Opinion: Danielle Smith both a libertarian — and an authoritarian

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Premier Danielle Smith has a reputation for listening to “the people.” Her policies, however, suggest anything but.

Currently, three policies dominate Smith’s — and hence, the UCP’s — political agenda: a provincial police force, an Alberta pension plan and municipal political parties. Her dogged pursuit of these initiatives raises huge questions.

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Each is opposed by an array of policymakers, academics and representative organizations, including governments. Besides the RCMP, the Alberta Municipalities and Rural Municipalities of Alberta oppose the creation of a provincial police force. The federal government and other premiers (most of whom are Conservatives) are opposed to an APP. The Alberta Municipalities board of directors, an organization representing 265 municipalities across Alberta, has called for scrapping the idea of municipal parties.

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Each of these policies is also strongly opposed by regular Albertans, even possible UCP supporters. A poll conducted in early 2023 showed 67 per cent of Albertans do not believe a switch to a provincial police force would reduce crime. Interestingly, rural Albertans — where the UCP’s political base is strongest — were most opposed to a change.

Despite the government spending an enormous amount on selling the Alberta pension plan — and refusing to release results of its publicly paid for consultations — Albertans remain strongly opposed to leaving the CPP. A Leger poll conducted last October shows such opposition has increased, including among UCP supporters. Overall, only 22 per cent of Albertans favoured leaving.

On municipal parties, a survey conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research in late summer last year found 68 per cent of respondents preferred municipal candidates run as individuals. Two Alberta government surveys in the fall of 2023 obtained similar results, with more than 70 per cent of respondents stating their opposition on the multiple-choice section and more than 80 per cent voicing opposition on the survey’s open answer section.

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The policing and pension plan proposals, if implemented, would also come at a huge cost to Albertans. A government-commissioned report in 2021 showed that setting up a provincial police force to replace the RCMP would cost, at a minimum, $366 million and could take upwards of six years to establish, with an annual operating cost of $200 million. Another report released in 2021 put the total price tag for a provincial police force at between $734 million and $759 million.

Calculating the end cost of an APP is more difficult because it is based on changing labour force demographics. But the UCP has sold the idea based on a solicited report arguing Alberta is entitled to 53 per cent of the current CPP fund, or $334 billion. More realistic calculations suggest a much lower total. Economist Trevor Tombe contends the figure is likely closer to 20 to 25 per cent of the fund, or between $126 billion and $157 billion. Others suggest an even lower number.

In short, each of these proposed changes are opposed by various organizations and the public, while lacking a financial rationale. The question then is why? What drives the UCP and Danielle Smith to pursue these policies?

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The answer lies with the pursuit of power — specifically, the centralizing of power within Smith’s office.

In the case of policing and pensions, the policies are meant to take power away from federal organizations. In the case of municipal parties, the intent is to be able to set up compliant branch parties to do the UCP’s bidding. If successful in each of these endeavours, it is predictable the UCP will seek to further centralize authority by removing the power of other representative bodies, such as nurses, teachers and doctors, while perhaps also seeking an escape from the Canada Health Act.

Smith has long portrayed herself as a libertarian. But she has a firm belief in what she views as “the good society” and how it can be achieved.

She is more ideologue than populist, more authoritarian than libertarian. The libertarian utopia she seeks to create in Alberta can only be achieved through coercive means.

Policing, pensions and party politics are just the starting points.

Trevor W. Harrison is a retired political sociologist at the University of Lethbridge and co-editor of Anger and Angst: Jason Kenney’s Legacy and Alberta’s Right (Black Rose, 2023).

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