Former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff

Does anyone remember Iggy?

I couldn’t help but recall former federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff last week when Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith launched her attack on Alberta Premier Alison Redford for not loving Alberta just the way it is.

Of course, that’s forgotten now that we’ve all moved on to Smith’s fecundity, and that’s probably a good thing from the Wildrose perspective.

Still, alert readers will recall how the Ottawa neo-Cons under Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismantled Ignatieff a brick at a time in a series of sleazy TV ads that attacked him explicitly and implicitly for such sins as being well read, thinking about things, having a PhD, traveling around the world and daring to work in another country. Probably the fact he wore nice silk neckties didn’t go well for him either.

“He didn’t come back for you,” said one ad, making the overt and obviously false point that Ignatieff was only in politics for himself, and the implied one that he wouldn’t have gone away in the first place if he’d been a real Canadian. Real Canadians, as we know, don’t go to the opera, don’t go to Europe and don’t drink anything except beer and Tim Horton’s coffee.

I was reminded of this when Smith said of Redford that if she wants to change things in Alberta, she must not love Alberta sufficiently. And remember, Smith’s messaging advisers are also Harper’s — the ties are tight between the two neo-Con parties.

Could it only have been last Thursday when Smith told reporters on the steps of the Legislature that she thinks Albertans want a premier (like her, obviously) who loves Alberta and who therefore doesn’t want to change it?

If Redford were a real Albertan, Smith opined (although not in those words exactly), she wouldn’t want to change anything. Just as Smith doesn’t want to change anything, except maybe the right of Albertans to be protected from hate speech by the Human Rights Commission: “I like Alberta as it is. I don’t think she does.”

“She doesn’t like who we are,” Smith explained, according to a report in the Calgary Herald. “She doesn’t like our character. She wants to change it. I think that’s going to be the ballot question. I think that’s the question what people are going to have to ask in the next election. Do we need to be changed? Do we need Redford to change us? Do we have anything to be embarrassed about? I think the answer is a resounding ‘no.'”

Naturally, a lot of folks who don’t support the Wildrose Party took exception to this line and wondered if the list of things Smith must not want to change includes some of the highest high-school dropout rates, venereal disease rates and carbon emissions in the country, not to mention the lowest return on the petroleum resources we all own in common, but all that just rolled off like water off the proverbial duck’s back.

And then, as previously noted, some dope in the premier’s office moved us on to an issue that really matters — Smith’s and her hubby’s struggles with infertility.

It’s interesting, though, that the subtext to these remarks of Smith’s, which the media reported uncritically and without any commentary other than the usual “reaction” from Redford, who seemed to be honestly puzzled when the debate took that turn, was very much like the subtext to Harper’s Reform-o-Con attack on Ignatieff.

How could he be a real Canadian if he’d gone to Oxford and Harvard, spoke weird foreign languages (you know, like French) and not only read books, but wrote them?!

How can Redford be a real Albertan if she lived and worked in places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Philippines! And she worked for the European Union — Europe, for crying out loud! Where people speak English with funny accents, men wear little moustaches and carry purses, and women don’t … well, never mind.

For heaven’s sake, the premier wasn’t even born here! She came from a foreign country, British Columbia, which is in South America or something! (Enough sarcasm – Ed.)

By contrast, Smith — who actually was born yesterday, in a manner speaking — comes from here, has always lived here, and as we already know doesn’t want to change anything here. She was born in Calgary, attended school and university in Calgary, and worked in Calgary for a series of right-wing front groups, among them the Calgary Herald.

What’s more, according to a fawning birthday profile in the Herald yesterday, Smith has always thought exactly the same thing too, except for a couple of weeks as a child when a Bad Teacher, probably a member of the Alberta Teachers Association, had her convinced she ought to be a Commie. If that’s not an argument for busting unions, it’s hard to imagine what is!

Indeed, Smith has never lived anywhere except Alberta — except for one semester in Ottawa and a few weeks on a Fraser Institute internship in Redford’s homeland. But I guess those kinds of places were just a little too foreign, so Smith came back to Alberta where nothing ever changes.

And that, in a peculiar way, their rhetoric of change notwithstanding, is exactly the retro appeal the Wildrose Party is offering Albertans — no change.

After all, now and again these past few years the poor old Conservatives have given some indications they did want Alberta to change a little bit — maybe even drag it slowly into the tail end of the 19th Century.

Whatever’s really on the Wildrose agenda, and you can bet it’s more than “property rights” and charter schools, its pitch to Albertans is that you can just say no to change regardless of what’s happening out there in the rest of the world.

Human rights? Get rid of ’em, just like the God of the home-schoolers intended. Higher resource royalties? That’s not the way we do business in Alberta. Environmental concerns? Never heard of ’em! The Wildrose slogan shouldn’t be “41 years is enough.” It ought to be “41 more years!”

As for Redford, she’d better brace herself. If she has any more dark secrets — say, she reads for pleasure, speaks French or enjoys European coffee — they’re bound to come out soon. “She didn’t come back to Tim Horton’s for you. She came back for the French roast!”

Some months ago I wondered in this space if a province that could love a low-brow politician like Ralph Klein could also love a high-achieving human rights lawyer like Alison Redford. Well, maybe it can’t.

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...