Ford: Smith’s policies are rebranded relics from Alberta’s western resentment heritage

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By the end of the week, Albertans will know if they face the future or are prepared to relive the past.  

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How far in the past will depend on which UCP candidate wins the party’s vote.  

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The ranked ballot system used by the UCP appears ultimately fair but delivers banality if there is no clear winner at the first count. (Think of such forgettable premiers as Harry Strom and Ed Stelmach.) 

Nothing I say or write now will alter the decision made by the United Conservative Party members. The majority of votes are in, albeit there will be in-person voting tomorrow. By the end of the day, Danielle Smith will find herself either the premier of Alberta or a has-been politician whose fatal mistake was to believe the people of this province don’t remember the past.  

That her politics seem a touch wacko is because most of us don’t understand libertarianism beyond the simplified notion that it represents freedom of choice and freedom from unspecified government intervention in our lives. Smith is a true-blue libertarian. 

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Her so-called Sovereignty Act is nothing new. It just has a new title and audience. What else was the 2001 Firewall Letter? It was written and signed by Stephen Harper, who would become prime minister from 2006 to 2015. It was sent to then-premier Ralph Klein and it proposed to “protect” Alberta from “intrusions” by the federal government.  

There were seven signatures on the letter, including three professors from the University of Calgary. They would have built a metaphorical firewall about the province. We would have become Fortress Alberta, Canadian in name, but not in influence, intent or interest. For all purposes, we’d be wedged between California and Colorado, American in influence, but not in reality.  

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There’s little to suggest Brian Jean, should he emerge as the new premier, would be more conciliatory than Smith in his attitude toward Ottawa.  

All of this I conjecture, but if we don’t remember the past we are doomed to relive it, to paraphrase the Spanish philosopher George Santayana. 

That past has a shiny new face masking old and tired issues born out of western resentment and rooted in the social conservatism of Social Credit.  

Smith has no history of living and working outside the comfort of Canada, no education beyond the University of Calgary and its cozy so-called Calgary School, which promoted a kind of  Republican-lite politics. It was libertarianism without social justice, a form of populism that would have issues decided by referendum, so that the loudest and most vocal citizens would set the agenda for all. It sounds good, but in reality that’s why we have elections, so that governments can do their jobs and citizens can go about doing theirs.    

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In Alberta, it’s a way of thinking that was forged in the rise of Social Credit and its anger at eastern interests. 

Full disclosure: I worked with Smith and she is everything for which her admirers give her credit.  She is smart, personable, articulate and passionate about her beliefs. Never underestimate her.  But never forget she represents the old-fashioned Alberta under a new banner.   

The roots of such discontent are watered in the rural areas that continue to be suspicious of big cities and big government, even as they benefit from the facilities and services that thrive in modern cities — even as the bulk of our population lives and works in an urban setting.  

Listening to hardline conservatives talk about freedom and rights and getting the government out of our lives sounds attractive. That is until one realizes not all of us are strong enough, make enough money, have powerful and influential friends and can provide adequately for our own retirement.   

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The test of a civilized society is not how it treats the “deserving”; a civilized society takes care of the least of its citizens, those who aren’t deserving of our charity, but who have a right to the umbrella of care. To do that, we need governments and their social safety net.   

We don’t do it for them, we do it for ourselves. Those who believe in the Bible can reread the Parable of the Talents — to whom much is given, much is expected. That is the kind of government we deserve.  

This is the government I expect, not the government of resentment and rebellion. 

 Catherine Ford is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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