Election Day

We’ve said everything there is to say.

We’ve done everything we can do.

Vote wisely Alberta.

Posted in Politics and Government, Uncategorized | Tagged | 7 Comments

No means No: Smith and the Ethics Commissioner’s Report

Yes, I watched the debate.

No, I’m not going to write about it except to say Danielle Smith’s closing comment illustrates how slick she is.

Smith said, “My commitment to each of you is to serve you with everything I have and to the best of my ability, however imperfect that may be at times.” She said she “will carefully listen to you and my UCP caucus because whatever I may have said or thought in the past when I was on talk radio, Albertans are my bosses now and my oath is to serve you and no one else.”

Fine, she’s not perfect and we can’t bring up anything she did before she became premier.

So let’s talk about the Pawlowski affair.

The Pawlowski affair

On Friday, Jan 6, 2023 Smith took a phone call from Art Pawlowski who was facing criminal charges arising out of his role at the Coutts border blockade. Smith commiserated with Pawlowski and said she’d look into it. Rob Anderson, her executive director, was handling these sorts of cases and she’d talk to him when he returned from vacation the following Monday.

For whatever reason Smith decided not to wait for Anderson. A few hours later she called Tyler Shandro, her Justice Minister and Attorney General, who was in Fernie on vacation. Shandro says she was passive/aggressive and wanted him to make Pawlowski’s case go away.  

He said no.

The Ethics Commissioner ruled that Smith’s phone call to Pawlowski violated a fundamental principle of democracy by endangering the independence of the judicial system. The government has three branches, the Legislative branch, the Executive branch and the Judicial branch and the Legislative and Executive branches must never interfere with the Judicial branch. And yet, she did.

The Ethics Commissioner also ruled that Smith’s phone call to Shandro was an improper attempt to influence the independence of the legal system. It was not acceptable for the Premier to speak to the Attorney General about a specific ongoing criminal case. And yet, she did.

The answer is still no.

Smith says she’s not a lawyer and should be given some latitude as a result of her lack of legal knowledge.

This is malarky.

Smith knew or should have known she could not engage in this behavior because she was told NO many times.   

The first NO was in 2019 the form of the Trudeau II report where the federal ethics commissioner found that Trudeau’s conduct in the SNC-Lavalin case violated the Conflict of Interest act.

Smith was a talk show host at the time and was quick to condemn Trudeau. She mentioned SNC-Lavalin to Pawlowski a couple of times, but she didn’t terminate the call.      

The second NO came when she was running for the leadership of the UCP and her campaign team contacted Shandro to ask his opinion on amnesty, clemency and pardon.

Shandro replied that clemency was limited to the Parole Board and he was opposed to pardon and amnesty which was a form of political interference in the prosecution of cases.

Smith said she was unaware her campaign team had contacted Shandro. Given the importance of her pledge of amnesty in her leadership campaign, we’ll take that with a grain of salt.

The third NO came in the form of briefings from Shandro and his staff to Smith and her staff on amnesty and clemency for covid-related offences, the role of the Attorney General (policy making, not involvement in individual cases) and the availability (or lack thereof) of legislative options to provide amnesty.

To provide the same legal advice over and over again must have been frustrating for the Attorney General and his staff, particularly when they had to respond to an email from Ezra Levant to Smith and her Chief of Staff in which Levant advised Smith that she could order a stay of prosecution. (He was wrong).

Despite this litany of NOs, on Jan 6, 2023, Smith told Pawlowski she’d look into his case and phoned Shandro to press him to do something to make Pawlowski’s case go away.

To put it another way, despite legal advice to the contrary Smith endangered the independence of the judiciary, something the Ethics Commissioner described as “a cornerstone of any democratic society and democracy will fail without it.”


Smith admits she’s taken some wrong turns but says “I always look at every blunder that I’ve had as being a learning experience, and I’ve had a lot of blunders, which means I’ve learned an awful lot.”

So here’s the thing. Smith has been involved in politics since 1998. She became the leader of the Wildrose Opposition in 2009. if she doesn’t understand how democracy and government works by now, she never will.

And while it’s nice that the Ethics Commissioner reserved the right to recommend sanctions against Smith and recommended that all new MLAs attend mandatory training about the structure of Canadian government and the roles of the three branches of government, it’s far too late for Smith.

Because upon the release of the Ethics Commissioner’s report Smith invited the Commissioner “to give me and future premiers the benefit of some guidance on how to advance sensitive policy issues similar to this with the minister of justice if she thought there was a more appropriate way.”

Her minister of justice and his staff offered all the guidance they possibly could prior to Smith making that fateful phone call to Pawlowski on Jan 6, 2023 and the Commissioner’s report explained why her failure to do so jeopardized democracy.  

She’s learned nothing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 96 Comments

Thoughts on Danielle Smith’s Latest Comment

When is a person old enough to know better?

I ask because Danielle Smith was 50 when she said 75% of the public who took the covid vaccine would support a tyrant like Hitler.

She also said she wasn’t wearing a poppy because the politicians “ruined it for me this year” by pretending to care about the freedoms our war veterans fought for.

