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Redemption: Danielle Smith aims to be ‘force of unity’ as new Alberta premier

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CALGARY — The political story of Danielle Smith is one of triumph then defeat, followed by betrayal, banishment and, now, redemption.

Smith, a 51-year-old Alberta-born journalist and restaurant owner won the leadership of the United Conservative Party on Thursday to become its new leader and the next premier of Alberta.

It’s a stunning comeback for Smith, who eight years ago was a reviled outcast in the conservative movement after she engineered a floor crossing for the ages.

“(It’s) unfinished business for me,” Smith said in an interview earlier this week when asked why she decided to re-enter politics.

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“After everything I’ve done in the past to divide the movement, then try to bring it together the wrong way, I feel like I owe it to the conservative movement to do what I can to be a force of unity.”

Smith was born in Calgary and got into politics in junior high school, after she told her dad that her teacher was lauding the virtues of communism. Her father had roots in Ukraine, where millions died under Josef Stalin, and gave the teacher an earful. He then ensured politics was discussed around the dinner table.

Smith attended the University of Calgary and found herself entranced by soapbox lectures of conservatives like Ezra Levant and Rob Anders.

She joined the campus Progressive Conservative club and soaked in teachings of the “Calgary School” of economists and political scientists advocating for free markets and small government.

She devoured the works of John Locke and Ayn Rand and got tongue-tied when she met her idol, former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher. She took leadership courses and attended Toastmasters meetings to hone her debating skills and smooth out a public speaking style now considered to be her strongest political attribute.

In 1998, at 27, she won was elected a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education.

It was a short, rocky ride. Smith clashed with the liberal majority on the board and the panel was so fraught with acrimony and dysfunction that the province fired them within a year.

She then moved to media and business advocacy. She wrote newspaper editorials, hosted the current affairs TV show “Global Sunday” and was the Alberta boss for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

By 2009, politics was calling again. A rift was widening in Alberta’s conservative movement.

The Wildrose Alliance, later the Wildrose Party, was hiving off members and money from the governing Progressive Conservatives, under then premier Ed Stelmach.

The PCs, they said, had forgotten their roots, delivered top-down decisions and indulged in profligate spending that delivered multibillion-dollar deficits as oil and gas prices hit the skids.

Smith agreed change was needed and won the Wildrose leadership, telling cheering supporters in her maiden speech: “Ed Stelmach, you haven’t begun to imagine what’s going to hit you!”

The Wildrose grew under Smith and poached floor crossers from the PCs, who in turn kicked Stelmach to the curb and installed Alison Redford as premier.

In the 2012 election, Smith and the Wildrose appeared primed to end the PC dynasty.

But there were late-stage mistakes. Smith questioned the science of climate change and refused to sanction two candidates for past remarks deemed homophobic and racist.

When the votes were counted, Smith and the Wildrose lost to the PCs but captured 17 seats to become the Opposition.

Smith began trying to rebuild the party brand and reached out to marginalized groups.

The Tories, meanwhile, continued their descent into infighting and disarray. Redford quit in 2014 amid scandal and was replaced by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice.

As Prentice took over, the Wildrose began to fray. The party lost four byelections to the PCs, then Wildrose rank-and-file voted to roll back a policy to respect all Albertans regardless of differences, such as sexual orientation.

Some of Smith’s caucus began bolting to Prentice and eventually Smith agreed: if the goal was to keep the conservative movement strong and Prentice would give them what they wanted, let’s roll.

A week before Christmas, Smith led eight more members across the floor, leaving five shell-shocked Wildrosers and staffers getting pink slips for the holidays.

“Tighty Righties” was one cheeky tabloid headline at the time that appeared beneath a photo of a beaming Prentice and Smith.

The fallout was swift and merciless. Smith and the other crossers either didn’t win their PC nominations or their seats in the 2015 election.

The Wildrose rebounded under new leader Brian Jean to retain Opposition status. Jean called Smith a “betrayer of family.”

Rachel Notley and her NDP won government for the first time ever, taking advantage of vote splitting between the Wildrose and PCs in key Calgary constituencies.

Smith began a six-year stint as a daily current affairs radio talk show host in Calgary.

