On multiple occasions Danielle Smith lobbied energy minister Sonya Savage on ‘RStar,’ a scheme one critic called “sheer robbery” But RStar wasn’t her only pitch: Smith was lobbying the government on dozens of files.
And while lobbyists have found their way into government before, Danielle Smith’s case is unique due to the wide variety of files she lobbied on and her position as premier. Duff Conacher, the executive director of Democracy Watch, an advocacy group for strengthened democratic governance across Canada, has concerns.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that the appearance of government integrity has to be protected, not just the actual integrity, and having a premier who is formerly a lobbyist for a bunch of businesses and private interests does not appear to have integrity, in fact it smells badly,” said Conacher.
The other examples of lobbyists getting elected and then being appointed to positions where they were making decisions on files they lobbied on can be found at the federal level. Gordon O’Connor was a lobbyist for General Dynamics, an arms company, and after he was appointed to the defence minister post by Stephen Harper, he gave a $30 million contract to that same company. Steven Guilbeault was a registered lobbyist for environmental non-profit Equiterre and then became a cabinet minister under Justin Trudeau, eventually becoming the environment minister.
Conacher says it’s unlikely that Smith will run afoul of conflict of interest legislation given how narrowly the law is written.
“Even if she was a lobbyist and in a potential conflict of interest, the act doesn’t apply to 99 per cent of potential conflicts of interest. It’s a joke,” said Conacher.
Photo illustration by the Progress Report. Screenshot from Premier Danielle Smith's address to the Southern Alberta Recovery Conference on Nov. 9, 2022 in Medicine Hat.
There are laws both federally and provincially that apply to former politicians and senior staff from immediately lobbying the government, so-called cooling off periods, but there are no laws stopping lobbyists from running for government office. Questions sent to Smith's office about whether she had consulted the ethics commissioner on this matter or was recusing herself from decisions on files where she lobbied were not answered.
Smith was the president of and a registered lobbyist for the Alberta Enterprise Group (AEG), a business advocacy organization that was created in 2007 from the remnants of the Grassroots Leadership Group, a proto-political action committee started by former Oilers co-owner and natural gas magnate Cal Nichols. The Grassroots Leadership Group started up, according to Dave Cournoyer, to provide financial backing to Mark Norris’ failed 2006 PC leadership bid. AEG then went on to involve itself in the fight to keep the Edmonton city centre airport open and the people involved in that fight backed David Dorward for mayor against Stephen Mandel in 2010.
Smith was the president of AEG from April 2021 to April 2022 until she resigned to pursue the leadership of the UCP. As president of AEG she lobbied the Alberta government and Alberta cabinet ministers extensively, making two separate filings with the lobbyist registry. While the issue of Smith lobbying for RStar, the scheme to give large financial incentives to oil and gas companies to reclaim their oil and gas wells, something they’re legally already obligated to do, has been covered by the media, there are other newsworthy items in the lobbyist registry documents that Smith filed.
Smith met with Tamara Rosenblum at the Canadian Energy Centre, otherwise known as the ‘war room,’ to “discuss the strategy for advertising the benefits of Alberta's oil and gas sector.” Smith contacted officials in the transportation ministry to “find out the process for purchasing a decommissioned bridge owned by the Alberta Government.”
As we've already reported. Smith filed an application for and lobbied the government to approve a charter school. And while that charter school application was eventually withdrawn no reason was given by Smith’s spokesperson for why Smith didn’t follow through on her vision for a charter school that focused on streaming students into trades and technology.
Smith also met with health minister Tyler Shandro on two separate areas of concern. One meeting was “to discuss the College of Physicians and Surgeons interference with doctors ability to prescribe medications based on best available medical research,” according to the lobbyist registry documents.
"We know that Danielle Smith has had a track record of spouting pseudoscience and pushing conspiracies during the pandemic. But it's concerning that only 10 months ago the now premier was actively lobbying the Minister of Health to act on these ideas. It's even more concerning that she's now the premier in charge," said Chris Galloway, the executive director of public health care advocacy group Friends of Medicare.
Danielle Smith said in her newsletter that information about Ivermectin was being suppressed by Alberta Health Services and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also very likely treated her own case of COVID-19 with Ivermectin.
But beyond Smith’s views about certain discredited COVID-19 treatments, her lobbyist registry documents also show a remarkably specific plan to chop up AHS into three distinct parts.
“Met with Health Minister Tyler Shandro to discuss a new accountability model for delivering health care that would split the roles of purchaser, provider and performance oversight,” reads Smith’s lobbyist registry documents
"What Danielle Smith was lobbying for is just the latest jargon meant to set the stage for even more privatization. Our health care system doesn't need more disruptive restructuring and manufactured chaos. We don't need more schemes to carve up the system for easier privatization,” said Galloway.
“What we need is a Premier and Health Minister laser focused on addressing the staffing crisis that is impacting our whole public health care system right now; with a workforce plan that will retain, recruit and train the workers needed to provide Albertans health care when and where they need it."