Smith has said many things over the years but this is one of the most egregious because:  

  • passing public health restrictions in a pandemic is not an act of tyranny and it does not make those who chose not to get vaccinated a persecuted minority like Holocaust victims,
  • no one “ruined” Remembrance Day for Danielle Smith because Remembrance Day is not about Danielle Smith.

Smith apologised for her comment saying covid was a difficult and frustrating time for everyone, including her and “sometimes I let my frustrations get to me during that time.”

Sorry, that’s not good enough.

Another day, another apology

Grow up

Smith is what a young friend of mine would call a “grown ass” adult, not an immature, self-centred teenager who let’s her frustrations get the better of her.

She’s running for the most powerful political office in Alberta. If elected she’ll be responsible for a $68.3 billion budget and will be able to wield the power of the state over 4.6 million people.

A good premier (like Rachel Notley) possesses maturity, judgment, and good common sense. Smith does not.  

It’s not as if Smith is a neophyte. She’s been in politics or following political issues for 25 years.

Here’s a quick recap of her career:

Age 25: wins seat on Calgary Board of Education (1998)

Age: 38: becomes the leader of the Wild Rose (Oct 2009)

Age 41: becomes Opposition Leader (April 2012)

Age 43: crosses the floor with eight WR MLAs to join Prentice’s PC government (Dec 2014)

Age 44: loses bid for PC nomination and temporarily leaves politics.  .

Age 45: joins CHQR (2016)  

Age 50: quits CHQR because she wants to speak freely and is tired of trolls (Jan 2021)

Age 51: announces she’s running for the leadership of the UCP (May 2022)

Age 51: becomes premier (Oct 2022)

Sadly, despite all this experience, Smith’s career has been nothing but a gong show.

Ignore what I said …

Smith wants Albertans to ignore what she’s said as a talk show host, columnist, or lobbyist.

Okay, let’s play along. She said:

  • the unvaxxed are the most oppressed people she’d seen in her lifetime,
  • pro-Russia comments about the invasion of Ukraine,
  • her great-grandfather fled Ukraine after WW1 to escape communism (he didn’t).
  • she has Cherokee ancestry (disputed by APTN)
  • the unmarked graves at residential schools weren’t legitimate,
  • the Coutts blockade was a “win”,
  • Albertans should pay out of pocket to see their family doctor,
  • it might be a good idea to sell public hospitals to the private sector  
  • cancer (unless it’s stage 4) is the patient’s fault,
  • 75% of those who received the covid vaccine would support Hitler.  

And we should ignore these comments, why?

Because she says her knowledge and opinions with respect to some of them (it’s unclear which) have “drastically evolved” since the time—a few months ago to a couple of years ago—she made them.

Instead Smith wants us to focus on what she’s done.  

Focus on what I’ve done…

Okay, let’s do that. Let’s focus on what Smith has done since Oct 11, 2022 when she became premier.

The Legislature was in session for 24 days between Nov 29, 2022 and  Mar 23, 2023.

During that time she passed one significant bill, Bill 1, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

Bill 1 was the cornerstone of Smith’s leadership campaign and she watered it down. It still purports to allow the province to ignore federal laws, but it no longer lets the government ignore decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. She’s never used it and likely never will.  

Other than Bill 1, one is hard pressed to find any other meaningful legislation coming out of Smith’s term in office.

There’s a smattering of legislation that attempts to correct the affordability problems created by the Kenney government—a six month $100/month payment for eligible Albertans, freezing car insurance premiums, and a rebate for rebate for sky rocketing electricity prices—but not much else.

Ah, but let’s look outside the Legislature. There Smith has been very busy. As premier she:

  • fired the AHS board for creating the healthcare crisis, in the middle of a healthcare crisis
  • promoted RStar, a $20 B handout to polluting energy companies (that she lobbied for prior to becoming premier) to entice them to do what they’re legally obligated to do,
  • talked to crown prosecutors about dropping covid related charges, then said she “misspoke” and didn’t talk to crown prosecutors (the CBC defamation suit fits in here somewhere),   
  • talked to a man charged awaiting trial on criminal charges and promised to look into his issues,    
  • appointed cronies like Preston Manning to useless panels,
  • completed a report on the feasibility of taking away Albertan’s CPP and replacing it with a made-in-Alberta pension plan, but refuses to share it with the public prior to the election,
  • refuses to discuss replacing the RCMP with provincial police or creating an Alberta tax collection agency, key policies of her Free Alberta supporters, prior to the election,    
  • discovered she can’t pardon people who violated covid public health rules (alas, she doesn’t have the same powers as a US governor)
  • passed a balanced budget (thanks to roaring oil prices) then spent most of the surplus buying our votes,
  • appears to have strengthened her relationship with Take Back Alberta who say they’ll dump her the way they dumped Kenney if she doesn’t deliver their populist agenda,
  • signed a 10 year healthcare funding deal with the feds (it’s free money, why not)

Ta Da!

Sorry, there’s not much to crow about. But even if it were, the things a politician says matter.

