The U.S. commentator pressed Alberta’s premier on legal cases linked to the Coutts blockade, an issue she’s had to tiptoe around before.
U.S. commentator presses Alberta premier on convoy-related legal cases
Jason Markusoff · CBC News
· Posted: Jan 24, 2024 9:35 PM EST | Last Updated: 4 hours ago
A few thousand people watched as U.S. commentator Tucker Carlson spoke at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary on Wednesday. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith joined him onstage for an interview. (Jason Markusoff/CBC)Back at work in Alberta after two weeks of vacation, Premier Danielle Smith chose as her first public appearance in 2024 a conversation on stage with Tucker Carlson, the U.S. commentator whose views and remarks became too much for his Fox News bosses to tolerate.
On Tuesday night, they enjoyed a private dinner together in Calgary, these two former mainstream broadcasters, one now a government leader and one who’s fielded speculation about becoming Donald Trump’s vice-presidential running mate.
“And had the best time, thank you,” Carlson told Smith at the start of their 17 minutes together at his sold-out speaking event. “Thank you for letting me, a rank foreigner, ask you questions.”
There will always be those who say she’s tacitly endorsing his comments or showing poor judgment doing an event with Carlson.
She’d had a ready response for those who question the appropriateness of Alberta’s premier sharing a podium with the figure who cost his channel advertisers after saying immigrants make his United States “poorer and dirtier,” and has steadily derided Ukraine’s defence against Russian invasion. Smith states she doesn’t agree with every word uttered by any interviewers, from CBC and beyond.
It’s true that Smith has not said anything that remotely compares to Carlson’s words on immigrants, or transgender people, and ceased offering any Carlson-like skeptical commentary on Ukraine after becoming premier in late 2022.
There was merit in speaking with the popular U.S. media figure, her spokesperson insisted when the Carlson-Smith event was first announced last fall. A way to “share Alberta’s message,” he said — and indeed, near the conversation’s end, the premier delivered the long-standing Alberta line that the United States should accept more oil exports from “safe Canada” instead of non-democracies like Iran and Venezuela.
That rosy message about Canada might get lost to U.S. viewers among Carlson’s various complaints Wednesday that Canada is led by a dangerous and undemocratic regime that murders thousands with medically-assisted suicide; and has a prime minister who is a fascist from whom Canada should be liberated, as the commentator said in a video earlier that day.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith (second from left) shared a picture with three men she shared the stage with at events in Calgary and Edmonton on Wednesday: author Jordan Peterson, U.S. broadcaster Tucker Carlson and former newspaper magnate Conrad Black. (X/@abdaniellesmith)Smith was opening herself up to criticism by associating with Carlson and that rhetoric, but most of that bombastic language is predictable fare for him. What would be unpredictable for Smith was those minutes of interaction directly with him. She had her own messages and agenda, and so did he.
One issue he wanted Smith’s remarks on landed her in a dicey spot she hasn’t much wanted to discuss: prosecutions of Albertans arrested during the pandemic.
He asked about the plight of four men arrested at the Coutts blockade in February 2022 and charged with conspiring to murder RCMP officers. Carlson called their legal detention as they await trial “a human rights violation” and argued their charges were dubious.
“Don’t you think it would send a powerful message to go visit them in jail and find out what they’ve been accused of?” Carlson asked Smith.
There was a time, before she was premier, when she’d have been far more aligned with Carlson and many of the Albertans filling that convention centre hall that injustice was being done to those facing COVID- or convoy-related charges. She’d mused about amnesty for some Albertans facing prosecution for nonviolent offences while campaigning for the United Conservative leadership.
But weeks into her current job, she was told pardons and amnesty aren’t possible with the stroke of a premier’s pen. She’s constrained in how she interacts with the police and court system, regardless of her beliefs. “This is part of the journey we’ve all gone on in the last year to realize just how much limitation there is,” Smith told Carlson of her powers to intervene on cases.
And she expressed regret that she was now unable to push, after she praised civil-liberties groups for winning a court victory this week against the Trudeau government’s declaration of the Emergencies Act.
“I truly wish I could do more, but I’ve had my wings clipped in the last year,” Smith said.
The broadcaster and ex-broadcaster left it there, shifting to criticism of solar power and its limited ability to provide power in winter. (Fields of Alberta panels were providing 890 megawatts around the time of Smith’s afternoon appearance, according to provincial system operator data.)
Premier Danielle Smith wished to speak about energy issues with Tucker Carlson, but he first brought up the legal plight of men in prison facing conspiracy to murder charges following the 2022 blockade at Coutts, Alta. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)This wasn’t the first time Smith had expressed regret she didn’t have greater powers to curtail prosecutions that Carlson and others may deplore, although maybe the first time she’d reiterated them in about a year.
She was clearest on that front in a leaked private conversation from last January with Artur Pawlowski, the pastor who was then facing his own blockade-related criminal charges. Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler wrote last spring Smith “breached this principle” of judicial independence by discussing cases with an accused individual, though the commissioner did not weigh in on the premier expressing her view that it was “frustrating” she couldn’t end the court processes.
It’s true that a premier has a right to speak freely with a broad range of individuals and journalists. There’s freedom, too, in the NDP and other critics questioning Smith’s choice to associate with controversial figures like Pawlowski and Carlson, particularly given how much more common it is for a premier to decline a meeting request than to grant one.
These individuals might, after all, place a politician in situations they’d rather not be in, or raise questions they’d rather not discuss. Smith had come to share one message about Alberta, but wound up revising an old one about herself that she until now had appeared to have relegated to the past.
WATCH | Alberta Premier Danielle Smith does live interview with Tucker Carlson:
Tucker Carlson interviews Alberta premier in CalgaryDanielle Smith did a live interview with controversial former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who is known for promoting the racist “great replacement” theory and referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an authoritarian. Smith said that while she doesn’t agree with everything Carlson says, she wanted Alberta’s story told.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Markusoff analyzes what’s happening — and what isn’t happening, but probably should be — in Calgary, Alberta and sometimes farther afield. He’s written in Alberta for more than two decades, previously reporting for Maclean’s magazine, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal. He appears regularly on Power and Politics’ Power Panel and various other CBC current affairs shows. Reach him at email@example.com
With files from Robson Fletcher