Legacies

Danielle Smith: 'A fart in a frock'

Danielle Smith: ‘A fart in a frock’

Link Byfield, who died January 24, was pre-legacied (along with his father, Ted, still thankfully very much with us) in both 2011 and 2014. Peter Stockland explained the narrative (dread word!) back in September

No Byfields, no Alberta Report. No Alberta Report, no Reform Party as it was formed. No Reform Party, no PC collapse. No PC collapse, no Harper government.

Cui bono? Kathy Shaidle gives us the gist

Canada’s “fringe right wing” populist Reform Party had once been condemned as backward, bigoted and doomed, too; yet one of its founders, Stephen Harper, [i]s now the staunchly pro-Israel prime minister of Canada.

Good news for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Weekly Standard, to be sure, but Canadian patriotism sure ain’t what it used to be.

Link’s career was spent in the shadow of his father, but he was a deeper thinker and a better writer than Ted. When it came to midwifery, however, he fell far short. Ted, for good or ill, begat Preston the Baptist, who inaugurated the apostolic succession that begat Stephen the Great. Link, for his sins, begat Danielle Smith, erstwhile leader of the Wildrose Party and would-be Judas. But that gives her too much credit. She was really never more than (to steal the immortal words of Peter Mannion) “a fart in a frock.”

Link professed himself “baffled” by Smith’s perfidy. “I thought I knew her,” he complained. But Link had only himself to blame. This champion of the social conservatives championed a lifelong self-admitted “libertarian,” and libertarians don’t believe in society. Smith is (again, in her own words) “fiscally conservative, socially mainstream.” In other words, a typical Canadian leftist masquerading as right-wing. Her philosophy can be boiled down to “Free markets, blah, blah, common sense, blah blah, Margaret Thatcher, blah, Ronald Reagan, blah.” In other words, the billionaires get to privatize profit and socialize risk, while the plebs suffer the tender mercies of globalism, multiculturalism and a continuous social revolution first codified then enforced ruthlessly by government.

Smith gave the game away in an interview with the Globe and Mail April 25, 2012. Surely Link must have read it. Two years later, Smith (and the entire Wildrose caucus) supported legislation (now law) that makes “gender” in Alberta a mere “social construct.” In other words, you’re a woman, if you say you are; or you’re a man, if you say you are. All ages too, from eight to 80. And yet Link was baffled. Whatever did he see in this woman?

The preceding is an introduction to a piece I wrote three years ago for another publication. Prescient, no?

Getting To No
May 18, 2012

I owe readers an apology. My previous column made the bold, not to say reckless, prediction that Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party would win the Alberta election. Compounding my error, I luxuriated in the fantasy that Alison “Getting to Yes” Redford was doomed to become the Kim Campbell of Alberta. As it turned out, the Progressive Conservatives won 61 seats to Wildrose’s 17.

In my defence, almost every other pundit was wrong as well. Right up to Election Day, the pollsters had Smith ahead by 10 points. She lost by 10 points, and so the pollsters made a 20% error. This is the third recent Canadian election they have botched. They said Dalton McGuinty would win a majority in Ontario; he didn’t. They said Stephen Harper wouldn’t win a federal majority; he did.

It is pleasant to imagine that these failures have put paid to the pretensions of the pollsters. They have warped the electoral system by making politics entirely “meta.” Because of their malign influence, we no longer discuss politics itself. Instead, it’s always “Who’s up, who’s down?” Pollsters do not engage in rhetoric, and as such do not contribute to the conversation. What they do is manufacture consent. News organizations should stop publicizing their wares and, even worse, commissioning them. Sadly, this won’t happen because journalists are lazy.

But getting the Alberta election wrong is not what shames me. That would be my fear of being thought mean spirited. My first draft added a qualifier to my characterization of Danielle Smith as “right-wing”: “Or at least as right-wing as Canadian politicians are allowed to be.” In other words, not right-wing at all.

I should have stuck with my first instinct: cynicism. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on me; fool me 37 times, shame on me. When can you tell a politician is lying? When he (or she) is breathing. In the event, my cynicism is as nothing compared to Smith’s. One day after the election, she informed the Globe and Mail she intends to eliminate any substantive differences between Wildrose and the PCs.

“You can only govern with a mandate from the people, and if the people aren’t interested in going a certain direction, you have to be the one to change,” declared this wily, battle-hardened veteran of the Alberta political scene. “You have to be the one to modify your policies to be able to fit where Albertans are… There are clearly some policies that cause them some pause, cause them some concern. And we have to address those.”

Specifically, this means no to “conscience rights,” an Alberta pension plan and Alberta provincial police force and yes to global warming. One day after the election, Danielle Smith gave the back of her hand to the 442,467 Albertans who voted for her.

Other party leaders would be delighted to have knocked the Liberals and NDP into “Other Parties” status and finish only 10% behind the PC dynasty. Other party leaders would analyze and discuss the results with Wildrose staffers, advisers and candidates before spouting off to the Globe. Other party leaders would have been grateful that in a five-party race more than one in three Albertans chose her party. Not our Danielle.