Which takes us back to her position that she shouldn’t be judged on what she said as a talk show host, a columnist, or a lobbyist.

Why not? If she didn’t mean what she said then, why should we believe she means what she says now.

Vote wisely Calgary.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Crime and Justice, Danielle Smith, General Health Care, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , , | 107 Comments

Wildfires and Gordon Lightfoot

“Do the best with what you’ve got.”—Gordon Lightfoot

News of Gordon Lightfoot’s death, while not unexpected, still came as a shock. We didn’t think he’d live forever; truth be told we didn’t think about him very much anymore, then boom! he was gone.  

And I’ve been thinking about him ever since.

I finally figured out why. It’s the wildfires.

The wildfire crisis

On Saturday Danielle Smith declared a province-wide state of emergency to deal with the wildfire crisis—there are over 100 active wildfires, 36 of which are out of control, and over 24,000 Albertans have been displaced.

This state of emergency will give the government extraordinary powers to control movement within the province, access emergency funds and mobilize even more resources to stop the crisis from escalating.  

Smith assures the public that the government has the tools, technology, and resources it needs to deal with the crisis, and the Feds are on standby just in case.  

Bill Blair, the federal public safety minister, also confirmed the Feds are ready to provide federal aid or resources, if required.

NDP leader Rachel Notley offered her assistance (her government handled the 2016 Fort MacMurray fire) and Smith appears willing to get Notley’s input.

So it looks like when Alberta is faced with a crisis Smith’s UCP can set aside their political grievances and cooperate with other parties to find a solution.

All this is great, but why do we have to wait for a crisis before we realize we’re strongest when we work together?

And this is where Gordon Lightfoot comes in.

To be Canadian

Lightfoot was a local boy who achieved international fame…without moving to the US.

He stayed here. He wrote songs about Canada: the railways and shipwrecks, the  rivers and Great Lakes, the provinces (remember Alberta Bound), the cold winter nights, the pussy willows, cattails, and yellow canoes.

He lived in a mansion in Toronto and tooled around town in his Chrysler New Yorker. He canoed our wild rivers and thought Orillia was the most beautiful place on earth.

Most importantly, he was humble.  

Lightfoot told a story about when he was five and he and his friends sang I’m a Little Teapot in a Sunday school concert. After they’d finished, their Sunday school teacher told the class, “They did the best with what they had. And that’s what you’re going to do all your life. Do the best with what you’ve got.”

Do the best with what you’ve got

This is excellent advice.

Luckily, we have a leg up when it comes to doing the best with what we’ve got because what we’ve got is Canada.

Canada is one of the top 5 full democracies in the world. (Incidentally, the US, which ranks at #25, is defined as a flawed democracy so we should think twice before we import American policies into our provincial and federal institutions and systems).  

Our province is so beautiful it makes your heart ache. This natural beauty must be protected and managed, not sold off to the highest bidder to enrich their shareholders.   

Our people are diverse and tolerant (for the most part), they must be supported with strong public health and public education services, not shunted over to the private sector whose primary focus is the bottom line.

Albertans who want to do the best with what they have should reject the UCP’s anti-Canada, pro-separatist (or separatist-in-all-but-name) stance and challenge Smith and her UCP candidates on:

  • the Alberta Sovereignty Act which purports to let her government ignore any federal laws it doesn’t like.
  • the plan to create a made-in-Alberta police force,
  • the plan to create a made-in-Alberta pension plan,
  • the plan to create a made-in-Alberta tax collection agency to work around the equalization,  

because these policies will weaken the Alberta we have now.  

Or to put it even more bluntly, May 29 is just 3 weeks away. Let’s do our best not to mess this up.

Posted in Culture, Danielle Smith, Disasters, Environment, Politics and Government, Rich and/or Famous | Tagged , , , , , | 67 Comments

The Flames Arena Deal (What’s my vote worth?)  

Last week the City of Calgary. the Province of Alberta and the billionaire owners of the Calgary Flames signed a nonbinding MOU for a new arena and related improvements. The tab is $1.2B with $800M for the arena and $400M for related improvements in the entertainment district.

It looks like taxpayers will pay 95% of the upfront costs in return for 0% of the revenues and the Flames owners will pay 5% of the upfront costs in return for 100% of the revenues.*

The obligations of the parties are sketchy because transparency on this transaction has been nothing short of opaque.

But Danielle Smith made one thing crystal clear: the arena deal will not go ahead unless (1) Calgarians vote UCP on May 29 and (2) Smith’s Cabinet and Treasury Board approve the deal in August.

Smith announcing the Flames arena deal

This is wrong for so many reasons.

The bribe…

A decent premier blessed with a $2.4B surplus would not have made the commitment to spend $330M on revitalizing Calgary’s downtown contingent on the outcome of the next election. She would have earmarked it as a line item in the Feb 2023 budget.

Afterall Calgary is the beating heart of the oil and gas sector. It produced that eye-popping surplus. Why should Calgary be left off the goodies list?

Could it be that back in February Smith took Calgary for granted? That she didn’t realize until recently that she’d have to woo Calgary the same way she was wooing the rural Alberta?

