Smith says moving on from 'dark days' of pandemic after COVID-Nazi comments surface
EDMONTON — Alberta United Conservative Leader Danielle Smith declined Tuesday to discuss prior comments equating the COVID-19 vaccinated to Nazi supporters, saying it's time to move on from the "dark days" of the pandemic.
“COVID was a really difficult and frustrating time for everyone, including me, and I don't think that there is a single one of us that wasn't deeply impacted in some way,” Smith told reporters.
“Sometimes I let my frustrations get to me during that time. I clearly shouldn't have.”
Albertans go to the polls on May 29.
Smith’s comments came a day after she apologized in a written statement for comments she made as a journalist and pundit on a podcast in late 2021, in which she characterized Albertans who took the COVID vaccine as credulous followers of genocidal tyrants like Adolf Hitler.
Smith is also heard on the podcast saying she was not wearing the Remembrance Day poppy out of disgust for the COVID restrictions imposed at the time by political leaders.
B’nai Brith Canada and the Alberta-NWT branch of the Royal Canadian Legion have condemned the comments.
The Calgary Jewish Federation has said it won’t weigh in during the election, but pointed to a March 2021 newspaper column that criticized Smith for raising concerns COVID mandates could eventually mirror medical experiments the Nazis did on humans.
Smith declined to answer a question Tuesday on why she was allowed to stay on as a UCP candidate while the party late last year barred Nadine Wellwood from running in Livingstone-Macleod in part for making similar comments.
The Opposition NDP, in a statement, criticized the UCP for disqualifying Wellwood while letting Smith stay on.
“It’s clear that the UCP has abandoned its principles if it’s willing to be led by someone who casually compares Albertans to Nazis and refuses to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day,” said Gwendoline Dirk, the candidate running against Smith in Brooks-Medicine Hat.
Smith said her goal has been to move on from COVID since she won the party leadership last October to replace Jason Kenney as UCP leader and premier.
“I vowed when I got elected that we were going to put it in the past, that we were going to look forward, that we were going to make sure that this was a place where everybody from every walk of life felt valued and respected and optimistic about the future,” she said.
Smith ran and won the UCP leadership in part by capitalizing on anger and concerns from party members over COVID restrictions.
On her first day as premier, Smith called the COVID unvaccinated the most discriminated-against group she had seen in her lifetime.
She then fired the board of Alberta Health Services and the chief medical officer of health, blaming both for poor advice and inadequate response that led to hospitals being overwhelmed during the pandemic.
She promised to seek pardons for those charged with non-violent COVID offences, but later backed off, saying she didn’t realize premiers don’t possess such powers.
She has said she pushes senior justice officials on whether COVID cases are winnable and in the public interest.
She has threatened to sue the CBC for defamation over stories alleging someone in Smith’s office was interfering with justice officials on how they pursued COVID court cases. The CBC stands by its reporting.
Smith is under investigation by Alberta’s ethics commissioner after a leaked recording of a phone call surfaced in late March in which she is heard offering to help COVID protester Artur Pawlowski with his criminal case.
Smith promised to change Alberta human rights laws to ban discrimination based on COVID vaccination status, but hasn't followed through.
In November, Smith announced she was phoning up organizations with COVID vaccine mandates to urge them to change their minds, tying it to government funding if need be. She also asked Albertans to call her government to report on those imposing vaccine mandates.
She banned mandatory masking in schools and has rejected mandatory health rules to combat any future COVID pandemics.
She promised to create her own team of advisers to guide her on public health policy, saying in November she wanted to hear from a former U.S. policymaker who has called COVID vaccines “bioweapons.” That panel never got off the ground and was quietly scrapped in January.
She has struck a panel led by former Reform party leader Preston Manning to examine any legislative reforms that should be considered coming out of COVID. Manning took the job after agreeing to step aside from his role in a national citizens’ inquiry into social and economic harm caused by COVID rules.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press