After Wildrose’s first election with a full slate, the first election it was taken seriously by anyone, the first election with her as leader, Smith has given up on the possibility of persuading Albertans to endorse change. If Smith is so concerned with winning, she should quit Wildrose and buy a PC membership card. But we now know that Wildrose was simply the Danielle Smith Intends To Become Premier Party. Even Preston Manning waited three elections before razing Reform to the ground. Like Manning (and Stephen Harper) Smith is best understood as a leapfrogger. Instead of getting elected as a PC MLA and ascending the party ranks, as Ted Morton and Alison Redford did, Smith decided to obviate the need for such hard graft and await coronation instead.

The received wisdom about the Conservative leadership race was that Redford defeating little Gary Mar was a gift to Wildrose, as Redford was too left-wing to win. The electorate saw it differently. Voter turnout was 57%, up significantly from 41% in 2008, but the last time Albertans faced the real possibility of regime change, in 1993, turnout reached 60%. Smith lost because too many Albertans decided that she was too much like Redford. And they were correct.

Redford and Smith are typical representatives of their generation. They are both New Class apparatchicks with all the SWPL virtues: 40-something, neoliberal, divorced and remarried, with one child between them.

Smith’s mea culpa in the Globe is further proof of O’Sullivan’s Law: Any party that is not expressly right-wing will become left-wing over time. Smith, with her one-day about-face, has set a record that will be hard to beat.

The received wisdom about the Alberta election is that the social conservatives in the Wildrose coalition poisoned the hope of a “libertarian” triumph. This is richly amusing, as there is no evidence that libertarianism enjoys any popular support anywhere. Nevertheless, there is now no tolerance for social conservatives anywhere in Canadian politics.

It is hardly a coincidence that three days after the Alberta election, Harper’s House of Commons enforcer Gordon O’Connor defined the Conservative Party as stridently pro-abortion. “Society has moved on,” he said. “The decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision, and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount and take precedence over that of the state.”

That being the case, can we expect Harper’s government to legalize drugs, prostitution, incest, polygamy and blackmail? Wait and see. One thing is clear, however. Social conservatives have no right to complain of betrayal from the likes of Danielle Smith and Stephen Harper. One might as well blame the wall you’ve bashed your head against.

Nineteen months after this was written, the scarlet-robed dictators of Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously legalized prostitution on the fatuous grounds that breaking the law exposes lawbreakers to danger. The Harper Conservatives caved immediately. I fully expect that the Gang of Nine will soon legalize cannabis for the same reason. And the Harper Conservatives (if still in power) will cave again. You read it here first.

(Photo credit: Flickr/Dave Cournoyer)

With A Song In My Heart


The first blog called The Ambler began in November 2002. It was designed by me and Dave Stevens (in glorious Microsoft FrontPage) and ran sporadically for several years. The entire archive (or thereabouts) can be accessed via the Wayback Machine. (I shall likely disinter some posts from it and publish them in this space.) This new iteration is in WordPress and would not have been possible without the assistance of my friend Kevin Steel (who is in no wise responsible for any of its contents.)

Why is this site called The Ambler? As I wrote 12 years ago

Several reasons, many of them negative. KevinGrace.com was taken. KevinMichaelGrace.com was too long. Every other descriptive URL (and every conceivable variant) I could think of was already taken. The Ambler refers to a personal attribute (I don’t own a car) and sums up my character rather nicely (I’ve done a great deal to no great end). It also describes a way of seeing: from ground level at a human pace. (I had thought of The Pedestrian, but there was the obvious comeback, “Pedestrian in name, pedestrian in nature.”)

Every enterprise should have a theme song, don’t you think? Mine is Fußreise, music by Hugo Wolf, from the poem by Eduard Mörike. The version above is sung by Stephan Loges, accompanied by Sholto Kynoch. (You can buy it here.) The literal meaning of the title is “foot travel,” but I have chosen to translate it as “Ambling.” (A full translation, from Emily Ezust’s admirable Lied, Art Song and Choral Texts Archive, can be seen here.)

The song is an expression of the physical joy of being alive. Mörike compares himself to the first man, Adam, and gives thanks to God, his “beloved Creator and Preserver,” for this great gift. Despite the copious evidence, general and particular, to the contrary, it is great to be alive, and this song is posted here both as a token of my own gratitude and as a memento mori.

Poor Hugo Wolf did not enjoy a long life by modern standards: incapacitated at 37, dead at 42. Nevertheless, he left us about 300 songs, dozens of which represent the pinnacle of the Kunstlied. He also wrote an opera, a string quartet, a few symphonic pieces and the popular Italian Serenade. Readers wishing to learn more about him are directed to Frank Walker’s fine biography. Those wishing to further explore his musical genius in song are directed to the YouTube page on my blogroll, to the collection by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Daniel Barenboim on Deutsche Grammophon and to the more complete survey (which includes the Italian and Spanish Songbooks) on Warner Classics. Both sets are gratifyingly inexpensive. Barenboim conducts his complete symphonic output here, and special mention should be made of the 24 songs Wolf arranged for voice and orchestra, sung by Juliane Banse and Dietrich Henschel and conducted by Kent Nagano.