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I watched 7 hours of Danielle Smith's members-only AMAs so you don't have to
Holy Dinah, it was weird.
On Jan. 10, 2021 — the day before she announced her completely voluntary departure from Corus radio — Danielle Smith announced she was creating a community on Locals.com, a website started in 2019 by right-wing YouTuber, Jordan Peterson hype man, and arch-dumbass Dave Rubin.
This website would be her safe space, where she could say whatever she wanted — promote any conspiracy theory — without the sort of pushback one receives on Twitter.
Smith, in case you haven’t heard, is now Premier of Alberta.
Journalist Justin Ling first reported on the contents of Smith’s Locals account, including regular Ask Me Anything sessions (AMAs) with her paid supporters, in his newsletter on Oct. 14.
This was frustrating for me, because I had also purchased a subscription to her Locals page and just started the process of going through its subscriber-only content when Ling’s piece dropped. I got scooped by someone who doesn’t even live in Alberta.
Such is life. The early bird gets the worm.
But Ling’s reporting just scratches the surface of Smith’s worldview1, one where all human history is a struggle between the forces of free enterprise and Big Government.
This hardline libertarianism informs her anti-science disposition, separatist leanings and Big Tech boosterism.
I spent a lot of time working on this. If you think I should be paid for it, please consider an Orchard subscription starting at $5 a month. That’s just 17 cents a day.
I sat through all seven hours of her AMAs — with the first occurring April 8 and the most recent on July 3 — to gain insight into Smith’s thought process and beliefs she put behind a paywall.
I don’t really detail her science denial, because that has been reported on extensively, including her view that tonic water prevents COVID, and, as noted above, stems from her broader worldview, which I find far more interesting.
A more cautious politician would have purged this content to avoid looking ridiculous, but Smith isn’t that type of politician. She says what she means and means what she says, even if it makes no sense whatsoever.
“I literally have an opinion on everything,” Smith cautions at the outset of her June 10 AMA.
What follows are some highlights, barring those which have already been reported, and holy Dinah — to borrow her favourite catchphrase — it was a wild ride.
Smith is a master of the ‘I’m just asking questions’ style of political communication, which is on full display as she answers questions from her paid subscribers — seemingly on the spot.
No doubt, this shoot-from-the-hip style is appealing to her supporters because it gives her an air of authenticity.
A good example of her simply asking questions is in her first AMA on April 8, where she raises the spectre of ballot fraud in former premier Jason Kenney’s leadership review:
I’m not happy raising this, but I need you to know I’m watching this and I’m very concerned this is going around, because it shows to me that people do not trust the mail-in ballot process … I’m just raising this with as many people as possible so that you can let me know if you see anything that looks a little bit too tricksy.
Of course, Kenney has a history of (allegedly) cheating in leadership races, so some suspicion is warranted.
But Smith’s only evidence is that while she registered as Marlaina Danielle Smith (her given name), the database lists her as Danielle Marlaina Smith, and that two people allegedly told her their addresses were incorrect. “How could that be? Isn’t that a little weird?”
Another example comes near the end of that AMA, when one viewer asks why she calls the NDP ‘progressive’ and not ‘socialist’.
She distinguishes between the NDP, who merely want to “tax the hell out of you,” rather than seize the means of production, and “extreme greens.”
She says these radical greens are using “stakeholder capitalism,” where private companies voluntarily adopt goals beyond maximizing shareholder profits, as a Trojan Horse to bring the entire economy under the control of the state.
But then she goes on to insinuate former premier Rachel Notley might be in cahoots with the extreme greens.
“It may be that the socialists have discovered that they don’t run things particularly well, and so they need to co-opt large businesses to do things on their behalf and so we need to watch out for the stakeholder capitalism movement,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen what Rachel Notley’s said about that.”
Smith’s just asking questions.
“Everything I talk about is with Uber in mind,” Smith said in her July 3 AMA, with a Gadsden flag placard visible in the background, responding to a question about how she can put the public sector on an “anti-socialist diet.”
The Gadsden flag, with its “Don’t tread on me” motto has long been a libertarian symbol in the States, dating back to the American Revolution, but like many facets of American libertarianism, it has since been appropriated by the far-right militia movement, whose acolytes flew it at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Smith has already publicly described how Uber eliminated the bureaucracy of call dispatch centres and taxi companies by connecting individual drivers with individuals who want rides.
She’s on the record saying she would apply this to the health-care system by giving Albertans health-care money to spend on services they can purchase through an app, which naturally kicks the door to privatization wide open.
This is troubling enough, but in her AMAs she outlines how she wants to apply the Uber model to other facets of the public sector.
Take her approach to K-12 education for instance, where she describes what is in effect an expansion of the charter and homeschooling model. “You connect the teacher who wants to provide a service of teaching with the parent through the means of some kind of micro-school or funding following the student and start squeezing out those management layers, that’s one option,” she explained in the July 3 AMA.
In her May 27 stream, she said she wants to emulate the charter school model in the health-care system, giving workers a choice as to whether or not they work at a unionized hospital.
“I have a lot of sympathy for those who want to work in a hospital, and do surgical services and care, [where] one worksite is no better than the next,” she said. “That’s what we’ve got to remedy.”
Instead of funding universities and colleges, Smith wants to give post-secondary funds directly to students, she said in her June 26 AMA, estimating this would be around $17,000 per student:
They bring money to the institution, so it’s at the frontline first and then we can start squeezing those management layers. Universities are one example, because I think that if students are the ones with the money, then universities will be scrambling to make sure they stay there.
