A photo of United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith.
United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith. Credit: Dave Cournoyer / Flickr

Aided and abetted by a compliant media in love with a good horserace story, it looked for a spell in late 2011 and the spring of 2012 as if Danielle Smith might soon be Alberta’s premier.

It’s been a decade and we can clearly see now just what a disaster that could have been, thanks to Smith’s bizarre strategy in her current campaign to become leader of Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) with him on his way out as premier. 

I say could have been, because it’s not clear if Smith, then the leader of the Wildrose Party but not yet elected to the Alberta Legislature, believed the kind of dangerous nonsense she’s now peddling when she faced off against the newly chosen Progressive Conservative premier, Alison Redford.

Probably not. She certainly appeared to make slightly more sense at the time, although even then she was obviously a far more dogmatic market fundamentalist ideologue than Redford, who had appeared quite progressive in some regards during her successful campaign to lead the PCs in the fall of 2011.

Still, as dangerous as a Wildrose government probably would have been, in those days Smith wasn’t talking about passing a wildly unconstitutional “Sovereignty Act,” bigfooting into federal jurisdiction to do things like seize the pensions of Albertans, appoint federal judges, and establish unconstitutional diplomatic missions abroad, and generally declaring federal law to no longer apply in Alberta … with all the advantages of Canadian citizenship magically retained. 

Frenemies with federal benefits? Good luck with that! 

And what would she propose to do, as journalist Max Fawcett wondered on social media, if British Columbia took a notion to pass a similar sovereignty act to block all future pipelines to tidewater? Appeal it to the Supreme Court of Canada, I suppose. (Eyeroll).

Whatever Smith’s strategy is, she’s advocating nutty, sophomoric stuff, with zero change of success under Canada’s Constitution in any circumstances you could dream up. It doesn’t seem to have much utility as a strategy to become the leader of the UCP either. 

Although she says she has no direct connection with the wingnut “free Alberta strategy” cooked up by University of Calgary political science instructor Barry Cooper and a couple of like-minded individuals, one of whom was floor-crossing former Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson, it’s clearly where she got the idea.

As University of Calgary law professor Martin Z. Olszynski observed on Twitter, you really need to read that document “to understand how far the crazy goes.”

“There’s no space in our constitutional order for the provinces to decide what federal laws are applicable or not in the province,” Olszynski told a National Post scribbler in a piece about Ms. Smith’s big idea that seemed to leave its author conflicted about whether to sing her praises or admit her notions are dangerously bonkers. 

“They’re not even pretending it’s constitutional,” marvelled University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley. “This is all about provoking a losing fight in the courts, which they will then spin into anti-Court, pro-separatist propaganda.”

Could be; but maybe Smith’s effort is not a serious candidacy at all – although life can always hold unpleasant surprises for people who reach such comfortable conclusions. If a Trump Presidency was possible, we need to face the reality that such horrors can happen other places too.

Still, never having been forgiven by the UCP’s Wildrose rump for her dalliance with Jim Prentice’s PCs after Redford’s exciting tenure as premier had drawn to an untimely close, her successful return to power at the head of the UCP seems about as likely as, say, former Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman’s chances of doing the same thing. 

Indeed, I’d say it’s a sign of the critical condition in which Kenney has left the UCP after three years of belligerent misrule as premier that the race to replace him can attract the likes of Smith and Sherman. 

Maybe she’s just bored. Whatever led to her breakup with Corus Radio and her decision to retreat down the rabbit hole of an online subscription service where she could peddle her Q-adjacent theories about COVID cures and cryptocurrency benefits, it can’t be described as a step up in her once coruscating broadcasting career.

TV and mainstream newspapers love photogenic right-wing commentators. They are not as fond of eccentric cranks. 

Helping to run a restaurant in a railcar in small-town Alberta mustn’t seem very rewarding either for someone who was once on the cusp of becoming premier of Canada’s richest province.

So maybe she just needed some time back in the limelight. 

Whatever she’s up to now, it’s scary to ponder the thought Smith was nursing the same lunatic ideas back in 2012 when it looked as if she were on the verge of winning the top political job in Alberta.

Unfortunately for her prospects, on April 23, 2012, Ms. Smith won her own seat in the Highwood riding, but the Wildrose Party took only 17 seats to the PCs’ 61 in the Legislature. The NDP doubled its seat count in that election – from two, to four. 

Is it possible we were saved from the fate of a Danielle Smith premiership by the unintended intervention of Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the evangelical preacher and Wildrose candidate whose blog post predicting a fiery eternal destination for LGBTQ Albertans was drawn to the attention of voters a week before the election?

Some political observers blame the ensuing brouhaha, which came to be known as the Lake of Fire affair, for the providential end to Smith’s chances of becoming premier, not to mention creating the conditions for the rise to power of the NDP in 2015.

If so, perhaps we owe an unexpected debt of gratitude to Pastor Hunsperger, his offensive views notwithstanding.

God moves in a mysterious way, the old hymn says, His wonders to perform. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the AlbertaPolitics.ca blog, 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....