Former school trustee, former Wildrose Party leader, and former controversial legislative floor-crosser Danielle Smith announced yesterday she will add right-wing talk-radio bloviator to her long list of former occupations.
The woman thought in 2012 to be on track to become Alberta’s first Wildrose Party premier announced yesterday she is ending her six-year stint as the province’s best-known right-wing talk radio host on February 19.
While it’s not yet clear what Smith’s long-term plans are — her name keeps popping up as a potential candidate for mayor of Calgary — for the moment she is moving her efforts to a subscription newsletter website called Locals.com.
Locals.com sounds like a combination of Parler, the far-right microblogging site now being chased off the internet for its role in the January 6 riot in Washington, and Substack, the online publishing platform that is attracting journalists who no longer work for mainstream media.
Smith’s radio swan song yesterday had a complaining tone: “I am gravely troubled by how easily most in our society have chosen to give up on freedom. Free enterprise, freedom of religion and conscience, free assembly, freedom of movement, freedom of the press. Freedom of speech, in particular, is in a dire state,” she wrote.
“Unfortunately over the last few years far too many topics have become unchallengeable and the mob of political correctness thinks nothing of destroying a person’s career and reputation over some perceived slight, real or imagined. I’ve found that as a result there are many topics I simply choose not to cover anymore. … So it’s time for me to go.”
Sounding positively Ayn Randian, she grimly predicted “a great reckoning in the next several years.”
Smith’s message welcoming readers to Locals.com — which touts itself as place where contributors don’t have to worry “about being banned at a moment’s notice because someone on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t like what you have to say” — took a similar tack. “By creating a community of subscribers my hope is it will keep away the trolls and allow us to explore a wide range of topics from a variety of perspectives, without the mob of political correctness hounding us or shouting us down.”
Since some of the opinions Smith has expressed recently on her CHQR 77 program in Calgary have strayed into Trumpian Sturm und Drang, one wonders if someone complained.
Perhaps her statement on social media that hydroxychloroquine offered a 100 per cent cure for COVID-19 troubled someone in Corus management.
Regardless, pretty well everything Smith has done in her career since she was president of the Progressive Conservative club at the University of Calgary has been motivated by her right-wing, market-fundamentalist convictions. Nor has she been shy about her own political ambitions, despite having burned more than a couple of bridges along the way to where she is today.
And she has survived stumbles more politically damaging than an infatuation with Trumpian snake oil at a moment when the public on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border has turned against it, at least for the moment.
Her first job in public office, as a Calgary Public School trustee elected at 27, ended suddenly in 1999 when a dispute among trustees in which she played a pivotal role resulted in the province firing the board and turning management of the school district over to an administrator. Nobody came out of that looking good.
Soon after, she was hired as a strike-breaking editorial writer at the Calgary Herald. Later, she worked for a couple of right-wing lobby groups and as a TV commentator.
Then Smith was recruited to run for the leadership of the fledgling Wildrose Party — funded by a group of independent oil companies angered by premier Ed Stelmach’s flirtation with the idea of collecting marginally higher oil royalties.
In 2009, she was overwhelmingly elected Wildrose leader and by 2011 was being widely touted in media as the next premier of Alberta. Alas for her, when the next Alberta election rolled around in 2012, a timely leak that one of her candidates had blundered into a Lake of Fire and the enduring popularity of the Progressive Conservative brand allowed PC leader Alison Redford to salvage a comfortable majority.
Redford’s leadership soon foundered. She was eventually replaced as permanent leader by Jim Prentice and, on December 17, 2014, Smith astonished almost everyone by leading eight of her party’s MLAs across the floor of the legislature to join Prentice’s PC government.
That history-making desertion to the government benches by more than half of the Wildrose opposition caucus shocked and appalled many Albertans. The mass defection — which we now know was brokered by Preston Manning and had been plotted for several weeks in deepest secrecy — left in its wake a legacy of anger, bitterness and betrayal on the right.
The disillusionment sown that day, compounded by the arrogance and foolishness of Prentice’s year-early election call in May 2015, contributed to the NDP’s stunning majority victory on May 5, elevating Rachel Notley to premier.
How Smith, who was defeated in her bid to get the PC nomination in the Highwood Riding the previous March, must have ground her teeth that night!
She remade herself as a radio host. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals captured the federal government that October. Stephen Harper exited, stage right. A year later, in November, Trump was elected president of the United States. Then Jason Kenney came to Alberta and united the PCs and the Wildrosers in the uneasy coalition that rules the province today.
So she’s had plenty to talk about on the radio.
Now she’s 49, and moving again.
Don’t count her out. She’s a hard worker. If you don’t think about the dangerous implications of her hard-right neoliberal beliefs, she’s congenial and pleasant. She’s got plenty of well-heeled friends willing to provide the money she needs to succeed.
I expect Locals.com is just a way station, and we’ll be hearing more from Smith whether we like it or not.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: Dave Cournoyer/Flickr
Editor’s note, January 12, 2021: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the riot in Washington, D.C. took place on December 6. It took place in January, not December.