It’s unclear how exactly this would work, unless she’s suggesting students pay professors and instructors directly for individual courses.
“I haven’t fully figured out how we’d implement it,” she confessed.
In her April 29 AMA, Smith suggests adopting a voting app, which uses blockchain technology, similar to what’s being trialled in South Australia, where you log in, confirm your identity and vote, which would enable Albertans to cast their ballots “without there being somebody in the middle who can finagle with it.”
“That’s better than going to the public every four years,” Smith added, without explaining how often she’d like people to vote on the app.
According to a paper from the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, given the risks of malware, zero day, and denial-of-service attacks, blockchain voting “would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes have been counted as they were cast, and not undetectably altered or discarded.”
On June 26, Smith suggested she wants to get rid of severance for public servants who are fired, specifically pointing to the example of former AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu’s $574,000 payment, which Smith erroneously said was $700,000, after Yiu was fired less than halfway into her extended contract.
“I know you guys want some sort of reckoning for the decisions that were made and giving someone a big, fat severance cheque as they walk out the door doesn’t seem to be fair to me,” Smith said. “I’m struggling with how to manage that.”
She said she’s considering hiring someone to be “above” the CEO of AHS, which is an odd position for someone who wants to “squeeze out” administrators and managers.
One of her more perceptive supporters asked whether her pledge to fire chief medical officer of health (CMOH) Dr. Deena Hinshaw, which ended up being her first act as premier, was an example of the “cancel culture” Smith derides.
Smith said we absolutely need to fire her, just like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whom she swoons over publicly and in her AMAs, did to his CMOH. “You may like Dr. Deena Hinshaw, but she’s clearly not onside with the way I approach these issues, so she can’t be the chief medical officer of health,” Smith said bluntly.
Two weeks earlier, she praised DeSantis’s “re-education process” during the pandemic, where he brought in handpicked scientists who agreed with his policies and repeated his messaging to the press.
Back to June 26, Smith said it should have been left up to individual municipalities to declare whether COVID constituted an emergency, since those levels of government are responsible for emergency management. It shouldn’t have been left up to public health officials, although they can provide advice, she added.
Smith said she is waiting for a “more virulent and more deadly” virus than COVID to experiment with this approach.
Her obsession with cutting out administrators and bureaucrats informs Smith’s enthusiastic embrace of cryptocurrency.
Crypto is a “ticket to freedom,” according to Smith. She said in her April 29 stream that she “doesn’t anticipate” Bitcoin being used to pay wages, “but you never know.”
Smith compared vendors accepting crypto to accepting U.S. currency. “It’s not like there’s a ban on accepting American dollars. You might not get the best exchange … but it seems to me, why wouldn’t we allow that type of freedom?” she asked.
Smith said she has a “hard time believing” crypto is a Ponzi scheme, arguing that, actually, traditional money is more like a Ponzi scheme:
As soon as governments run out of it, they just print more of it and eventually as they’re printing more money it’s becoming more and more value-less, whereas Bitcoin is the reverse. They’re producing less and less of it each year, which increases the value of it.
It’s unclear how any of her explanation relates to a Ponzi scheme, but Smith admitted she has a “certain portion” of her holdings in gold, another portion in silver, another portion in Bitcoin, and some in Ether.
On May 6, she envisioned using crypto to buy and sell homes:
The whole purpose of it is to have a peer-to-peer relationship, so if you’re selling a home this person sells to this person, you hold a token, you get everything that you want done checked off, and then there’s a transfer that occurs without having to go through land titles, without having to go through the bureaucracy.
This could also be used for well-site transfers, she added.
“There’s a whole bunch of boring jobs pushing paper around in the middle that can be streamlined, so you can put those folks to higher-order purposes,” Smith said.
In her June 26 AMA, Smith compares her signature Alberta Sovereignty Act to progressive governments, like municipal governments in Calgary and Edmonton, declaring a climate emergency, hinting that the legislation will be more symbolic than substantive.
"Why do they do it? Is it because it means that you’re going to have immediate success and the emergency will be over? Or do you do it to set the tone for what the number one most important thing for your administration is going to be?” she said.
Back in April, she suggested looking into creating a bilateral agreement with Montana to bypass vaccine mandates for truckers and create a “free transit zone” (no, not the good type of free transit).
“We’ve got to do something,” she said, referencing growing food insecurity, which she attributes to COVID restrictions. Not doing so would be “bananas,” Smith said.
She elaborated on this hare-brained scheme in her next AMA, where she says she’s trying to find a “workaround” for the fact that an independent Alberta wouldn’t control its own borders, perhaps by creating Alberta’s own provincially-chartered airline.
“I’d like to experiment with that a bit. I’d like to see if we could develop a bilateral agreement, especially for essential services, if this madness continues of us continuing to have these restrictions on cross-border travel.”
She wants to “assert” at the Calgary and Edmonton airports that “we’re moving to a rapid testing system in high periods of respiratory viruses.” How that’s done will have to be worked out later.
In her May 6 AMA, she floated the idea of establishing “bilateral relations” with multiple like-minded states, including not just Montana, but Florida, Texas and South Dakota, all of which she predicted “would embrace us with open arms.”
“Is it possible for us to have some sort of bilateral recognition where we do mutual recognition? Who knows? But if you’ve got federal overreach, why don’t we try it and see what happens?” she said, as if there were nothing at all at stake.
Edited by Sarah Rieger