Wildrose leader Danielle Smith speaks to the media during a campaign stop at the Delta Edmonton South Hotel, 4404 Gateway Blvd., in Edmonton, Friday April 13, 2012.
Credits: DAVID BLOOM/QMI AGENCY
It's historic, and worthy of your consideration, because Alberta is on the cusp of plunging itself into a divisive, needless debate, one that could spill over into other provinces.
The debate centres on some of the most difficult issues of our era: Reproductive choice for women, equal marriage for gays and lesbians, the wall that exists (supposedly) between church and state.
Alberta Wildrose leader Danielle Smith wants to tear down that wall, although she would never be so impolitic as to say so out loud. When a microphone is pointed in her direction, the frontrunner in the Alberta election insists she doesn't want to defund abortion.
She claims she doesn't want to stop gay marriages. She will say, with a straight face, that she wants to keep religion out of politics.
But here's the thing: Smith - who, with her background in TV journalism, knows how to lull voters to sleep - isn't telling the truth. She's lying, in fact. She's trying to have it both ways.
Here are some of the things that Smith said before Wildrose existed, and before she became its leader. She was a lot more candid, back then.
n On abortion: "... Any politician who challenges the status quo gets pilloried by the media, abortion rights groups and opposing politicians ... Yet, second- and third-trimester abortions are a horrific practice ... Most Canadians respect that the decision is between a woman, her doctor and God, but I'm sure they also agree that the taxpayer should not be on the hook to pay for it."
n On university behaviour codes: "It is perfectly reasonable (to) expect its students to refrain from practices that are biblically condemned, and sign a pledge not to get drunk, swear, harass, lie, cheat, steal, have an abortion, practise the occult, or engage in sexual sins such as premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behaviour and viewing of pornography."
n On the courts: "There are several decisions social conservatives point to in order to make the case the courts are out of control: Striking down the abortion law, the change in the traditional definition of marriage, the legalization of swingers' clubs."
n On overriding charter rights: "The notwithstanding clause is simply not necessary. Politicians are wily enough to find a way to violate charter rights with or without it."
Those statements are on the record, and readily available via the Internet. There are many more. Smith's expressed opinions paint the picture of a far-right social conservative, one who wanted to circumvent the courts, and the law, to impose her social agenda.
These days, however, Smith is a professional politician. She is, accordingly, crafty. Despite those very clear words above, she now claims she is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and so on. The person she is today doesn't resemble the person she used to be.
How does she get away with that? How, in particular, does her caucus - who are, overwhelmingly, hard-Right social conservatives - let her get away with that? How can she, for example, say she's "pro-choice" and also call abortions at four months "horrific?"
To do that, Smith has come up with an interesting little bit of "doublespeak" - she calls it conscience rights. It means, under a Wildrose government, if a doctor or nurse's "conscience" opposes abortion, then they can refuse to perform them.
If a marriage commissioner opposes same-sex unions, they can refuse those, too.
If a public servant's "conscience" is against anything, apparently, they can refuse to do it.
You can see where this might go, in Alberta and elsewhere.
If a bureaucrat's "conscience" is troubled, they can say no to just about anything. Licensing oilsands extraction. Building a road. Cutting down a tree.
Danielle Smith, then, is worse than a liar. If elected, she will unleash social and political chaos unlike anything Alberta has seen since the bad old days of Social Credit.
That's bad for Alberta. And what's bad for Alberta is bad for Canada, too.