God willing, mass public outcry like the rallies and school walkouts we’ve seen over the past several days are going to kill Danielle Smith’s anti-trans policy push before it can become law in November.
But whatever happens, it’s time to call an end to something else: Danielle Smith’s ‘maverick libertarian’ brand.
A dominant narrative in Alberta political commentary since Smith returned to the electoral scene has been that she’s somehow different from Jason Kenney and from the ‘Lake of Fire’ Wildrose set she formerly led.
Chalk some of it up to hopeful thinking. I can’t fault anyone for thinking things couldn’t get worse than the Best Summer Ever.
For some, maybe the reasons were personal. Don Braid is (voluntarily) eating crow this week for past assertions that he could “tell you one thing about Smith, though—she is not anti-gay, anti-choice, or in any way racist” (that’s three things, actually, Don!) and his prediction that she’d put a pin in UCP extremism.
Braid at least had the excuse of some esprit de corps. After all, Don and Danielle were in the trenches together, back in 1999, scabbing during the great Calgary Herald strike.
The thing is that Braid is far from the only one to have fallen for Smith’s act.
As recently as last July, it was the analysis of CBC’s Jason Markusoff that, “Whether this is due to political pragmatism, personal relationships, her own live-and-let-live libertarian ideology—or, likely, a complex mixture of factors—[Smith] just isn't going to the polarizing place so many like-minded figures in politics have gone.”
From the based left to the extreme right Smith’s act seems to have conned audiences of all stripes. The forced-birth activists over at the Campaign Life Coalition actually called her “an enthusiastic supporter of radical LGBT ideology.”
Even in my own writing circles and the radical Discords I frequent, gloomy little caverns of the cynical doomer left, the Danielle Is Different theory somehow had legs. We all knew her record with the Wildrose, her history as a mendacious corporate lobbyist, and we'd all listened to her debase herself on air with COVID conspiracies and climate denial. But at least, many would say, she's different on the social issues. At least she won't persecute people for their gender or for who they love. She's wacky, but at least a different kind of wacky. A libertarian. A maverick.
Run the clock forward to today and the truth is that the Smith administration is marching in the same straight line as the Kenney administration before hers, and in the footsteps of the PC administrations that preceded Notley.
Today’s debates over parental notification, sex ed material, gender-affirming care and trans kids in sports are fronts in the same war over trans and queer rights that was being waged through attacks on gay-straight-alliances (GSAs) over the last decade, and the Bill 44 debates about sex ed in schools years before that.
Lost in the noise is the ancient lore that these policies Alberta conservatives have been attacking for decades were enacted in the first place to protect children.
Queer, gender non-conforming and trans youth suffer from, to this day, staggering rates of homelessness, abuse, and suicide.
A great deal of research—here's for example one 2014 UBC study—has found that access to GSAs significantly reduced suicide rates at schools.
There is broad academic agreement as well that gender-affirming care greatly reduces depression and suicide among trans youth.
And there’s simply a mountain of evidence confirming that comprehensive sex ed protects children from sexual predators. Here’s one paper, for the curious.
It’s incendiary to call anyone pro-child-abuse or pro-child-suicide, but what else is there to say? I won’t go so far as to claim that Smith and her caucus actively want kids to be vulnerable to harm—only one of the just-over-a-hundred UCP MLAs since the party’s formation has turned out to be a convicted pedophile, after all—but the consequences of this agenda are what they are.
What’s telling about Smith’s character is that unlike some of her colleagues, who simply reject the truth about these matters, she’s proven that she knows it.
At the height of the GSA debate in 2014, Smith was marching in Pride parades and standing up in the Legislature to argue for the kids.
Photo via David Climenhaga and the Wildrose Party's defunct Facebook page.
She cited the suicides. She cited the abuse. She shared the horrible stories of the children thrown out on the street, or worse, for being different.
“This really is a case of life or death,” she pleaded during a 2014 debate over legislation relating to GSAs.
Then, as now, one of the key issues was parental notification. Smith passionately spoke of the dangers that some children face, and of how notifying an intolerant parent could put the child at risk of serious harm.
Stenographer of the right Rick Bell reported that Smith even choked up as she told the tales.
Smith presented it as a moral issue, a life-or-death issue, and a matter of principle. And maybe that’s where her posturing and our false perception of her began.
What kind of person could make this kind of raw, desperate plea for mercy for children and then just completely flip? What kind of mind do you have to have to manipulate people like that?
Smith's policy pitch combines the harshest anti-trans policies ever proposed in Canada with performative swings at made-up problems that only exist in the conservative mind, like myths of trans superiority in sports or lurid tales of ‘social contagion’ and a non-existent endemic of child surgeries.
It’s injury and it’s insult. A bundle of policies that will put the most vulnerable kids around in danger, puffed up with a pack of lies, delivered to you by a person who was in tears arguing the opposite just ten years ago.
Let's put this nonsense narrative of the freedom-loving maverick behind us. The Premier’s mask is off. It’s time to admit what’s always been underneath it.