Danielle Smith Alberta
Danielle Smith Alberta This article is more than 8 months old
ANALYSIS

What’s To Come from Danielle Smith’s Newly Elected Majority Government

Oil industry handouts, more private education, involuntary drug treatment—and they’re just getting started

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Here is why you can trust our journalism.

With a fresh mandate and a majority in the legislature, Alberta’s United Conservative Government is poised to bring in rapid privatization and corporate welfare under new Premier Danielle Smith. 

Smith’s controversial opinions favouring far-right, Ayn Rand-inspired public policies are well-documented throughout her media career. She favours for-profit delivery of social services and “austerity,” as well as “pain” for the public sector.

If this isn’t enough to get an idea of what to expect, you can look at what the new UCP government has already done since she took leadership of the party in October.

Smith has attempted to distance herself as Premier from her past comments as a broadcaster and columnist. For example, she promised a “public health guarantee,” despite her many, many, many past comments to the contrary, some of which PressProgress covered

Smith has also already laid the groundwork for major right wing policy advancements. Since October, the UCP has opened the door for corporate welfare for oil companies, ramped up education privatization and signalled a flourishing private drug recovery industry.

With the new UCP mandate just getting started, here’s what we’ve seen so far.

Corporate welfare for oil companies

In February, the UCP announced its plan for a pilot program that would let oil companies off the hook for environmental cleanup.

For oil companies who were hoping to cash in on what Smith once proposed as a $20 billion giveaway from the Alberta government—the future looks good.

Smith has had many roles throughout her career, including Calgary school board trustee, right wing radio pundit, and corporate lobbyist. During her time lobbying the government on behalf of Alberta corporations, she pitched a scheme originally known as the RStar program that would pay companies fulfill their legally obligated environmental responsibility 

Critics have described it as corporate welfare for the oil industry. Scotiabank even put out a report stating it would hurt the industry’s reputation, and only benefit top oil and gas players.

Smith’s Energy Minister Peter Guthrie meanwhile described the program as a “top priority” for the new government. 

Chief advocate of RStar, now known as the Liability Management Incentive Program, was Kris Kinnear, a lobbyist who is credited with devising the idea as founder of a conservative activist and lobby group called the South Alberta Energy Network (SAEN). Kinnear also coordinated Smith’s leadership campaign.

SAEN’s ties to the UCP go back to 2019 when they took credit for getting 15 UCP caucus members elected. Kinnear now works in the Premier’s Office as Special Projects Manager. 

Days before the election that brought her to power, Smith was asked directly if she’d proceed with the pilot program, but she avoided the question.

Based on this, it looks like a more expansive version of the program is on the table.

The Commodification of Education

Charter school funding spiked under Smith’s leadership.

From what we’ve seen so far, Alberta can expect more privatization in education, and the continued expansion of elite charter schools under the new UCP government.

During the leadership race, Smith pitched moving Alberta towards a “voucher-style” funding model for education by subsidizing students who attend private schools with public funds, as well as doubling direct subsidies for homeschoolers. 

In doing so, she pointed to a “system being pioneered in Arizona.”

Smith went further than her rival UCP leadership candidates when she called for public money to finance private school education.

“Our members have talked about wanting us to move to more of a voucher style system being pioneered in Arizona. Actually they’re the ones who have, I think, moved the furthest along with what they call empowerment, scholarship accounts. And the way they do it is they give $7,000 per student, and it’s universal. So the child can go to the school of their choice.”

The comments came during a panel talk hosted by Parents for Choice in Education, a homophobic advocacy group that pushes for public funding to private religious schools.

Alberta leads the country in the privatization of education. It is the only province that has charter schools, which are described as “private schools in disguise.” Under Smith this system has already seen significant expansion. 

In April the UCP announced a $118 million charter school “hub” that would cater to the province’s top socio-economic households. Additionally, charter school funding has increased by 18.6% compared to a 6.83% increase for public schools.

One STEM based charter school, without any explanation, saw its government funding spike 77%.

Experts are warning of a shift towards American-style culture war politics with the erosion of the public system.

For Profit Addiction Treatment

In April Smith announced the Compassionate Care Act, which would introduce involuntary drug addiction treatment in Alberta.

UCP has always favoured abstinence-based, for profit, and religious treatment in its drug policy, which experts say hasn’t been working.

Behind this new government’s pull away from harm reduction and safe supply is the new Premier’s Chief of Staff Marshall Smith, a conservative political actor with ties to the private recovery industry. An architect of the new UCP government’s drug policies, also known as the Alberta Model, he is an influential political figure who has drawn controversy in the past.

He was caught up in a scandal where a British Columbia based rehab facility, where he was a senior staffer, allegedly used clients to provide free labour to the BC Liberals. He was also featured in the documentary “Vancouver is Dying,” which demonized the homeless.

More recently, he said governments should not consult “addicts” on drug policy because they are “high.” 

 

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Stephen Magusiak
Reporter
Stephen Magusiak is PressProgress’ Alberta reporter. His reporting has a focus on public accountability, public services and privatization, and the right-wing war on environmentalists.

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