Danielle Smith is pandering to her reactionary base

ANALYSIS: Between her appearance with Tucker Carlson and parental rights policies, the Alberta premier has clearly committed

Alberta premier Danielle Smith appearing as a featured guest at a Calgary event last week featuring American far-right entertainer Tucker Carlson was a choice. In the aftermath, she tried to brush off criticisms by claiming that she doesn’t vet the ideologies of people who interview her, but Carlson wasn’t some journalist—real or pretend—in a scrum or press conference, but on stage at a stadium event. She could have simply declined the invitation to appear long in advance, knowing who Carlson was and what he represents. No, Smith knew what she was getting into because she knows Carlson’s audience, and she is trying very hard to remain in their good graces if she wants to remain premier—particularly given the fate of her predecessor Jason Kenney. And remaining in those good graces includes bowing to their demands for draconian “parental rights” legislation that goes beyond anything seen in this country.

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Carlson’s schtick coming into the Calgary event (and another that night in Edmonton) was claiming that he was going to “liberate” Canada. He has been a leading participant in the far-right’s construction of a dystopian alternate reality which purports that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a jackbooted dictator who forced people into taking COVID-19 vaccines (which many adherents to this alternate reality claim are medical experiments or gene therapy), who freezes the bank accounts of people who disagree with him (during the invocation of the Emergencies Act in 2022, 57 individuals who participated in the occupation of downtown Ottawa had their assets temporarily frozen, per the Federal Court), and “divides” the nation through his “wokeism.” This is on top of the other conspiracy theories about crashing our economy and forcing people into a basic income tied to your “social credit score,” forcing them to eat crickets and locking them into “15-minute city zones,” at the behest of the United Nations , the World Economic Forum or some other shadowy “globalist” organization.

Carlson’s events were sold-out affairs with high ticket prices, and attracted other far-right figures, including Maxime Bernier and far-right media personalities. The Calgary set included so-called jokes about Trudeau purportedly being a closeted gay man and about misgendering people. He also insisted he’s not racist while he put forward replacement theory conspiracies, and decried that Francophones in Quebec killed Montreal’s “Anglo legacy.” About the only thing that Carlson got any pushback for during the panel portion of his presentation was when media mogul Conrad Black stated that no, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is not a Nazi. Nevertheless, in the legacy media coverage of the event, the anti-gay and trans “jokes” were barely mentioned or challenged, nor were most of his conspiracy theories.

 

What garnered the most attention was Smith asking Carlson to put federal environment minister Steven Guilbeault in his “crosshairs,” which drew the condemnation of four federal Liberal ministers the next day as an invitation to political violence at a time when RCMP protection costs for MPs have risen sharply because of increasing threats. That condemnation also came off very weirdly in how the ministers summoned the media to deliver it. Ministers like Randy Boissonnault have been trying to make hay of this in Question Period in the days since, but there is no indication that any federal Conservative MPs attended the Calgary event, though some prospective candidates may have.

If there was a connection to Pierre Poilievre with the Carlson event, it was with the participation of Jordan Peterson, who was part of the coterie with Smith and Black. Backstage, Smith posted a photo of her posing with Carlson, Black and Peterson, with a strange caption about freedom meaning not having to talk to the mainstream media, as though Peterson and Black are not frequent contributors to the National Post. Let alone Black being a former media mogul who owned newspapers in Canada and the U.K., and the fact that she herself has a history in radio and newspapers, and Carlson was not until recently on Fox News, which is pretty mainstream in the American bifurcated media ecosystem. But again, this supposed small-c conservative “war” with mainstream media is one of the signposts of their attempt to create separate media ecosystems to enforce the bifurcated reality that exists in the U.S.

Poilievre has shown himself to be a devotee of Peterson, and has been posting on social media about how he’s promising to save Peterson from his “authoritarian bureaucrat” oppressors (meaning that he has been censured by his professional psychological association and ordered to take media training), even though that regulatory body falls under provincial jurisdiction. Still, Poilievre is promising that those regulators will rue the day they crossed Peterson, falsely claiming censorship in an attempt to tie this back to the dystopian alternate reality that he has been constructing.

In the aftermath of the Carlson event, Smith unveiled her “parental rights” legislative proposal this week, claiming that it will “de-politicize the issue” when it is the exact opposite, and that this was consulted on broadly, but if there were consultations, none of them were public. In fact, the only consultation seems to have been the policy resolution at the UCP convention in November. There is a direct connection to be made between her appealing to the Carlson fanboys and her policies designed to erase a generation of trans youth in the province, and severely restrict queer youth. It also comes on the heels of a fundraising tour that New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs undertook with stops in Alberta (and yes, it is odd that a New Brunswick premier is fundraising in other provinces), claiming that people in Alberta were so keen to meet him because of his province’s school pronouns policies.

What ties all of this together is the far-right and reactionary base that Smith has been carefully cultivating and appeasing at every turn. They now control her party, and they installed her in the leadership position after they forced the ouster of Kenney. That means that Smith is in a position of constantly needing to appease this base, lest they turn on her as well and look for someone who will pander to them even harder. This echoes federally as Alberta is not only the heartland of modern-day conservatism in Canada, but that this same reactionary base is whom Poilievre is counting on to help him win the next election rather than appealing to the political centre. That also means that Poilievre needs to remain in the good graces of people like Peterson and Carlson, as figures who this far-right and reactionary base will listen to and take direction from. And so he, like Smith, remains silent in the face of their anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric, and their calls to political violence against their purported enemies. As those reactionary drumbeats get louder as they feel emboldened by the resurgence of Donald Trump in the U.S., we can expect little more than complicity from Poilievre and Smith on this side of the border.

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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Culture, Politics, Analysis, Media, Alberta, Canada

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