UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith’s been getting good crowds at her UCP leadership campaign events – the danger is she’ll draw other candidates into her Trumpian tactics.
UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith’s been getting good crowds at her UCP leadership campaign events – the danger is she’ll draw other candidates into her Trumpian tactics. Credit: Danielle Smith / Facebook

The United Conservative Party leadership campaign took a dark Trumpian turn Monday, July 11 when candidate Danielle Smith got a big cheer from her supporters at a rally in Airdrie for accusing Alberta Health Services of deliberately sabotaging the Kenney Government during the pandemic by falsely claiming the system was near collapse to bully MLAs into accepting vaccine mandates and passports.

This is dangerous, paranoid stuff worthy of a QAnon meeting, but it seemed to work just fine for Smith – while flying almost completely under the radar of mainstream media. 

But she set out her conspiracy theory quite clearly in an audio recording of the rally provided to AlbertaPolitics.ca.

“Our health care system failed us,” she began. “I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it. And I think that we actually had an AHS, Alberta Health Services, that was either completely incompetent or they actively sabotaged our government.” 

“Because there’s no other way to describe, when the premier gave direct orders to increase surge capacity by eleven hundred ICU beds, by the time they got around to the Delta wave, they had to admit they hadn’t. Not only had they not increased ICU beds, but they’d actually decreased them, to 173.

“And that was used as a pretext to scare the heck out of all the MLAs, to go, ‘Oh my gosh, if you don’t do something and shut people down, bring in vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, that we are going to have the health care system collapse.’ (Emphasis added, both times.)

“Well,” Smith said, “my view is that all of the senior managers who showed themselves incapable of doing this work, they need to go and find another line of work!”

This was followed by what sounds on the recording like a huge roar of approval.

Smith must have liked that response so much she repeated her claim on broadcaster Ryan Jespersen’s podcast, tossing in a defamatory slap at former AHS president and CEO Verna Yiu.

When Jespersen asked if she really believed her claim the near collapse of the health care system during the pandemic was a deliberate ploy by AHS, she responded: “All I do know is that Dr. Verna Yiu was let go a year before her contract extension was up, so somebody’s come to the same conclusion that I have, that she just wasn’t up for the job.”

It will be interesting to see how Yiu responds. 

This is pure, undistilled Trumpism, heartlessly picking a victim to bully to justify unfounded, paranoid fantasies – and as we know from the ugly scenes in the United States throughout the Trump presidency, it stands a good chance of working pretty well for her. 

It’s pretty rich for a former broadcaster who spent months during the pandemic promoting quack remedies for COVID-19 to say stuff like this. One wonders how much that contributed to the chaos in the health care system as COVID cases spiked. It’s hard to believe Ms. Smith, an intelligent woman, actually believes this nonsense, but I suppose we can’t rule out any explanation for her behaviour – which seems likely to continue. 

The danger now, of course, is that other candidates in the UCP leadership race – seeing the traction she has gained through these tactics – will join in with inflammatory conspiracy theories of their own. 

Brian Jean and Travis Toews are already halfway aboard the vaccine denial bandwagon – or, as Smith charmingly puts it, “vaccine choice.” Why not go all in? 

So where is Danielle Smith going with this? 

“I’m going to need your help,” she told her followers in Airdrie, “because what we need to do very quickly in the fall is that we need a facility audit of all 100 health facilities in the province, so when AHS says, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s nothing we can do, we can’t expand surgical capacity,’ we’ll have local people on the ground saying, ‘No, that’s not the case.’”

“There are whole wings of hospitals, whole floors, operating rooms that have been converted into storage spaces,” she claimed. “So, we need to get those back in action, so that when we get to the fall respiratory virus surge as we always do, every single year, we will not have Alberta Health Services saying this time there’s nothing we can do.”

As a remedy, she proposes a vaguely defined, completely un-costed health spending account scheme – which sounds a lot like a medical version of Ralph Klein’s 2005 prosperity bonuses. 

“I’ve been told by nurses that a lot of the pressure on our hospital system are that we have chronic conditions that have been allowed to deteriorate so far, to the point, so far that person has to be to hospitalized,” she said. So, “let’s give the people the money they need to take care of themselves. 

“All it would be is depositing in every Albertan’s account $300, and you can spend it on the health care that you need. Because when I look at all the different types of services we don’t cover, we don’t cover anything that’s going to keep you well, that will keep you from getting sick, and help you manage your conditions, whether it’s diabetes or obesity, or whether it’s a heart condition or COPD.

“There’s lots of people who are in the pro-, uh, in the vaccine-choice movement who would like to go to a naturopath or would like to go for acupuncture, or for chiropractic, or want to see a nutritionist, or want to see a counsellor.”

And that, she promised, would “take the power away from the bureaucracy that wants to be able to keep on with this model of just give us more money, and then every single year we just get worse and worse results.”

“So that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna put the power back in the local community, and we’re gonna put the money back in your hands, so that you can hold everybody to account.”

“If it reduces money over here,” she blithely promised – again, without explanation or evidence – “then we’ll just feed back more money into your health spending account.” 

Smith does have an agenda, of course, and it’s radical privatization of public health care. 

She’s right about this much, though: Alberta does need to invest in more preventative medicine to reduce the burden of chronic disease. 

But giving every Albertan $300, presumably once, isn’t going to cure any chronic conditions or eliminate any surgical backlogs. Nor will running the health care system like a ride sharing service.

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...