Smith’s contingent offer of $330M is sleazy and opportunistic.   

Which leads us to the second problem with Smith’s proposition.

The transaction…

Smith is proposing a transaction—she’ll give me an arena if I give her my vote.

So here’s the thing about transactions. Each party has to want what the other is offering.

Smith clearly wants my vote. She said as much in her press conference and in her follow up letter where she said: “After the election, the province’s contribution to this arena deal must be approved by the Provincial Cabinet and Treasury Board before the end of summer. That’s why on May 29, I’m asking Calgarians to give our United Conservative Party a clear mandate to proceed with this arena.“

But what if:

  • I don’t want the arena. What if I’d be perfectly happy fixing up the Saddledome?
  • I do want a new arena but I don’t think taxpayers should subsidize billionaires who can pay for their own arena.
  • I do want a new arena and I’m prepared to accept the idea of public tax dollars subsidizing billionaires, but I’m leery of this particular deal because it lacks transparency? What else is in the deal? Who bears the risk of cost overruns? What happens if the new arena is flooded in the next 35 years? What if the Flames want to leave before the 35 year lease/loan term is over? Why is Smith asking me to give her something of value (my vote) in return for a pig in a poke?  
  • I’m prepared to accept everything but I’m troubled by the fact the City refuses to commit to public engagement on a $1.2B project. The City says its relying on the engagement conducted back in 2017 and 2018 for the Rivers District Master Plan and the Jan to Mar 2020 engagement on the event centre (then budgeted at $550M). Has the City forgotten that since then we’ve had this little thing called a pandemic. Perhaps Calgarians would rather spend their tax dollars on addressing mental health, homelessness, addiction, and a myriad of other issues.  

The contingency…

Recall that Smith listed two contingencies. One, that she and her government be re-elected and two, that her cabinet and treasury board approve the deal.

It’s true that if Smith is elected, she has the prerogative to appoint cabinet ministers and the treasury board, but here’s the thing. Smith appears to be increasingly reliant on the good will of Take Back Alberta to stay in power. TBA has been clear that if she doesn’t adopt their agenda, they will get rid of her just the way they got rid of Jason Kenney.

So what happens if she is forced to appoint a TBA leaning cabinet? Will such a cabinet support their government giving $330M of their tax dollars to billionaires to build an arena in Calgary?

The bottom line…

While the foregoing is an interesting exercise here’s the bottom line.

There is nothing Smith can offer me in return for my vote because I can’t forget her incompetence with respect to—and these are headlines, it would take many more blogs to cover these topics properly—Indigenous ancestry, debit cards to pay GPs, Stage 4 cancer, the unvaccinated are the most discriminated class of all, pardons for covid rules violators, $80M for kids’ pain meds from Turkiye, rule of law/Sovereignty Act, Art Pawlowski, James Bauder, imprecise language/Crown prosecutors, etc.

Smith’s arena deal is intended to solidify her support in Calgary. It’s done the opposite. It’s revived the debates that killed the last two attempts to ink a deal for the arena, it demands even more by way of a taxpayer subsidy to billionaire hockey team owners, and it drags the rest of Alberta into the debate.

This is a poor election strategy which is likely to backfire on Smith if Calgarians vote wisely.

*If anyone has more up to date information, please share it.

Posted in Danielle Smith, Politics and Government | Tagged , , | 66 Comments

Gondek, Notley and Smith: An important conversation

Last week Calgary Economic Development presented its Report to the Community. The highlight of the event was Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s conversations with Rachel Notley and Danielle Smith.

Gondek asked each leader 4 pre-set questions and 2 questions from the audience. She talked with Notley first and Smith second. It was a simple format and incredibly effect. If only political debates were run this way.  

Right, here are the questions and the leaders’ responses:

Q: What will the provincial government do to encourage business attraction and talent retention across all sectors in Calgary?

Notley: The NDP’s Competitiveness Jobs Strategy will incent diversification through tax credits, provide a regulatory Fast Pass for “good actors” and most importantly will reinvest in postsecondary education which took more than its fair share of budget cuts.

Without reinvestment in accessible and affordable postsecondary education “the kids” will leave (This drew loud applause).  

Smith: Smith talked about what the UCP [under he who cannot be named] had done in the past eg: reducing the corporate tax rate to 8%, cutting red tape and the ongoing “Alberta is calling” campaign.  

She mentioned the proposed McCain and De Havilland facilities in Coaldale and Wheatland County [neither of which are in Calgary], the film tax credit and the agrifood tax credit. She’s also looking into a digital media credit for video gamers.

Q: What measures will the provincial government put in place to match Calgary’s $450 M investment to revitalize downtown, enhance the creative economy, build infrastructure and attract private capital?

Notley: The NDP’s Downtown Revitalization Strategy includes a $200M investment to convert office space to residential use. The Affordable Housing Strategy will replace the funding the UCP cut from affordable housing and rent supplements in Calgary and elsewhere (more applause).  

The NDP will invest $200M in a downtown multi-institutional postsecondary innovation hub to bring people back downtown.  

It will strengthen public safety by hiring more police who will be paired with social workers and mental health specialists.     

