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Ken Boessenkool: Premier Smith is a kamikaze mission aimed at the UCP, conservatism and Alberta
Only Rachel Notley can win.
By: Ken Boessenkool
I listened very carefully to Danielle’s victory speech on Thursday night, but what kept running through my head was not her prepared remarks, but two Japanese words: “Tennōheika Banzai.”
Banzai translates literally as “Ten Thousand Years” and it was historically used as a greeting or a cheer meaning “long life to you.” Tennōheika can be broken up into numerous component parts, but essentially it means “His majesty the Emperor.” Together then, Tennōheika Banzai translates as “Long Live His Majesty the Emperor.”
Tennōheika Banzai was the battle cry of the Japanese, but during World War II it took on a narrower, more specific meaning due to its reported use by Japanese kamikaze pilots who, the legend goes, yelled it as their suicide mission ended in the side of intended targets.
I kept hearing this Japanese battle cry because I just can’t get it out of my head that Danielle Smith’s political project is best viewed as a kamikaze mission. Winning the Alberta UCP leadership, as she did on the sixth ballot, is like watching that finely wrought party strap itself into the plane.
At this point I should probably make clear that I wish no harm to Danielle, who I have known for decades and for whom I bear no ill will.
It’s a metaphor, folks!
But Danielle Smith’s premiership, it seems to me, is all but certain to go down in flames as it crashes into conservatism, the United Conservative Party and perhaps even Alberta itself.
Let’s take conservatism first. Much ink has been spilt describing the flaws and unconstitutionality of Smith’s signature proposal, the Sovereignty Act. But its not just the Sovereignty Act. There is her wild buy-in to arguably anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, her anti-scientific support for health-care quackery rather than vaccinations, and her blanket denunciations of even the most critical kinds of protections of vulnerable populations should we find ourselves in another pandemic.
My friend Kory Teneycke, who has successfully led two campaigns for Doug Ford, took a step back and put Danielle’s campaign in a broader ideological light on a recent podcast. It’s worth quoting Kory at length.
Let me jump in on the bigger and deeper problem with Danielle and what I think is at stake… [Conservatism] is change that is evolutionary not revolutionary, where the rule of law and faith in institutions and the idea that reforming institutions rather than tearing them down is at the very heart and the core of conservative ideology, and has been for hundreds of years. The fact that it’s now Conservative Parties since Trump that are storming legislatures, having convoys, talking about disregarding the courts and the constitution, I can think of nothing that is more fundamentally un-conservative in nature than that. I think it is destructive. I think it is toxic. I think it is a break from hundreds of years of history of our movement and it shouldn’t be done cavalierly or with an eye on winning the next election. There are more important things than just winning the next election… I hope it’s something we can turn the corner on and move back towards something that is more aligned with traditional conservative principles.
Quite so. John von Heyking and I have written that Danielle Smith’s program, “is not conservative. It is the very opposite — it is radical.”
All this is evidence that Danielle Smith’s agenda is a kamikaze mission against conservatism itself. Some Canadian politicians have taken the odd page from the Trump playbook, Danielle is taking entire chapters. It’s destructive and dangerous to the conservative ideology so much of us hold dear.
Which goes some way to explaining why a Danielle Smith win means the United Conservative Party, from its membership to its caucus, is deeply divided. Runner up Travis Toews refused to commit to staying on if Smith wins. More than one leadership contender, including fellow former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, has publicly said that “A Danielle Smith win today means a Rachel Notley win tomorrow.” Votes of non-confidence abound.
Smith has run this campaign on issues Albertans either disagree with or just don’t care much about. Pollster Janet Brown points to cost of living and health care as the overriding concerns for Albertans. By focusing on sovereignty and issues around the pandemic, Smith has done “serious damage” to the United Conservative Party brand. The party has gone from a strong lead in the polls following Jason Kenney’s resignation to making an NDP majority “the option most likely to supply stable government,” according to Albertans.
If Smith follows through on her Sovereignty Act, she can count on key members of her caucus opposing it. If she doesn’t follow through on her Sovereignty Act, she can count on her thousands of angry supporters to find a way to remove her from office. She can’t win.
Only Rachel Notley can win.
Which is all very bad for the province of Alberta. For the reality is that Danielle Smith has not just become the pilot for electoral side of conservatism in Alberta, she has become Premier of the Province of Alberta.
Now it can be fairly argued that Alberta has survived its fair share of political turmoil since we saw the back of legendary premier Ralph Klein. And Alberta is so much more than just a dysfunctional government. Still, health care and cost of living pressures are not going to solve themselves. Alberta has a richer, younger and more employed population than most, but that will only tide us over for so long. There are some serious issues on the horizon that require a serious government to tackle them.
But it is potentially much more serious than that.
Smith’s campaign chair is the co-author of a document called the “Free Alberta Strategy” that “sets up Alberta for independence in the event that independence must be considered.”
A discussion on separation. In the first debate in this leadership, Smith pledged fealty to this document. The Sovereignty Act will fail, allowing this government to move to the next step.
Talk about a kamikaze mission aimed at our province.
To government MLAs, United Conservative Party staffers and supporters who care about conservatism, the party and the province, my question is: What are we going to do about this mess?
There is no easy answer. Danielle just won the leadership of our party fair and square. Our warnings went unheeded. Danielle Smith is in the pilot seat.
Will you be assisting with the pre-flight tests and helping fuel up the plane? Will you walk away, kick the dust from your feet, and leave this work to others? Will you stick around in the hopes you can divert the plane from its current targets? Will you look for another pilot and then build a different plane?
What will you do?
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