Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is once again embroiled in controversy thanks to her shoot-from-the-hip style.
The premier at least twice stated that she spoke to prosecutors about outstanding Covid-related court cases and whether it was in the public interest to pursue those cases.
Given that a premier interfering with the justice process is improper, she walked the statements back and clarified that she actually spoke to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general.
During her regular weekend radio show, the premier said, “Of course, I’ve never called a Crown prosecutor. You’re not allowed to do that as a politician. Everyone knows that.”
Perhaps her initial remarks were just an exaggeration, short-handing the nature of her actions to jibe with her campaign to protect anti-vaccine mandate activists. Some of her other shaky statements have grown out of her continuing loyalty to the anti-vax crowd which supported her party leadership bid.
She had to clarify the intent of her keystone Sovereignty Act, for instance. It wasn’t really designed to give cabinet ministers authority only the legislature should have, apparently.
This latest gaffe continues in the same vein of a somewhat fuzzy interpretation of the role of the premier. But it also opened the door to a roiling controversy about whether the UCP government is interfering improperly in the administration of justice.
After Smith’s clarification, CBC News published a story with unnamed sources claiming a staff member in the premier’s office emailed a prosecutor challenging the prosecutors’ assessment and direction on cases related to the Coutts border blockades and protests. CBC admitted it had not seen the offending email.
The government shot back after a weekend of combing through the premier’s staff electronic record that there is no trace of such an email. On social media, a debate immediately erupted on who is more trustworthy, the premier of the province or the CBC.
By Wednesday, Smith was demanding an apology and retraction from CBC and the NDP, who had gleefully piled on to decry interference by the premier’s staff.
CBC is standing by its original story and doubled down Wednesday with another story saying the Justice minister’s office has been under heavy pressure from the premier’s office on the Covid file.
Smith is trying to put the issue to bed. Outside of the bombastic outrage, she admitted in her statement that she might want to wade into the Covid cases, but is resigned to the fact she doesn’t have the power.
“The Premier publicly campaigned for seven months on exploring ways to grant legal amnesty for individuals charged with non-violent, non-firearms, pandemic-related violations.
“After taking office, the Premier and her staff had several discussions with the Minister of Justice and ministry officials, requesting an explanation of what policy options were available for this purpose. After receiving a detailed legal opinion from the minister to not proceed with pursuing options for granting amnesty, the Premier followed that legal advice.”
The usual government critics are calling for an independent investigation into political interference in the judicial system. That’s not likely to happen given Smith’s efforts to close the book on this file. If it does, the government could easily drag it out until after the May provincial election, which would defang the process.
But last weekend Smith did have to defend herself in a different forum as the UCP caucus held an extraordinary Saturday meeting. There were no leaks from the gathering and there were expressions of continuing support for the premier afterward, but Smith’s predecessor Jason Kenney can attest that an unscheduled caucus meeting can be a signal of trouble. That said, a party with only four months to a vote isn’t going to drop its leader.