Smith: The private sector has done a great job of rejuvenating downtown Calgary with buildings that respond to the desires of the “creative class.”

There’s been (or will be) $3B in capital investment in Calgary, eg. finishing Deerfoot Trail and the Ring Road and building out “economic corridors” to “enhance the supply chain lines.” Smith mentioned WestJet’s announcement of daily direct flights to places like Rome (?) and De Havilland’s facility (again) and how she’d like to commit to building the last leg of the LRT to the airport.  

She said she’d like to support the Events Centre if the City and the Flames reach an agreement on the arena (applause).

She’d address making people feel safe downtown by investing in police, mental health, and recovery communities, as well as cracking down on those who do harm.

Q: How would your government collaborate with the municipal and federal government to expand programs to better serve vulnerable people?

Notley:  Many of these issues are squarely the responsibility of the provincial government. She would “lean in” to undo some of the damage inflicted in the past and wants to ensure the recovery is shared by everyone.

She would collaborate with the municipal and federal governments, focussing on solving problems. She wouldn’t leave any federal money on the table—“that ridiculousness must stop”(applause)—and hopefully in that process “depoliticize” the effort and focus on solutions (more applause).

Smith completely missed the point of the question which was about collaboration among levels of government to help Calgary.

Instead she dove into a description of the Red Deer Recovery Community facility, telling us that her uncle Larry succumbed to addiction and mental health issues.

She said her chief of staff Marshall had lived on the street in Vancouver for four and a half years before he was put on the path to recovery by a cop who forced him to choose between jail or recovery. Marshall developed the “recovery capital” approach and the proposed Calgary recovery facility would be similar to the Red Deer facility which is run by a private organization [EHN Canada] which had a 77-85% success rate (applause).

On the “conservative side” Smith said all the premiers are meeting with the chiefs of police to deal with public disorder and crime, noting that the “catch and release” bail provisions need to be changed.

Smith used this question as a jumping off point to say that Alberta and the Feds are in perfect alignment on healthcare and Alberta has signed a 10 year agreement for $24B which it agrees to abide by the Canada Health Act which says you’d never have to pay for a family doctor or health services.

She’d also provide additional support for youth and mental health.

Q: Municipalities have the least amount of control over their funding, how would the province provide more certainty and predictability on funding received through property taxes?

Notley: Property taxes are a matter of municipal jurisdiction but the province can provide a better line of sight on how much a municipality needs to raise in property taxes.

The NDP signed City Charters with Edmonton and Calgary. The UCP ripped them up when they came to power and developed the Local Government Fiscal Framework but there’s no guarantee the LGFF will be there after the election.

Notley concluded with this: “My commitment is the things you get post-election will be the very things you are guaranteed pre-election.” (Huge round of applause).

Smith: The province collects $177M more in property and education taxes from Calgary than it gives back by way of provincial transfers. Now that the government is back into budget balance it will reinvest in municipalities through grants which will increase as government revenue increases.

The Municipal Affairs minister is consulting with municipalities on how to let them keep more of the education portion of their property taxes. Stay tuned.

Audience Questions

For Notley: How will your government leverage the energy transition opportunity to grow the economy and encourage investment to realize net zero?

Oil and gas should not be used as a political football and we shouldn’t pit economic growth against environmental leadership because we need both to succeed.

She said the province must (1) offer its own incentives as well as getting the Feds to do more, and (2) it must provide regulatory certainty by getting rid of the Sovereignty Act. (Huge round of  applause).

She said the province should be at the table with the Feds to ensure emissions regulations are realistic and that Alberta had wasted a year and a half standing on the sidelines instead of rolling up its sleeves and getting the job done (more applause).  

For Notley: How will the government address the increasing cost of living?

The government can’t control inflation or interest rates but it can control the cost of utilities and needs to find a long term way to give families relief and predictability. She’d bring back the cap on insurance (applause).  

She’d also invest in post secondary to get control of spiraling costs (more applause).

For Smith: How will your government address the needs of postsecondary students?

Students don’t like instability so she capped year over year increases to 2%/year, reduced the interest rate on student loans to prime and extended the repayment time from 6 to 12 months.

She’s looking for more options to offer accessible education by expanding community colleges and increasing spaces. as well as creating a path for colleges to get academic status.

She wants to connect young people to careers and professions at a younger age.  

For Smith: The arts, culture and heritage are an important part of our community, what will you do to support them?

Smith’s been lobbied to provide a tax credit for the traditional arts (opera, theatre, ballet) that’s similar to a film tax credit. It’s something she’ll take a closer look at.

Then it was over.

The Applause-O-Meter

Anyone tracking the applause-o-meter will see that Notley got nine rounds of applause while Smith got two.

Also, the applause at the end of Smith’s interview was more muted than Notley’s. This could be because many of the attendees had already left. It’s unclear whether they left because the event was running late or they just weren’t interested in what their premier had to say.

In any case one thing is clear. Calgary is facing significant challenges. One leader has strategies to address them, the other is relying on old policies and stories about her uncle Larry.