“It was not easy deciding to stay in the public eye after what I’d done and the visceral reaction people had,” said Smith.

“It was unpleasant the first three months I was on the air — the texts and the emails that came in and the people who were so furious at me.”

It was three years before she began attending conservative meetings again, after a friend told her: “you can’t keep hiding.”

“I had dear friends from my Wildrose days that I’d go in for the hug and they’d give me the hand, or they’d walk away,” Smith recalled of the first few events.

“It was a seven-year process of trying to get people to forgive me. Not everyone has, but a lot of people have.”

Smith said she never discounted running again for premier, but figured Jason Kenney had a long-term lock on the job after he united the PCs and Wildrose in 2017 to form the new United Conservative Party.

Kenney won the UCP leadership, then made Notley’s NDP a one-and-done government in 2019.

When Kenney quit over caucus and party discontent in May, Smith said she decided to run by courting the UCP base — rural members frustrated with Ottawa, mainly over health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was an agent of chaos and confrontation, promising to pass a law allowing Alberta to ignore federal laws deemed offside with its constitutional prerogatives. She pledged no more health restrictions or COVID-19 lockdowns and promised to fire health board members en masse.

As premier, she must now pivot to make the UCP palatable to the broader population, quell a divided, angry caucus and answer the question of whether politician Danielle Smith 3.0 can break her pattern of splashy political entrances and even crazier exits.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Fauci says ‘we need to keep the politics out of’ investigating COVID origins – The Hill

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Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s outgoing chief medical adviser, on Sunday urged officials to “keep the politics out of” investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.

Speaking with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fauci said he is keeping an open mind, but he reiterated that the evidence is “quite strong” that the virus occurred naturally.

“They’re very suspicious of anybody trying to accuse them,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “We need to have an open dialogue with their scientists and our scientists, keep the politics out of it.”

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Republicans have indicated they plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic upon taking the House majority in January as well as Fauci himself, suggesting COVID-19 instead originated from a laboratory.


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“All of my colleagues, keep an absolutely open mind,” Fauci said on CBS. “We’ve got to investigate every possibility because this is too important not to do that. That’s not incompatible with saying the scientific evidence still weighs much more strongly that this is a natural occurrence. You must keep your mind open that it’s something other than that.”

But Fauci pushed back on the notion that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the pandemic’s origins. 

“Not necessarily the scientists that we know and we have dealt with and collaborated with productively for decades, but the whole establishment — a political and other establishment in China, even when there’s nothing at all to hide — they act secretive, which absolutely triggers an appropriate suspicion,” Fauci said.

He went on to criticize former President Trump’s accusatory comments against China during the early months of the pandemic, although Fauci acknowledged a need for more data.

“What happens is that if you look at the anti-China approach, that clearly the Trump administration had right from the very beginning, and the accusatory nature, the Chinese are going to flinch back and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not going to talk to you about it,’ which is not correct. They should be,” Fauci told Brennan.

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Twitter's time in Canadian politics began with an apology — and then it got worse – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter on federal politics. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

The first reference to “tweeting” in the House of Commons came during an apology.

Shortly after question period on the afternoon of October 20, 2009, then-Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood on a point of order.

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“I wish to inform you and the House that I inadvertently tweeted about matters that I ought not to have tweeted about, that is, the in-camera proceedings of the defence committee,” Dosanjh told the Speaker. “That was an error on my part and that entry will be deleted at the earliest possible opportunity, which is right after I get out of here.”

This, apparently, was before MPs realized they could have their staff manage their Twitter accounts.

Ujjal Dosanjh in the House of Commons. The then-Liberal MP apologized to the House in 2009 for tweeting out details of in-camera committee proceedings. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“I thank the honourable member,” responded Peter Milliken, Speaker at the time. “I assume that ‘tweeting’ means it went on Twitter.”

Dosanjh’s point of order marked the arrival in Canada of a social media platform that promoted both dialogue and excess — a tool that both enriched debate and created new ways to do things we would later regret.

Thirteen years later, Twitter seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Even if it carries on in some shape or form, its time as one of the predominant forums in public life may be nearing an end. Many users have already withdrawn from the platform or reduced their presence.

Whenever and however the Twitter era comes to an end, its impact on Canadians politics will have been great — but not entirely good.

