Alberta Premier Danielle Smith stands in front of a large image of the Alberta flag on stage during her victory speech on election night May 29, 2023.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith on election night May 29, 2023. Credit: United Conservative Party Credit: United Conservative Party

Sounding about as sincere as the proverbial used car salesman and not as convincing, Premier Danielle Smith whipped through an apology to the Alberta legislature on June 20 for breaking the Conflicts of Interest Act back in January when she talked to former justice minister Tyler Shandro about extremist street preacher Artur Pawlowski’s criminal case.

She was presumably trying at the time to get Pawlowski off the hook for the criminal charges he faced for a speech he made inciting further lawbreaking to convoy blockaders at the Coutts border crossing in February 2022. (Rather inconveniently, Mr. Pawlowski has since been convicted by a judge.) 

Smith was responding to the May 18 finding by Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler that also concluded she breached the principle MLAs should never speak with an accused person about criminal charges before the courts. 

But in the few seconds she devoted to the subject at the start of the sitting, the premier didn’t really admit to doing anything wrong, and she didn’t give the impression she was really sorry. 

“Although I had no ill intent, the Ethics Commissioner found it was improper for me to contact the Minister of Justice in the way I did, and I apologize to all members of the Assembly and to all Albertans for the error,” Smith said.

It’s a useful illustration of just how seriously Smith takes this rule of law stuff. 

It’s also pretty pathetic, it seems to me, that the Alberta legislature has to gin up an adult education course for incoming United Conservative Party MLAs so they understand, in the words of the premier, “the structure of Canadian government and the roles of the three branches of government.”

It’s also not exactly encouraging that our premier needs her new justice minister – the old one having been sent packing by voters in Calgary (pending a judicial recount, of course) – to draw up a lesson for her on how to talk to him without breaking the law. 

It is sincerely to be hoped that his instructions don’t involve ensuring she uses an anonymous encrypted messaging app to make her wishes known.

That unpleasant task out of the way, the Legislature got on with its real business – sending Nathan Cooper back to the Legislative Assembly Office for another term as Speaker, naming a deputy speaker, and then adjourning till the end of October. 

Meanwhile, NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley and Justice Critic Irfan Sabir, both lawyers by profession, fired off a letter to RCMP Deputy Commissioner and K Division Commander Curtis Zablocki urging him to open a criminal investigation into Smith’s chats with Shandro on behalf of Pawlowski. 

Even if Zablocki takes their advice, though, this seems unlikely to be very helpful if the Mounties’ performance in the investigation of the UCP’s “Kamikaze Candidate” affair in 2017 is anything to go by. Supposedly, that investigation continues, although there are “still no updates.”

Citing as a precedent how the RCMP looked into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s role in the SNC/Lavalin fraud and bribery scandal when asked by then-federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, Notley and Sabir argued that “this is a matter of utmost public interest and needs to be investigated in full.”

 “An immediate investigation into their matter will serve to reassure Albertans that interference in the justice system is a serious matter and that no one is above the law including those in the position of power,” their letter concluded. 

Well, no one will be reassured if the RCMP are still investigating more than five years later, one supposes.

In a statement to media last week, Sabir also charged that Smith “lied to Albertans on her first appearance in the Legislative Assembly today.”

“Smith is further attempting to mislead the public on her attempts to interfere in the administration of justice,” Mr. Sabir said. “Today, she claimed to have not been aware of the division of powers between government bodies, and refused to acknowledge her deliberate actions to ensure the criminal charges facing a known practitioner of hate speech were dropped.

“… Smith is knowingly deceiving Albertans by claiming this was a simple error of understanding. It was not.”

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...