Vote wisely Calgary.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, Climate Change, Crime and Justice, Culture, Danielle Smith, Economy, Energy & Natural Resources, Environment, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 38 Comments

Hiding From the Fourth Estate

Last week Danielle Smith announced her new “one question, no follow up” rule for journalists asking questions at her press conferences.  

She said the “one question” rule would apply to everything, not just the ethics commissioner’s investigation into whether Smith interfered with the administration of justice in her 11 minute phone call with Art Pawlowski, or the status of Smith’s threat to sue the CBC for defamation. The rule applies to EVERYTHING!  

Not surprisingly, Smith’s “one question” rule did not go down well.   

Danielle Smith

Even the soft-ball host of Smith’s radio show mentioned that in his former news career he’d interviewed prime ministers, politicians, police and professionals, and he took his responsibility and obligation to ask tough questions seriously. Why the change, he asked, and why now?

The NDP…

Smith replied that unlike the NDP, Smith allowed all media to participate in her press conferences.

Sorry, Daniel, the reference to the NDP would only be relevant if it were the NDP not, you as the premier of Alberta, refusing to take more than one question from the media.

Back to the question: Why the change and why now?

So many journalists…

Smith said there are dozens of media in Alberta all wanting to ask questions and the “one question” rule will ensure that more of them will be able to ask their questions.

Umm, yes, but these “dozens of media” didn’t pop up like spring crocuses on Friday April 14. They’ve been around for years. If Smith didn’t care about them before April 14, why is she so concerned about them now?


When the host of Smith’s radio show suggested time commitments could be a possible rationale, Smith jumped on it saying “you just can’t” do hour long press conferences.

Oh really. Why not?

If you can spend 11 minutes talking to one person, Art Pawlowski. about his upcoming trial, why can’t you spend one hour taking follow up questions from journalists seeking clarification about the impact of your policies on Albertans?

I feel faint…

Smith said some of the people standing behind her at the Friday press conference were “beginning to feel faint.”

Okay, we wouldn’t want any of the 24 or so people standing around like human wallpaper to keel over on camera, but wouldn’t it be easier to get them a chair than interfere with a reporter’s ability to do their job?

Hog the mike

The host tossed Smith another excuse, saying sometimes journalists keep pressing a point. Gee, I wonder why.

Smith missed the cue and prattled on about getting “completely different” questions at her townhall meetings.

I suspect there’s a world of difference between a townhall full of supporters at a political rally and a gaggle of reporters at a press conference. For one thing the townhall attendees aren’t going to blast Smith’s answers across the entire province.

“It’s an election, that’s why”

Smith’s clearest answer was the one she gave to a reporter the day she announced the “one question” rule. Smith said, “It’s an election, that’s why. We’re sort of getting into election mode, so we have lots of people [and we] want to answer lots of questions.”

What she didn’t add was the proviso: Provided you only ask one.

As journalist and blogger David Climenhaga says, “it’s easy to blow off a first question, [it’s] harder to deal with a thoughtful follow-up.”

The follow up can dig deeper, expose a contradiction inherent in the first answer, and demonstrate that the first answer was incomplete or misleading. Possibly even dishonest.

Which brings us to the role of the press in democratic societies.

The Fourth Estate

Countless books and articles have been written about the role of the Fourth Estate in preserving democracy.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Michael Luo focused on the deliberations of the Hutchins Commission in the 1940s, noting they are still relevant today.

The Hutchins Commission found that (1) the highest obligation of the press is to serve the public and (2) the press delivers on this obligation by providing truthful, comprehensive and intelligent accounts of the events of the day in a context that gives them meaning.

The press cannot live up to its obligation, especially the need to provide context in reporting, if it is not allowed to ask follow up questions.

Furthermore, an account of an isolated fact, even if true, without context, may be misleading. And such reporting can be dangerous in a divided and segregated population.

So back to the question of why.

It only takes one question

Smith isn’t worried about all the journalists who are unable to ask all their burning questions.

Smith is worried about about one journalist asking one awkward follow up question and her predilection for responding with whatever cockamamie idea that pops into her head.

There is an election coming, a follow up question increases the probability of a “bozo moment” and must be avoided at all costs for the good of the party. Smith’s handlers know this.

What we know, to quote Rachel Notley, is “Leaders take questions–it’s part of the job.”

Others hide.  

Posted in Crime and Justice, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , | 65 Comments

Happy Easter!

Readers of this blog know that we take a break from politics on holidays.

They also know that the Soapbox family is not terribly religious, but we do love our traditions.

One of our favourites is the Easter egg decorating competition.

This year in addition to usual categories–the prettiest egg, the most creative egg, etc–we added a new category to accommodate the entry below.  

The “most extreme XXX egg” — winner Mr Soapbox

Every participant won a prize, a lovely gift from the cheapie aisle at London Drugs, and put their colourful hardboiled eggs back in the fridge to be eaten on Easter Sunday—a lovely reminder that what really matters is spending quality time with your family and friends.

This year Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap. All over the world people are celebrating this special time in their own unique way.

To all of you, everywhere, we wish you joy.  

The Soapbox family.

