With tout le monde political Alberta focusing on the province's final farewell to Peter Lougheed, founder of the 41-year Conservative dynasty who passed on last Thursday, Alberta Opposition Leader Danielle Smith was set to slip out of town yesterday on what was billed by her party as her first international tour.
Well, that should lend her efforts to become Premier of Alberta a veneer of credibility, dontcha think?
A news release from her rightward tilting Wildrose Party cheerfully informed us last Friday that the purpose of the 19-day tour was "to promote Alberta, meet with industry experts in energy, agriculture and water and to forge strong relationships with key political and cultural leaders."
The tour is sponsored and paid for by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Which means, as the Wildrose news release helpfully explained, that Alberta taxpayers won't have to pay for any of it, Uncle Sam will be picking up the tab.
Well, OK, I guess -- although you can tell the Wildrose Party's press release writer was nervous enough about how Albertans might react to this factoid to carefully make the effort to mention former Calgary mayor David Bronconnier (a Liberal!), Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake and former Governor General Edward Schreyer (a Knee-Dip stalwart from Manitoba back in the day) have all taken the IVLP tour too.
The purpose of the IVLP, which is probably why it’s money well spent from the perspective of U.S. taxpayers, is, fair enough, to "support the foreign policy goals of the United States."
This led Smith, whom the party news release was also careful to note leads Alberta's "government in waiting," to enthuse: "This is an important opportunity to represent Alberta and discuss three major areas of bilateral interaction: energy, agriculture and water. These issues are critical for Alberta’s future and are an important part in building relationships with our American friends." (Emphasis added.)
I don't know about you, but it makes my blood run cold when I hear a committed market fundamentalist like Smith musing about the need to chat about water with our American cousins.
Anyway, highlights of the tour include meetings with the (centrist) Brookings Institute and (loony libertarian) Cato Institute, formerly known as the Charles Koch Foundation (I'm not making that up!), in Washington, D.C. (You know, Charles Koch, as in David and Charles Koch. Smith should feel right at home.)
The tour ends up with meetings on such topics as how to "promote democratic initiatives" in Wisconsin -- you know, Gov. Scott Walker's Wisconsin, where democratic initiatives apparently include making it illegal to engage in collective bargaining if it starts to annoy the state's plutocrats. So keep an eye peeled for the photo of Smith with Gov. Walker that's sure to pop up on her party's daily travel blog.
Oh well, in fairness, it would be pretty hard for anyone to visit Republicans in the United States nowadays without meeting some pretty crazy right-wingers -- you know, the kind of lunatics who think nearly half the U.S. population are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it" -- even if you were someone like David Bronconnier or Ed Schreyer.
But that's not the scary thing. Even whatever gets said in those private chats about Alberta's water won’t send chills up and down too many spines. Nope, it’s this…
According to the British Broadcasting Corp. (and if you can't trust the publicly owned and financed Beeb, who can you trust?) the IVLP "has demonstrated an uncanny capacity to pinpoint … leaders-in-waiting."
"It has received little attention during its history, but since 1940 the International Visitor Leader Program has proved remarkably prescient when it comes to guessing who might one day govern the planet," the Venerable Beeb observes.
"Former prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Margaret Thatcher and Edward Heath were all participants early in their careers," the British broadcaster's reporter stated in a worthwhile piece on the IVLP, speculating one reason the program is effective is that it doesn’t try to convert anyone, just to introduce them to friendly and well-connected Americans. So was the delightful Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
If they happen to end up serving American foreign policy -- think of the dissembling Tony Blair, for example -- well, it’s hard to say which came first, the neoconservative chicken or the State Department egg!
But at least that’s one way, then, that Smith won't be your typical IVLP graduate when she returns from her "international" jaunt.
After all, she's no skeptic that needs to be wooed by a clever U.S. program. She already thinks most everything's better south of the Medicine Line.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.