Danielle Smith

I recall hearing somewhere the image experts have come to the conclusion that “if you own fair and reasonable, you win.”

So I wonder if Alberta Premier Redford picked the best strategy last Thursday when she decided to poke fun at Opposition Leader Danielle Smith for her American-paid tour of the United States, courtesy the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The IVLP, of course, is the American government program with the apparently remarkable history of picking future foreign leaders — who oddly enough frequently turn out to be foreign leaders sympathetic to American interests — and giving them a nice, most-expenses-paid (except for the odd muffin or vanilla latte) three-week tour of the United States. Smith wrapped up her American Tour on Oct. 6.

But Premier Redford’s mocking welcome home to Smith during a Progressive Conservative party fundraiser in Red Deer is not going to sound particularly fair and reasonable to a lot of Alberta voters who think things like university degrees in anything but petroleum engineering, the desire to eat squishy uncooked foods and trips abroad (a Target mall in the Good Ole U.S.A. and Mexican holiday resorts excepted, of course) are signs of eccentricity at best and un-Albertan airs more likely.

After all, this is the province that elected and kept re-electing Ralph Klein, the notorious high-school dropout and recreational drinker, as premier. Readers will recall that Redford had to put up with a certain amount of disdain during the recent provincial election campaign from supporters of Smith’s faux-populist Wildrose Party for letting it be known she’d been an international human rights lawyer.

We all heard these Wildrose supporters ask why, if Redford loved Alberta so much, did her curriculum vitae show that she went and lived the easy life in such well-known leisure spots as Mozambique, Vietnam, the Balkans and Afghanistan? Quelle horreur!

Who knows, maybe the premier was griped because the U.S. government didn’t identify her as a future foreign leader, back in the day. (They hardly need to now, do they?) Or maybe Smith got up her nose with the ridiculous comparisons she keeps making between the Opposition leader’s modest travel expenses (mostly paid for by U.S. taxpayers) and the premier’s (necessarily subsidized by Alberta taxpayers).

Whether or not the State Department gets a good deal on Holiday Inn rooms in Montana and Wisconsin, low hotel bills alone are not proof of frugality on Smith’s part, unless she can produce a note from the U.S. State Department promising to pay her expenses if she becomes premier. (Heaven knows, this kind of thing does happen, but it’s frowned upon for the Americans to actually admit it.)

At any rate, the premier tried to yuk it up by suggesting that Smith ought not to be criticizing Alberta’s activities abroad when she tacitly admits needing to be schooled by the U.S. State Department on the American system of government.

In fairness to Smith, that is kind of a cheap shot, since the U.S. system of government is what she’s been advocating non-stop for Alberta and Canada ever since she signed on with the Fraser Institute, whose mission is to get Canada to adopt all of the worst ideas of America’s barely functional democracy without any of the good ones.

That was not as cheap, though, as yesterday’s shot from the Edmonton Journal, which complained in effect that Smith hasn’t been sending out enough press releases since Redford got elected. Well, whatever.

Getting back to Redford’s ridicule, “if you want to stand up in front of the people of Alberta two years ago or six months ago and say you are ready to be the premier of the province and you understand Alberta’s role in North America, then you better be pretty confident about that,” the premier told her sympathetic Red Deer audience. (Leastways I assume they were sympathetic. Down there in Red Deer, I don’t think you, or the premier for that matter, can ever be all that confident of that.) “…I’d suggest that a seat on a tour bus is markedly different than the premier’s chair.”

Smith, naturally, reverted to form with her response: “She been gallivanting around the world staying in $900 hotel rooms and ordering oysters and not paying enough attention to matters at home.”

There’s that Wildrose thing about weird squishy food again — no Real Albertan would eat oysters, not even the men since the invention of Viagra. As for Smith’s hotel rooms in Wisconsin and Montana, they may not cost the same as Redford’s did in London (and who knows, the U.S. government may get a discount deal on little-used Holiday Inn rooms along the High Line, what with the occasional witness protection program participant and Canadian politician passing through), but I’d be surprised if her Uncle Sam ever put anyone in Smith’s shoes up at the YWCA in Bozeman.

If this keeps up, the next thing you know they’ll both be invoking the memory of Peter Lougheed, Alberta’s sainted first Conservative premier, to slam the other one. Oh, wait, they already are.

Meanwhile, from selected venues along her bus tour — leastways, whenever the bus passed through a Montana town with Wi-Fi — Smith filed plenty of breathless material for comedians to make fun of in their routines.

Oh, wow, I’m in Wisconsin! … “one of the centres of North American grassroots democracy in the last two years.” (That’s code for “I’d really like to crush unions in Alberta too.”) And, “Yes, my hand really is in the stomach of that cow.” (Emphasis added, comment not necessary.) “But I did get a Romney-Ryan lawn sign from the Republicans.” (Ditto.)

By the way, from her online travel diary, we are pleased to report that Smith did not eat any oysters while in the Badger State, or so she said: “First meal in Wisconsin was — you guessed it — cheese. Cheese plate, deep fried cheese curds, and macaroni and cheese.” (This sounds pretty grim, but it’s not all bad. The Official State Drink, as is well known, is beer.)

So the point here is obviously not that there’s any lack of stuff here with which to make fun of Smith.

It’s merely that if she wants to own “fair and reasonable,” Premier Redford should stick to the substantive material and leave the boffo yocks to us bloggers. If she doesn’t, we may get shirty about it and start invoking the name of Peter Lougheed ourselves.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...