and the panel was so fraught with acrimony and dysfunction that the province fired them within a year.

She then moved to media and business advocacy. She wrote newspaper editorials, hosted the current affairs TV show “Global Sunday” and was the Alberta boss for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

By 2009, politics was calling again. A rift was widening in Alberta’s conservative movement.

The Wildrose Alliance, later the Wildrose Party, was hiving off members and money from the governing Progressive Conservatives, under then premier Ed Stelmach.

The PCs, they said, had forgotten their roots, delivered top-down decisions and indulged in profligate spending that delivered multibillion-dollar deficits as oil and gas prices hit the skids.

Smith agreed change was needed and won the Wildrose leadership, telling cheering supporters in her maiden speech: “Ed Stelmach, you haven’t begun to imagine what’s going to hit you!”

The Wildrose grew under Smith and poached floor crossers from the PCs, who in turn kicked Stelmach to the curb and installed Alison Redford as premier.

In the 2012 election, Smith and the Wildrose appeared primed to end the PC dynasty.

But there were late-stage mistakes. Smith questioned the science of climate change and refused to sanction two candidates for past remarks deemed homophobic and racist.

When the votes were counted, Smith and the Wildrose lost to the PCs but captured 17 seats to become the Opposition.

Smith began trying to rebuild the party brand and reached out to marginalized groups.

The Tories, meanwhile, continued their descent into infighting and disarray. Redford quit in 2014 amid scandal and was replaced by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice.

As Prentice took over, the Wildrose began to fray. The party lost four byelections to the PCs, then Wildrose rank-and-file voted to roll back a policy to respect all Albertans regardless of differences, such as sexual orientation.

Some of Smith’s caucus began bolting to Prentice and eventually Smith agreed: if the goal was to keep the conservative movement strong and Prentice would give them what they wanted, let’s roll.

A week before Christmas, Smith led eight more members across the floor, leaving five shell-shocked Wildrosers and staffers getting pink slips for the holidays.

“Tighty Righties” was one cheeky tabloid headline at the time that appeared beneath a photo of a beaming Prentice and Smith.

The fallout was swift and merciless. Smith and the other crossers either didn’t win their PC nominations or their seats in the 2015 election.

The Wildrose rebounded under new leader Brian Jean to retain Opposition status. Jean called Smith a “betrayer of family.”

Rachel Notley and her NDP won government for the first time ever, taking advantage of vote splitting between the Wildrose and PCs in key Calgary constituencies.

Smith began a six-year stint as a daily current affairs radio talk show host in Calgary.

“It was not easy deciding to stay in the public eye after what I’d done and the visceral reaction people had,” said Smith.

“It was unpleasant the first three months I was on the air — the texts and the emails that came in and the people who were so furious at me.”

It was three years before she began attending conservative meetings again, after a friend told her: “you can’t keep hiding.”

“I had dear friends from my Wildrose days that I’d go in for the hug and they’d give me the hand, or they’d walk away,” Smith recalled of the first few events.

“It was a seven-year process of trying to get people to forgive me. Not everyone has, but a lot of people have.”

Smith said she never discounted running again for premier, but figured Jason Kenney had a long-term lock on the job after he united the PCs and Wildrose in 2017 to form the new United Conservative Party.

Kenney won the UCP leadership, then made Notley’s NDP a one-and-done government in 2019.

When Kenney quit over caucus and party discontent in May, Smith said she decided to run by courting the UCP base — rural members frustrated with Ottawa, mainly over health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was an agent of chaos and confrontation, promising to pass a law allowing Alberta to ignore federal laws deemed offside with its constitutional prerogatives. She pledged no more health restrictions or COVID-19 lockdowns and promised to fire health board members en masse.

As premier, she must now pivot to make the UCP palatable to the broader population, quell a divided, angry caucus and answer the question of whether politician Danielle Smith 3.0 can break her pattern of splashy political entrances and even crazier exits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

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Alberta

Premier Danielle Smith sent this letter to PM Justin Trudeau today

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An alternative to Just Transition: Premier Smith

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith invites Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to work with her to develop “Sustainable Jobs” legislation as an alternative to the proposed “Just Transition” legislation.

Dear Prime Minister:

I am writing to once again raise Alberta’s serious concerns with the proposed federal ‘Just Transition’ legislation. The world needs more Canadian energy, not less. It would be premature and ill-advised to signal the end of a vibrant, thriving industry that has the ability to reduce Canada’s and the world’s emissions through technological innovation and increased exports of LNG and other clean burning fuels the world so desperately needs. It is also critical to the security of our nation and allies to lessen dependence on fuel sources from unstable, undemocratic and dangerous countries with atrocious environmental records.

Simply put, the world needs more Canadian energy and technology, not less, and as the owner of the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves and the most advanced environmental technology on the planet – we need to signal our intention to provide substantially more of both.

According to your government’s own predictions, the federal Just Transition initiative alone will risk a full 25 percent of Alberta’s economy and 187,000 jobs in Alberta, while also causing major disruptions and displacement to 13.5 percent of Canada’s workforce. At a time when Canadians are struggling to afford basic services and goods, Canada’s oil and gas sector offers some of the highest wages in Canada, which translates to strong business and community support across the country. Signalling a move away from these types of high paying jobs, threatens the national economy, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers across the country at a time when good jobs are needed the most. It also creates a chilling effect on investors considering large scale investments in the Alberta and Canadian energy sector.

