Alberta’s new premier Danielle Smith has an alarming history of refusing to condemn anti-LGBTQ2S+ rhetoric.
Danielle Smith, who was elected to lead Alberta’s United Conservative Party on October 6, was embroiled in controversy in 2012 after the anti-LGBTQ2S+ blog of a fellow candidate for the Wildrose Party re-emerged during the provincial election. As the right-wing political party’s then leader, Smith was running to become the next Alberta premier, and polling indicated she was the frontrunner in the race—that is, until the comments resurfaced.
“You can live the way you were born,” wrote Allan Hunsperger, a preacher and Wildrose candidate in Edmonton, “and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”
Smith refused to apologize for the remarks and did not remove his nomination as a candidate. “I think it’s important for us to have the conversation, about religious freedom and freedom of speech, and equality rights, because I think this is really what this comes down to,” she told CBC News at the time.
During the campaign, Smith stated that she personally was “pro-choice and pro-gay marriage,” according to the Canadian Press.
Despite Smith’s stated support for the community, the Wildrose Party ran on an explicitly anti-LGBTQ2S+ platform in 2012. Its platform included proposed legislation for so-called “conscience rights” that would allow health professionals and marriage commissioners to discriminate against people in line with their personal beliefs. Doctors would have been permitted to refuse abortion care, while marriage commisioners would have the right to turn away queer couples who wish to marry.
Smith’s party ultimately lost the general election, with the governing Progressive Conservatives winning 61 seats in the legislature, as opposed to just 17 for the Wildrose Party.
The Wildrose Party, which ultimately merged with the Progressive Conservative Party in 2017 to become the UCP, continued its uneasy relationship with LGBTQ2S+ equality following the election. In 2013, the party voted in favour of adopting a policy affirming equal rights for all—regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation—but elected to roll back its promise in 2014.
Smith, who had led the Wildrose Party since 2009, told CBC News she was not in the room when the vote was taken.
Ultimately, Smith stepped down from the Wildrose Party in 2014 and joined the Progressive Conservative caucus prior to the party’s merger with UCP. In 2015, she lost her seat in the provincial legislature.
After leaving politics, Smith began running a restaurant in southern Alberta and hosted The Danielle Smith Podcast. In an op-ed for Rabble, writer David Climenhaga described her show as a platform for “quack COVID cures” and “dangerous pandemic conspiracy theories.”
In her return to the spotlight, Smith ran in a bid to replace resigning Premier Jason Kenney after a May leadership review found Kenney earning just 51.4 percent of party members’ approval. Smith ran on an “Alberta First” platform, pitching a proposal that would allow Alberta to bypass federal regulation. If adopted, the “Sovereignty Act” would permit the building of pipelines without federal approval, and allow the province to ignore national law.
Despite being unconstitutional, the plan could also result in an attempt by Alberta to disregard federally regulated LGBTQ2S+ rights, such the federal ban on conversion therapy passed last year.
Advocates expressed concern to Xtra about the impact of Thursday’s elections on Alberta’s LGBTQ2S+ population.
“Many LGBTQ2S+ Albertans and their families will be watching Danielle Smith and the UCP closely to ensure human rights are respected and LGBTQ2S+ rights will not come under attack should she become premier,” said Kristopher Wells, a Canada Research Chair in sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University. “Our LGBTQ2S+ communities are mindful of how other populist governments around the world have sought to demonize and use LGBTQ2S+ people as political scapegoats to advance far-right agendas.
“This is a precarious time for many Albertans who are feeling threatened and vulnerable,” Wells added.
Aside from her record as a legislator, Smith has also donated around $60,000 to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that has links to the “Freedom Convoy” that terrorized Ottawa earlier this year. The convoy was largely organized by right-wing, anti-LGBTQ2S+ activists.
Smith won the UCP leadership race on Thursday on the sixth and final ballot, earning 53.8 percent of the vote.