Beacon reporter shadows Wildrose leader
By Christopher Walsh
In front of a garish, oversized Alberta flag in a tiny, dark room, the minorities line up on cue. Dozens of them; men with turbans and long beards, women in smart pantsuits and head gear, children with green t-shirts, others still with nothing but their skin to show their ‘diversity’.
Then there’s a group of fervent middle-aged white women with placards, a Nigerian in a dark suit giggling to himself and even an old cowboy tipping his hat to everyone who walks past him in this tiny, suffocating room.
This is the Alberta of Danielle Smith. Or at least someone on her campaign’s interpretation of the real thing. These unfortunate people have been rounded up from Wildrose constituency associations across Calgary to prove to the rest of Alberta that the Wildrose, and Smith herself, are not racist, but in fact misunderstood patriots. Proud products of the Wild West and studious curators of the vulgar museum.
Smith is using this rare opportunity to clear up a few issues regarding comments made by her candidates over the last week of the campaign, “bozo eruptions,” as she calls them.
But before she gets to that stuff, she takes aim at PC leader Alison Redford.
“She declared, that Alberta today is, and I quote, ‘a different community, a different society’,” Smith tells her closest friends and dozens of media and cameras. “[Redford] described the election as an opportunity to, ‘make some long-term decisions that will change the character of our province’,” she scoffs.
“Ms. Redford is wrong. Albertans don’t want and don’t need a change of character. They want a change of government.” Wild applause erupts. “A change of government to reflect the strong, noble and freedom-loving character of Albertans!”
That scene was almost too much to take.
A lot of people think Smith believes this stuff, and maybe she does, but it’s the way she speaks, the tone she uses, that makes me think she’s only kidding.
That retarded, hokey accent is way too much when you’re forced to hear it over and over for a few hours. ‘Aw, shucks, well, then there, that’s just great, isn’t it! Gosh darnit, I just knew that!’ It starts to build up like water in the auditory nerve. Variations played over and over, in the same tone all fucking day. The pressure begins to hurt.
My guess is the communications people on her staff are ready to stuff a Q-tip so far into their ears their brains will bleed and relieve them, even for a few moments of that goddamn racket. Or they’ve learned to just tune it all out.
In that dark room after the speech was over, I watched as Smith shook hands with a real-life African-Canadian, who asked how she was, as she gave him the old, “Terrific….Hey, oh my gosh! It’s you….It’s good to see you!”
Then she recognized that he was a campaign organizer for one of the candidates. The folksy shit dropped right away.
“How are we doing there?” she asked in a tone that would make any professional proud. He mumbled a few lines about his candidate. “It’s getting tough out there, isn’t it?”
It almost made me laugh. I had my suspicions she wasn’t a hayseed who just happened to be cast in the role of leader of what was just four years ago, a demented little outfit run by Mormons and Evangelicals. No, she’s a crafty, smiling skeleton who believes very earnestly that talking down to Albertans and playing up the whole cowboy routine will get her elected.
And it very well might, judging by the last polls. But that takes money, not ideas, and the Wildrose has an abundance of both these days.
This grand atavistic experiment known as Wildrose only exists because of Ed Stelmach. After the 2008 provincial election, Stelmach went about implementing changes to the oil royalty structure that would see oil companies pay more to the province. They didn’t care for that measure and so a couple of the Calgary-based companies got together to round up a nice little piece of cash to give to an alternative to what they saw as a bunch of red Tories.
This new party will be bought and paid for by the oil companies and created in the image of the myth of the “Alberta character”. Strong, proud, conservative in every way. The kind of stuff the Calgary Stampede takes way too seriously.
A lot of Smith’s policies are the very ones former leader Paul Hinman was trying to get across four years ago when nobody was listening. Or those that did couldn’t take him seriously, even though most are just extensions of already existing PC policy. Then the party was known as the Wildrose Alliance after merging the upstart Wildrose Party with the provincial Alliance Party that was founded by former Social Credit Party member Randy Thorsteinson, after the SoCreds took measures to limit Mormon ideology within the party. Thorsteinson considers himself one of the hundred greatest Mormons to ever walk this planet or any other.
In any case, a lot of the Mormon ideology may have been eviscerated from the new incarnation of the party, although its rural base is still in southern Alberta – the Mormon heartland.
But the men in dark suits knew a party of Mormons lead by a guy like Hinman would never be accepted by the general electorate. They needed someone charismatic, bright and without any known religious affiliation. In the fall of 2009, party faithful elected libertarian Danielle Smith as leader and the great white hope of knocking down the too progressive Progressive Conservatives. Smith’s only foray into politics before this did not end well. The province was forced to break up the Calgary Board of Education where she sat as a trustee, because they were “dysfunctional”.
Danielle Smith then went on to write provocative columns for the Calgary Herald where she advocated for a red-light district in Calgary and chastised parents for complaining about school fees, which she says she has recently changed her mind on.