Posted in Celebrations | Tagged , , | 28 Comments

Smith’s 11 Minute Phone Call with the Pastor

“That’s an astounding thing to say from the Premier of the province.” – Law prof Eric Adams

On March 29 Danielle Smith issued a press statement to pre-empt a CBC story about a conversation she had with street-pastor Artur Pawlowski. People thought she was bracing for renewed accusations that she did indeed talk to Crown prosecutors about charges brought for violations of covid restrictions.

Well, that’s the least of Smith’s problems.   

Danielle Smith

The Statement

In her statement Smith said:

“Later today, in an effort to continue their campaign of defamatory attacks against me and my office staff, the CBC intends to release an article about a conversation I had with an individual named Artur Pawlowski. 

Artur Pawlowski is not your run of the mill pastor. He’s an anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-covid vaccines/restrictions street-pastor facing criminal charges relating to his involvement in the Coutts border blockade.

Smith should never have taken the call.

Not only did Smith take it, she was sympathetic, almost deferential, throughout the entire conversation.

“During a live press conference on Feb. 9, 2023, I referenced this very conversation where Mr. Pawlowski expressed his frustration to me with pandemic-related public health orders.

True, but I don’t recall Smith saying that Dr Dennis Modry* introduced Pawlowski by saying “Artur has a problem that you may be able to help out with.” Oh really, how, by interfering with the administration of justice?  

“This should come as no shock since I spent a lot of time before and during my leadership campaign talking to hundreds of Albertans about COVID-related public health orders and violations. 

The fact Smith spent a lot of time before and during her leadership campaign talking about this is irrelevant because this specific conversation occurred after she became premier not before.  

“As I have previously stated, I had my staff work with the Ministry of Justice to determine if anything could be done to grant amnesty for those charged with non-violent, non-firearms COVID-related charges. 

True, apparently the Dept of Justice was so concerned about Smith’s promise of amnesty that they “proactively” put together a PowerPoint presentation on the topic to show her she did not have the powers of an American president or governor or even a Canadian governor general and could not grant anyone amnesty.

She also learned that there were only two questions she could ask with respect to prosecutions: (1) is the prosecution in the public interest and (2) is there a likelihood of conviction.

“As also indicated previously in multiple interviews, I received a legal brief from the Ministry of Justice recommending against pursuing amnesty further, as several matters involving this issue were and still are before the courts. I have followed that advice.  

What the legal brief has to do with the matters before the courts is beyond me.

But while we’re on the topic of legal advice. Pawlowski and Modry told Smith that Leighton Grey**, a criminal lawyer, told them about a court decision on masking that would give Smith the power to drop these prosecutions immediately without taking “a political hit.”

Smith agreed to get her right hand man, Rob Anderson, to follow up Grey’s advice. This despite the fact Smith has an army of lawyers in Justice telling her she needs to stay out of specific cases. Furthermore if Grey’s argument had merit one would expect Pawlowski’s own counsel to have raised it.  

“At no time have I spoken with the anyone from the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, nor to my knowledge have any of my office’s staff. Allegations to the contrary are defamatory and will be dealt with accordingly.”

Fine, let’s assume Smith was “imprecise” when she told Pawlowski and Modry that she spoke to “our prosecutors…almost weekly.”

Let’s talk about Smith response (precise? imprecise?) when Pawlowski complained that the prosecutor, on Justice Minister Shandro’s instructions, did a document dump that was costing him $150,000 to review.

She said she didn’t think the directive came from Shandro but she’d check. She also said she’d expressed her dissatisfaction about the document dump to the deputy minister. What did she say, smarten up, you’re running up the accused’s legal bills?

She agreed to circle back with Anderson on Pawlowski’s suggestion that she meet publicly and say its time to move forward, to end the “witch hunt.” Then raised the Trudeau SNC Lavalin case as something she needs to watch out for. Hello!?!

And Smith made the precise/imprecise comment she should really be worried about.  

She commiserated with Pawlowski and Modry about how frustrating it was to deal with a bunch of charges that were politically motivated but couldn’t be politically ended.  

As law prof Eric Adams puts it, in essence Smith, the head of government, is saying the system is corrupt. He and other law professors worry that Smith may have compromised the case.

Which brings us back to where we started.

What just happened?  

As premier, Smith had a conversation with Pawlowski who was awaiting trial on criminal charges in connection with the Coutts trucker blockade.

She made a number of statements including one that law prof Eric Adams says effectively claims “the system is corrupt.”

Smith’s conversation with Pawlowski was surreptitiously recorded.

The recording was posted on Pawlowski’s social media.

Law profs have said that Smith’s comment may have compromised the Crown’s case against Pawlowski.

Get the feeling someone’s been had here?

Get the feeling it’s Danielle Smith?

Get the feeling Albertans are in deep trouble with Smith as premier?

Damn right.

*Smith’s friend, Dr Dennis Modry, was the head of a pro-separatist group at the time,

*In June 2020 Grey resigned from a committee charged with recommending new judges after the  CBC asked about Grey comparing a new covid vaccine to Auschwitz tattoos and posted a video calling Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie” controlled by a Jewish philanthropist.