Prime Minister, we are at a crossroads in Alberta’s relationship with the Federal Government. We can continue with the endless court challenges, legislation to protect jurisdictional rights and inflammatory media coverage over our disagreements, or, as is my strong preference, Alberta and Ottawa can work in partnership on a plan that will signal to all Canadians and investors from around the world that our governments have cooperatively designed a series of incentives and initiatives intended to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Substantially decreasing Canada’s and Alberta’s net emissions;
  1. Accelerating private and public investment in projects and infrastructure that utilize and develop Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), Bitumen Beyond Combustion, Geothermal technology, petrochemicals, hydrogen, lithium, helium, zero-emissions vehicles and nuclear technologies;
  1. Attracting and growing a larger skilled workforce to fill positions in both the conventional energy sector as well as emerging industries using the technologies cited above; and
  1. Significantly, and through the lens of global emissions reduction, increasing the export of LNG and other responsibly developed conventional oil and natural gas resources to Europe, Asia and the United States.

Prime Minister, all of the above objectives need to be clearly articulated and integrated into any Federal legislation or policies your government seeks to implement in the coming months, or that legislation will face irrepressible opposition from Alberta. I genuinely do not want to see that happen.

Further, this proposed legislation must be developed through cooperative discussions with affected provinces – namely Alberta. I would therefore invite you to meet with me in February on this matter, after which I would propose we have our appropriate ministers and officials meet repeatedly in the coming months with the goal of coming to a joint agreement on the key items to be included in your contemplated legislation so that it can be introduced and passed by the end of Spring.

Further, I request that you take to heart, and acknowledge publicly, the following items, in an extension of good faith to Albertans:

  1. Immediately drop the verbiage of “Just Transition”. Accordingly, rename the “Just Transition Act” to the “Sustainable Jobs Act”;
  1. Vow that all provisions of any forthcoming legislation will be designed to incentivize investment and job growth in both the conventional energy sector as well as in emerging industries utilizing Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), Bitumen Beyond Combustion, petrochemicals, hydrogen, lithium, helium, geothermal, zero-emissions vehicle and nuclear technologies;
  1. Demonstrate that no provision of the Act will be designed to phase out or reduce Alberta’s conventional oil and natural gas sector and workforce (as we are already experiencing a workforce shortage in this sector);
  1. Commit your Government to actively partnering with Alberta to expand LNG exports to Asia and Europe as part of our nation’s overall emissions reduction strategy; and
  1. Promise that you and your Government will work with Alberta in partnership to set reasonable and meaningful emissions reductions targets and will not unilaterally impose such targets on Alberta’s energy, agriculture and other industrial sectors on a go forward basis.

Investments by Alberta’s oil and natural gas industry are driving the creation of the very clean technologies needed to bring emissions down both in Canada and around the world. Oil and natural gas companies representing the majority of production in Canada are investing $24 billion on projects to help reduce annual GHG emissions from operations by 22 million tonnes by 2030, and have committed to emission neutrality by 2050. Putting an end to or hampering this important work, and continued tepid support for increased LNG export, is the best way for your government to fail in its goal of reducing our nation’s and the world’s emissions. It would be the ultimate example of scoring on our own net.

The Alberta energy sector has grown and thrived through innovation, providing good paying jobs for thousands and contributing billions of dollars in tax revenue for all levels of government.  They will continue to evolve and adapt to new technologies in search of new low to zero-emitting fuel sources like hydrogen and provide new, high-paying skilled jobs for decades to come. It is essential that the federal government stands shoulder to shoulder with Alberta to reduce emissions and continue to develop our oil and natural gas and future energy sources responsibly, while also positioning Canada as the optimal solution to global energy needs and security.

Prime Minister, we can and must work together. Operating in political silos, as adversaries on this issue, is getting us nowhere, and I believe all Canadians are tired of seeing it. Canada should be the world’s greatest energy superpower. It can be, if we come together collaboratively in pursuit of that objective. There is no limit to our nation’s potential.

Let’s turn the page starting with a meeting between us next month followed by a dedicated effort to craft “Sustainable Jobs” legislation that a vast majority of Albertans and Canadians will welcome and support. The consequences of missing this opportunity will be dire for the Canadian and Alberta economies, workforce and environment.

I look forward to your prompt reply.

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Alberta

‘Not true’: Justice minister denies crying or yelling during doctor confrontation

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta’s justice minister said he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.

The Law Society of Alberta is in the final day of a hearing into allegations Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. The three complaints date back to his time as the provincial health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.

The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.

Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post earlier in the day, when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.

“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.

“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”

The doctor testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset as he demanded the doctor remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.

“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.

“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’

Shandro said he walked over to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.

“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”

Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, asked his client what he had to say to Zaidi’s description of him crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.

“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.

“I definitely did not yell at him.”

Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.

“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”

Shandro said at that point they returned home.

Andrea Shandro is expected to testify later Thursday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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