On the day after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith dug herself out of an anti-vaxxer hole, she decided to add some levity to her Twitter feed. To do so, she took a picture of her nylon-clad legs and patent leather pumps with the tag line: ‘It’s a beautiful day.’
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 17, 2022.
OTTAWA—#ableg has taken on a whole new meeting in the Twitter world. It used to be a hashtag for the Alberta legislature.
Now it is a hashtag for the premier’s legs.
Does that sound bizarre?
If so, that is because it is.
On the day after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith dug herself out of an anti-vaxxer hole, she decided to add some levity to her Twitter feed.
To do so, she took a picture of her nylon-clad legs and patent leather pumps with the tag line “It’s a beautiful day.”
Supporters lauded her sense of humour. Opponents accused her of poor judgment and sexism.
The vast majority simply asked the question, “Why?”
Why would a premier post a photo of their legs? As a woman, Smith must know how her gender has fought hard to avoid being defined by body parts.
But the post also prompted a larger question. What kind of judgment will Smith exhibit as a leader?
So far, she has not had a stellar start.
She spent her first post-inaugural day explaining away the claim that those people who chose not to be vaccinated were “the most discriminated group” she has witnessed in her lifetime.
Smith refused to apologize for the comments, but tried to put them in context, saying she did not try to “create any false equivalencies to the terrible historical discrimination and persecution suffered by so many minority groups over the last decades and centuries.”
But she did. She also used her first day in office to announce the firing of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw.
Hinshaw, who was seen as a capable manager of the pandemic, received public scorn earlier this year when it was revealed she received a $228,000 bonus for her work during the pandemic.
In the private sector, the bonus would likely have been expected, given the number of additional work hours attached to the pandemic response. In many ways, it literally became a 24-hour-a-day response.
But of particular concern, is that Smith supports the current and former health minister, both of whom were laudatory about Hinshaw’s leadership throughout the pandemic.
The premier is supporting the politicians who managed the pandemic and firing the scientists and health professionals. What does that say about the kind of government she would run?
Two days have produced two lapses in judgement.
The leggy tweet won’t do any lasting damage, but the decision to rewrite COVID history by turning anti-vaxxers into victims will.
That revisionist history couples with her backpedalling on the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act.
During the campaign, Smith said she was prepared to fight federal laws and court rulings that were not in Alberta’s interest. She characterized Trudeau’s involvement in provincial affairs as “lawless.”
But within hours of taking office, she was already changing her position, promising to uphold any Supreme Court decision on jurisdiction, and claiming that her new sovereignty legislation would respect the rule of law.
The reversal was probably necessary. Even her United Conservative Party leadership opponents said her proposed sovereignty law did not pass the smell test.
But what about those UCP voters who supported her precisely because of her attack on the “lawless” prime minister.
Her comment on the mistreatment of anti-vaxxers is a sign that she wants to continue to appeal to the small percentage of Albertans who did not get vaccinated.
More than 80 per cent of Albertans have received at least one vaccination, so her target audience is less than 20 per cent.
But that same group does not expect her to reverse her sovereignty position within a day of taking office.
UCP opponents are pushing hard for an election. They claim Smith will not have a mandate until she is elected by all the people.
Smith’s predecessor, outgoing premier Jason Kenney, will have nothing to do with her, even though they hail from the same party.
By law, the election is expected to happen in little more than six months, on May 29 of next year.
If Smith’s next few months are like her first week, the opposition should hope that the election is delayed a little. The more she speaks, the less she appeals to the average voter.
But in the next six months, she may be able to harness the power of conservatism in Alberta to win.
Given the missteps of her first few days in office, that seems unlikely.
Her path to power may involve keeping her mouth shut and staying off Twitter.
And that’s no mean feat for a politician.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.