Small audience, big impact

There is a decent chance that you’re not a regular user of Twitter. Most Canadians aren’t. But the platform has an outsized impact on the political life of this country because most Canadian politicians, journalists, pundits, political strategists, pollsters, lobbyists and partisans do use Twitter — along with a significant number of academics, policy wonks and subject matter experts.

Canada is hardly the only country with this dynamic, of course. Consider, for instance, the United States — Twitter played an integral role in Donald Trump’s rise.

Nothing so seismic has happened here (at least not yet) but the impact has not been small.

It also hasn’t been all bad. It gave politicians a new way to communicate with voters and it created a new way for voters to hold politicians to account. It facilitated the spread of news and information with incredible speed and breadth.

It elevated new and underrepresented voices and those voices enriched the wider dialogue. In certain ways, Twitter helped bring more nuance to the political debate. Think of every academic or historian who has used a Twitter thread to illuminate a complicated topic.

That, sadly, isn’t all that might be said about Twitter’s performance as a modern public square.

Amping up the extremes

As much as it has helped expose users to important information and valuable voices, it also has spread misinformation, disinformation, harassment and general nastiness. It prizes and rewards snap judgments, hot takes, outrage, condemnation, mockery, doomsaying and disagreement.

It sped up the news cycle to a dizzying degree. It elevates the most extreme opinions, offers ample opportunity for bad-faith actors and it is a terrible proxy for actual public opinion.

If previous media eras reduced politics to sound bites, Twitter reduced it even further — to hashtags. At times, the House of Commons seemed to be little more than a fancy studio for recording video clips to be pushed out on MPs’ Twitter feeds.

For all these reasons, it might be tempting to think Canadian politics would be better off without Twitter. But even if Twitter were to disappear tomorrow, there is no going back to a time before social media — just as there is no going back to a time before television or radio or newspapers.

If Twitter ceases to be a significant forum, some new platform (or platforms) will take its place. The era of social media is far from over.

There is something to be said for the argument that the problem with Twitter is not the platform itself but the way it is used, and the ways in which it is allowed to be used. In that sense, Twitter offers valuable lessons in how social media can work and how it can go wildly wrong.

Whether those lessons will be heeded is another matter entirely. The question of government regulation still looms on the horizon.

The indisputable truth is that, 13 years after Ujjal Dosanjh found a novel way to betray the confidence of in-camera committee discussions, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the social media era work out for the best — or to at least minimize the harm it does.

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10 Must-Read Novels About Asian American Politics

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In Ryan Wong’s daring and generous debut novel, Which Side Are You On, Columbia University student Reed informs his parents that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself to grassroots organizing—for the past few months, he’s been protesting the killing of an unarmed Black man by an Asian American police officer. He’s adamant to learn everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community.

You might not know that “Asian American” is a relatively new term, only about fifty years old. You likely don’t know the term was coined by student leftists to join a coalition of Chicano, Black, and American Indian movements on Bay Area campuses in 1968. You might not think of Asian American Pacific Islanders as political as all, and this is largely because that history has largely been ignored or erased in favor of the tame, assimilationist “model minority” narrative.

Today, as we face intense anti-Asian violence, ongoing U.S. militarism in Asia, rapidly shifting migration patterns, and a crisis of American racial identity, it might help us to examine the political nature of Asian America through some of its most compelling narratives. Here’s a selection of ten novels that expand upon, challenge, and imagine futures for this young identity. They’re stories of rebels and revolutionaries, organizers and outsiders taking histories into their own hands.

1. I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

This sprawling, 700+ page epic pays tribute to the Asian American Movement that defined this new identity. It was written decades later, but has all of the humor, bite, hope, and surrealism you might expect from a novel of vignettes set in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s—scenes of Black Panthers and young Asian American radicals in a hotel room in Chinatown, of an Alcatraz Island takeover, of free folk concerts in Golden Gate Park, and, of course, of the demonstrations to save that hotbed of organizing and elder care and arts making, the I Hotel.