From there her resume boasts a stint at the Fraser Institute and working with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
But she has what many believe to be the traits Albertans are looking for in a leader. She’s sparkly and somewhat new, can play the folks when she needs to and can manipulate better than most.
The party, under Smith, then went about convincing Tories like Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson to join them for the sake of legitimacy. Then, at some point, Stephen Harper’s former campaign strategist and Preston Manning’s party man, Tom Flanagan came on board with his ten commandments for running a conservative campaign.
Despite their best efforts, the “bozos” broke one of Flanagan’s cardinal rules: self-discipline. Things were going well until Ron Leech opened his mouth in front of people and Allan Hunsperger’s sermons were made public.
There is no doubt both men will be $1,000 poorer after this campaign, win or lose, for violating the Wildroses’ gag order on candidates during the election. And Smith has had to spend the better part of the last week explaining that Hunsperger’s intolerance of gays is steeped in religion and is therefore perfectly fine and that Leech loves immigrants and didn’t mean to imply twice that he was the natural choice for his riding because he was the only white guy running.
Back in the tiny dark room, Danielle Smith is smiling that evil skeleton grin for the cameras, about to clear up once and for all the misunderstandings about her and her candidates.
With Smith it’s not even so much how she says it sometimes, but what she’s saying. Anyone who called Leech or Hunsperger bigots don’t understand that they were merely exercising their freedom of expression – and religion. True patriots. Men of uncommon moral fortitude in a province full of ambiguous values, a province of homos, hedonists and hateful abortionists hell bent on destroying the very moral fabric that made Alberta great. At least we are fortunate enough to have these two soldiers of scripture to help guide the way.
The question that is never asked or answered is why does any “pastor” want to make public, secular policy in Edmonton?
On this last Friday before election day, she is running her game with great efficiency. Stay on point, Danielle, tell them how your great-grandmother was a Cherokee, how your grandfather came to this country as a poor Ukrainian immigrant who had his name changed to Smith by a border guard, “who didn’t understand the concept of multiculturalism”.
How can any of the candidates be racist if they have immigrant friends?
After suggesting she would fire Calgary-Greenway candidate Ron Leech if she thought he was a racist, she tells the media there’s a smart young man we need to meet who “has a great future here in Alberta”.
Like her, he has a ‘meandering history’ that means he’s “Kurdish from Iran by way of Iraq.”
And this man with a round head and a full rug of hair nods silently off to her left.
“Which means his people know quite a bit about racism and religious persecution,” Smith says to the cameras. “Ali loves Alberta. He loves the character of Alberta. That’s why he’s managing Ron Leech’s campaign. Ali knows the truth about Ron.”
So Leech isn’t racist because Ali Waissi says he’s not, whoever the hell he is.
Danielle Smith continues with the good stuff about how great “Dr.” Leech is and how kind he’s been to new Canadians over the last 30 years through his little church.
“Ron is a good person who made a statement last week that was wrong and hurtful to many of our friends in this diverse community. And when he realized his mistake, he apologized immediately,” Smith says. “If I believed that Ron was a racist, I would have fired him, but he’s not. He simply misspoke. And I understand, but most importantly Ali Waissi understands that one misspoken sentence does not erase a lifetime of good works, tolerance and service.”
Like I said, that scene was too much. Poor Ali Waissi.
If Smith told the crowd she wasn’t racist in the morning, she proved it by eating Indian cuisine in candidate Happy Mann’s riding that afternoon. (That is his name as it will appear on the ballot, although it was never made clear who gave him that handle.)
Smith comes across very well on camera, and people flock to her in person, just to touch her or get a quick snapshot. The public is enamoured with her for reasons that aren’t as easy to define as policy.
In the back of Happy Mann’s headquarters, Smith gives the footsoldiers a brief pep-talk.
“When we decide the government in power isn’t serving our interests anymore, doesn’t reflect our values anymore … it’s time for a change,” she says. “I think we’re on the cusp of that really important change and we gotta work super hard for the next two days to make sure we continue to earn every vote.”
Out in the parking lot in front of the cameras, she’s back into the cowboy stuff again.
“We want to celebrate the Alberta character. It’s made us as strong as we are and it’s going to continue to make us strong,” she says with a straight face.
“What Albertans want is a party that shares the same common-sense conservative values that they do. We’re quite happy to be the only conservative party offering that option and we’re gonna continue to go forward….”
And then she talks about her libertarian background.
“We put forward some challenging concepts and some challenging ideas, but that’s the kind of politician I am….”
And for the entire campaign, she has prefaced the party’s missteps with the phrase, “Albertans understand….”
They understand parties make mistakes, they understand good patriots say stupid things and they understand like herself and Ali Waissi, that when mistakes are made and apologies tendered, “the Alberta way is to accept it, to forgive and to move on, rather than to pursue the politics of division”.
The entire race has been characterized by the politics of division. Those lines will become clear Monday night.