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2023 Election

Smith, Notley square off in Alberta election debate, ask voters who do they trust

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Leader of the NDP Rachel Notley, left, and Leader of the United Conservative Party Danielle Smith shake hands before a debate in Edmonton on Thursday May 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Alberta’s two political contenders hammered each other on the issue of trust in the provincial election campaign’s lone debate Thursday.

United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith said you can’t trust NDP Leader Rachel Notley to run the economy while Notley said you can’t trust Smith not to privatize Alberta’s health system.

Voting day is May 29.

Both candidates have been premier — Smith since October and Notley from 2015 to 2019 — and both admitted they’ve made mistakes.

But each argued they have the best vision for a petro-rich province struggling to fix health care and education.

“My commitment to each of you if re-elected is to serve you with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times,” Smith said.

“Whatever I may have said or done in the past while I was (a host) on talk radio, Albertans are my bosses now — and my oath is to serve you and no one else.”

Notley said she, too, may not have always got it right.

“But I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” she said. “If I am premier again, I will work daily to earn your trust and to focus on your priorities.”

The two leaders spent the one-hour televised debate speaking to each other and past each other, launching broad rhetorical salvos mixed with sharp asides on the economy, policing, green energy, education and health care.

The leitmotif was trust, with each leader saying the other hasn’t earned it.

On health, Notley said Smith can’t be trusted not to make Albertans pay for services currently covered by medicare, citing the UCP leader’s past musings that Albertans should pay to see their family doctor.

Notley recounted how, in 2014, Smith promised to never cross the floor as Wildrose Party leader only to lead most of her caucus to join the governing Progressive Conservatives.

“Your understanding of the word ‘guarantee’ is very different than that of most Albertans,” Notley told Smith.

Both Notley and Smith have promised to revitalize primary care to increase access to family doctors.

Smith said her government is making progress on surgical wait lists and reducing ambulance bottlenecks.

The UCP leader said that contrasts with Notley’s time in government, when, Smith said, surgical wait lists climbed while the NDP “continued to build the bureaucracy.”

Smith focused on Notley’s economic record as premier, saying the NDP government took an economy already staggering due to low oil prices and knocked it to the canvas with higher personal and corporate income taxes along with a consumer carbon tax Notley did not campaign on.

“Albertans have a choice between a UCP government that has lower taxes, balanced the budget and returned Alberta to its place as the economic powerhouse of Canada,” said Smith.

“Or we can choose to go backward with the same failed NDP policies that hiked taxes, drove out jobs and investment and almost bankrupted our province.

“We can’t afford to go back.”

Notley countered that the UCP economic stewardship has come at price, with higher utility bills and soaring auto insurance rates.

Both sides promise affordability measures to deal with inflation.

Smith noted the NDP promises to hike the corporate income tax to 11 per cent from eight after the UCP dropped it four points to eight per cent during its term.

Notley said the corporate tax would remain the lowest in Canada while providing money to keep up with population growth.

Both parties are promising hiked spending and reliance on high oil prices to keep the books balanced in the years ahead.

The rivals accused each other of deploying cherry-picked statistics on job numbers and economic forecasts.

Both sides plan to add more police to combat increasing crime in Edmonton and Calgary, particularly on transit.

Smith said Notley’s NDP wants to defund the police. Notley said Smith’s UCP actually defunded the police early in its term by carving off a larger share of photo radar money for itself, only to recently return that cash as the election loomed.

Notley also took aim at the release of the report earlier Thursday by Alberta ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler.

Trussler concluded Smith contravened the Conflicts of Interest Act and undermined the rule of law by attempting, unsuccessfully, to have the attorney general make the criminal case of a COVID-19 protester “go away.”

“Having learned today that Danielle Smith broke the law, I (promise I) will also protect our law and I will never break it,” said Notley.

Smith fired back that Trussler found no evidence Smith or her office sought to influence COVID cases in emails to prosecutors, as alleged in a CBC story in January.

Smith said she welcomes more direction on legal matters, saying “I’m a non-lawyer.”

Smith also accused Notley of hypocrisy, given a former NDP legislature member was fined for hacking into the government health website to test its fallibility.

“When we were putting together our affordability payments (program it was necessary) to have to ask whether it was going to be hack-proof from the NDP,” said Smith.

“That’s not something that Ms. Notley should be very proud of.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2023.

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2023 Election

CBC News retracts report alleging email interference by Alberta premier’s office

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith responds to a question during a news conference after a meeting of western premiers, in Whistler, B.C., on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. CBC News is retracting a report from January alleging someone in Premier Danielle Smith’s office emailed prosecutors to question the handling of cases involving a COVID-19 protest at a U.S. bordering crossing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

CBC News is retracting a report alleging someone in Premier Danielle Smith’s office emailed Crown prosecutors to question and challenge the handling of cases involving COVID-19 protests in Alberta that blocked traffic at a U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks.

CBC made the announcement Wednesday in an unsigned editor’s note atop an amended online version of the original Jan. 19 story.

“Our sources have insisted that Crown prosecutors felt political pressure regarding the Coutts, (Alta.), cases, but they are not able to confirm that the emails they originally described were sent directly from the premier’s office to the Crown,” said the editor’s note.

“As such, we have updated this story and related pieces, removing references to direct contact between the premier’s office and prosecutors — which the premier has vehemently denied.

“CBC News regrets reporting direct contact by email.”

The story, along with public comments made by Smith around that time, sparked months of controversy, accusations, investigations and threats of lawsuits that culminated in an investigation and subsequent May 18 report by ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler.

In that report, Trussler found no evidence of such emails but, based on other information, concluded Smith broke ethics rules and sought to undermine the rule of law by trying to persuade her then-justice minister to make a COVID-19-related criminal prosecution “go away.”

Smith had challenged the veracity of the CBC email claims from the start, noting officials could find no evidence of such correspondence and that CBC News itself had stated it had not seen the emails in question.

CBC stood by its reporting for months, but in Wednesday’s note stated Trussler’s finding of no evidence to support the existence of the emails prompted it to review the matter anew and reach a new conclusion.

Smith’s office has threatened to sue the CBC for defamation for months over the story, but has yet to formally launch a claim. Smith recently said she wanted to sit down with CBC officials to explore the matter.

Smith stood in the chamber of the legislature last month and formally apologized for her Jan. 6 phone call to then-justice minister Tyler Shandro in which she sought to have him abandon the criminal prosecution of COVID protester Artur Pawlowski.

Shandro refused to intervene and Pawlowski was eventually found guilty of mischief.

Smith has since asked new Justice Minister Mickey Amery to give her guidelines on how she is to interact with him on legal matters.

Smith has said she will also act on Trussler’s recommendation to have new members to the legislature receive briefings on how the separation of powers works in Canada’s democracy.

Her office declined Wednesday to comment on the CBC retraction, state whether the meeting with CBC officials took place, say if Smith still planned to sue or say whether the updated guidelines from Amery had arrived.

CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in a statement that the public broadcaster has not met with Smith.

“The editor’s note was published after reviewing all of our journalism and talking again to sources,” Thompson said.

“As you can appreciate, it’s not our place to speak for the premier on what she may or may not do (regarding a lawsuit).”

The Opposition NDP, meanwhile, asked RCMP in a letter last month to investigate whether Smith’s actions violated Criminal Code provisions surrounding breach of trust and obstructing justice.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.

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2023 Election

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley mum on political future following election loss

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