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2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The narrator of this novel talks to you, but the “you” of it is an ambiguous American who is in Lahore, Pakistan, for unknown reasons—to befriend the narrator, to kill him, or both. Like the confessor in Camus’s The Fall, we get a frank and revealing series of tales, but instead of the existential angst of the judge we have the racial existentialism of the man trying to belong in a world that won’t have him. It’s a reminder that often fundamentalists scorn the very systems in which they once came close to belonging.

3. Leche by R. Zamora Linmark

Can a novel about Japanese war atrocities in the Philippines be funny? An early scene has protagonist Vince watching a maudlin drama on the airplane back to the Philippines (which he left for the U.S. 13 years before) about a convent during the Japanese invasion. To speak about the unspeakable, you may need the absurdities that pop culture makes possible, the distance of humor. The Manila of Leche is a hazy hell, but also one full of pathos and heart, and it leads Vince exactly where he needs to go.

4. Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul

What would the Asian diaspora in the Americas be without Naipaul’s Trinidad, which he left to attend Oxford only to revisit again and again in his writing? Guerrillas takes place on an unnamed island on the eve of revolution. Naipaul is one of the original problematic faves—his sexual politics are horrifying, his view of revolution condescending. Yet he’s one of the greats at showing the extreme bifurcations that colonialism and diaspora perform on the human mind, whether the white liberal’s paternalism or the would-be revolutionary’s deluded egoism.

5. Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

This isn’t an “Asian American” story in the usual sense, but America’s presence is like a long shadow, a bogeyman, an uninvited dinner guest in this kaleidoscopic story of 1950s Manila. In other words, American stories happen anywhere America’s military and political presence rule, and their tacit condoning of the rise of an unnamed dictator and his glamorous first lady form the story’s backdrop. Hagedorn’s sentences bite and her scenes steam with heat as you follow this network of characters asking what they’ll do with their new-found “independence.”

6. Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee

This novel is often remembered as a portrait of a son and his working immigrant father. But it’s also a novel of politics, where some of the most tender and dynamic moments are between the narrator, Henry Park, and the city councilman John Kwang, who he’s assigned to spy on. John is charismatic and idealistic, a foil to Henry’s mercenary pragmatism. One of the crucial plot points revolves around a Korean money circle, or ggeh, one of the main ways Korean businesses survive, but to the U.S. state looks like money laundering. The novel asks what it means to succeed in a country designed to destroy you, to be loyal to people sent to undo you.

7. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan

Somewhere between novel and autobiography, America Is in the Heart has all the sweep, heroism, and tragedy of the old epics. We follow the narrator, also named Carlos, from his youth in the Philippines to the fields of California to the canneries of Alaska, where, witnessing the brutality against Filipinos by police, bosses, and business owners, he becomes radicalized. He joins socialist and communist groups, organizes with unions, and publishes poetry and essays on his experiences, the culmination of which is this monumental book.

8. The Winged Seed by Li-Young Lee

Lee’s father was jailed under the regime of President Sukarno in Indonesia. That traumatic event shows up in Lee’s poetry and is a central feature of this poem-novel-memoir-myth of his family’s migration story. The book is called a “remembrance” and it reads like a dream, or, often, a nightmare, as the ravages of persecution and exile, of otherness and violence, manifest within and between Lee’s family members. History and displacement haunt this prose, every sentence drops like a stone, and the smallest moment sends you reeling to the past.

9. Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Dense yet sprawling, this experimental book traces Korean independence martyr Yu Gwansun through the stories of other mythic women martyrs in history. Cha was a visual artist, writer, and performer—a brilliant polymath who was murdered just as this book was published. Dictee shows what a book can be, that it’s capacious enough to contain photographs, verse, myth, and anything else the writer needs to assemble in order to speak about a fractured history.

10. The Hanging on Union Square by H. T. Hsiang

It’s not hard to see why Hsiang had trouble finding a publisher for this oddball novel that reads something like a screenplay or a novel-in-verse but without the respective plot or lyricism that usually accompanies those forms. But he had the foresight to self-publish it in 1935, and it’s a good thing he did, because he offers a portrait of the vibrant and rough life in Greenwich Village through the eyes of Mr. Nut, who becomes politicized by the grind of the down-and-outs. He seems compelled by some manic force, conveyed through the novel’s prose—a heady mix of bohemianism and radicalism pushing the lines forward.

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