Posted in Crime and Justice, Danielle Smith, Law, Politics and Government | Tagged , , , , , | 101 Comments

A Simple Question (well, three simple questions)

Something is happening with Alberta’s anesthesiologists and it’s not clear what.

Last week, David Shepherd, NDP health critic, asked Jason Copping, the UCP health minister three simple questions:  

  • will surgeries in AHS publicly funded hospitals be postponed because AHS is redeploying anesthesiologists to for-profit chartered surgical facilities (CSF)?
  • has AHS given CSF guarantees to supply anesthesiologists?
  • will CSF do the simpler procedures for patients with fewer complicating factors (allowing them to bill for higher volumes) leaving the more complex surgeries to AHS  hospitals?

Mr Copping’s short answer was “no”.

Mr Copping

His long answer was a mishmash of words to the effect that:  

  • CSF are part of our publicly funded health care system, no different than going to your doctor or previous governments had done with CSF and  
  • AHS will continue to schedule surgeries with the most urgent and those waiting the longest going first, either at a hospital or a CSF whichever is most appropriate,

In other words: Nothing to see here folks, move along.


AHS signed four CSF contracts for orthopedic surgery since May 2021. The earlier contracts were for one to two year terms, renewable for 6 months. They did not compel AHS to deliver a minimum number of surgeries and could be terminated with relative ease.

The latest contract with Canadian Surgery Solutions was signed on Jan 1, 2023. It has a 6 year term, requires a minimum number of surgeries per year and has the most onerous termination clauses I have ever seen.

Complex cases not welcome

All four contracts state that patients (they’re called “clients”) must meet two criteria before they’re accepted for surgery.

Clients must: (1) provide informed consent and (2) be medically stable and show no evidence of any contraindications that may put the client at risk for surgery in the CSF.

In other words Mr Copping misspoke. The CSF is free to keep the simple, uncomplicated cases and reject the more complex cases.  

Has AHS guaranteed a supply of anesthesiologists?

Some CSF contracts do not obligate AHS to provide a minimum number of surgeries, so it stands to reason that AHS would not allocate more surgeries to CSF than its anesthesiologists could handle.

However, this is not the case with the Canadian Surgery Solutions Ltd. contract which stipulates a “volume floor” (defined as the minimum number of surgeries AHS must allocate per year).

If AHS doesn’t have enough spare anesthesiologists floating around, it would have to pull some out of the AHS public hospitals and put them into the CSF operating rooms so it would not be in breach of its “volume floor” contractual obligation.

AHS may not call that a guarantee, but it’s pretty damn close to one.   

So again Mr Copping was less than forthright.

Postponing AHS surgeries?

All the CSF contracts require the for-profit surgical facility to collaborate with AHS on staffing to ensure the pool of doctors and other health care professionals required to staff AHS hospitals is not “materially adversely impacted.”

If the CSF’s staffing needs materially adversely impact the AHS pool, the CSF must stop recruiting.

So far, so good, but…

AHS agreed to a minimum volume floor of surgeries in the Canadian Surgery Solutions contract in January 2023 when it knew full well that its pool of doctors, including anesthesiologists and other health professionals was stretched to the limit; to the point where Alberta is actively recruiting across Canada and the world to make up the shortfall.  

Perhaps Mr Copping can explain how AHS will redeploy staff out of its public hospitals to work at CSFs without having to resort to postponing and cancelling surgeries.   

Then there’s this

The Canadian Surgery Solutions contract and the Alberta Surgical Group – Heritage Valley contract appear to allow surgeries to proceed even if the physician administering the IV sedation is not an anesthesiologist as long as there are two staff members certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support present in the surgical suite.

I’m not a doctor, maybe this is fine, all I know is this was not an option under the other CSF contracts which also specify that anesthesiologists administering a general anesthetic on children must be assisted by RNs experienced in venipuncture and airway management and that the recovery room nurse must be certified in Paediatric Advanced Life Support.

What’s all this going to cost?

Mr Copping said CSF were part of our publicly funded health care system, no different from going to your doctor.

That’s not quite right.

A CSF, unlike my doctor, will receive a service fee when it treats orthopedic patients…sorry I mean, clients.

The service fee under the four contracts that have been posted to the AHS website run to a minimum of $167,115,856.

That’s $167 million in tax dollars going directly out of our pockets into the pockets of the shareholders of these for-profit CSF companies.

So Mr Copping is wrong. AHS provides publicly funded and publicly delivered healthcare, whereas CSF provides publicly funded privately delivered healthcare.

There’s a $167 million difference.

Mr Copping says the Alberta’s government is committed to ensuring everyone has access to the care they need, where and when they need it.

What he hasn’t explained is how CSF will shorten wait times for Albertans with complex medical histories who do not meet the CSF’s criteria for admission.

Or why CSF will not negatively impact wait lists for all surgeries, not just orthopedic surgeries, in AHS not-for-profit public hospitals.

Over to you Mr Copping.

Posted in Alberta Health Care, General Health Care | Tagged , , , , | 70 Comments