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Danielle Smith's Mr. Burns strategy
The UCP leadership frontrunner is so sick she’s perfectly healthy
In the Season 11 Simpsons episode “The Mansion Family” — released well after the show’s golden age but before it became unwatchable — Mr. Burns goes to his physician for a checkup.
“Mr. Burns, I’m afraid you are the sickest man in the United States,” his unnamed doctor says. “You have everything.”
The viewer finds out this includes pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, pancreatic cancer, juvenile diabetes and hysterical pregnancy, in addition to “several diseases that have just been discovered in you,” the physician says.
Using a small model door and “oversized germ” dolls, he shows Burns that all his ailments essentially cancel each other out. They can’t fit through the door.
I was reminded of this scene watching the UCP leadership race unfold with the seemingly indestructible frontrunner Danielle Smith.
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Smith has accumulated so much political baggage over her past 24 years in public life — as a Calgary Board of Education trustee, Wildrose leader, talk radio host and now UCP leadership candidate — that the NDP must be delighted at the prospect of running against her. But if I were the NDP, I’d be careful what I wished for.
There’s only so much outrage voters can stomach before the outrages become normalized.
Smith is clearly channeling Donald Trump — dominating the news cycle and setting the agenda through her litany of outrageous statements and policy proposals.
While the chattering classes, including her UCP rivals, express outrage, this allows Smith to position herself as an outsider who isn’t afraid to stand up to the Elites.
This is why her insinuation that cancer is a choice — at least until you get to Stage 4 — or her proposal to “Uber-fy” public services won’t tank her campaign. In fact, it’s part of her appeal to her supporters.
‘She tells it like it is,’ even if what it is has no bearing on reality.
It doesn’t matter how many op-eds are written about the unconstitutionality of the Alberta Sovereignty Act she espouses, which would allow Alberta to veto any federal legislation its government doesn’t like, with COVID and climate policies in her crosshairs.
And it certainly doesn’t matter what lame duck Premier Jason Kenney has to say about the Sovereignty Act, just as it didn’t matter when Corus forced Smith to apologize for tweeting that hydroxychloroquine is a 100% cure for COVID.
It also didn’t matter when she was permitted to compare vaccines to Nazi experiments on Jews in the pages of the Calgary Herald, nor did it matter when CUPE Alberta unearthed a 2003 op-ed where she argues “moderate cigarette consumption can reduce traditional risks of disease by 75 per cent or more.”
Smith, whose political career was in the gutter after she lost her nomination for the Highwood riding in 2015 — six months after crossing the floor to the PCs with half her Wildrose caucus — has clearly been plotting on the sidelines for a while.
Kenney’s pandering to the anti-vaxxer/anti-masker crowd was always half-hearted. With each successive wave, he would eventually cave and impose the most basic pandemic mitigation measure since it was too late. Smith’s embrace, by comparison, has been full-throated.
Anyone who’s interviewed Smith knows she excels at saying the most eccentric, unfactual statements in the most rational, calm tone. This is what makes her so uniquely dangerous.
But the trouble is that people are evidently listening.
Sure, her caucus endorsements are an assortment of wackadoodles and people who have nothing to lose, like disgraced former justice minister Kaycee Madu and disgraced former ag minister Devin Dreeshen. But more importantly, Smith is filling up town halls in the party’s rural heartland and expanding the party’s membership.
There is no doubt that those who would consider joining the UCP are a different breed of voters than the general public. These accomplishments demonstrate, however, that Smith has had some success injecting fresh blood into a party that was written off as dead by its own MLAs less than a year ago. People like Madu and Dreeshen know she’s their best shot at returning to power.
The NDP needs to shift its focus to offering a clear, coherent alternative to Smith’s fact-free provincialism, rather than engaging in cheap gotchas, digging up all her craziest past remarks, as if Albertans don’t already know who she is.
They need to take the threat of a Smith premiership seriously, and I’ve seen no indication of them doing that, which should concern anyone who doesn’t want her anywhere near the levers of power.
At the end the Simpsons clip, Burns proclaims himself “indestructible”, running out of the doctor’s office as the doctor says, “Oh, no, no. In fact, even a slight breeze can …”
The NDP could be that breeze if they seize the moment and channel mass discontent into a constructive vision.
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