Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: Danielle Smith and Big Tobacco

What is it with right-wing politicians and tobacco, anyway? Below: Don’t worry, she won’t have to pay higher taxes for her tobacco.

The leaders of all Alberta parties but one seem committed to ending smoking by young Albertans. The sole holdout? It’s the Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith, of course.

This much was reported by the Calgary Herald last Tuesday, although readers are forgiven if they missed it since the story ended up on page 18.

“Only Smith said she wouldn’t support the majority of the measures,” wrote the Herald’s reporter in her coverage of a survey of party leaders by the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, adding in explanation: “The Wildrose Party has vowed not to raise taxes, including taxes on tobacco products.”

Most readers presumably simply assumed that this was just another pre-election pledge not to raise taxes by the right-wing party committed to reviving the low-tax “Alberta Advantage” of Ralph Klein, one of the gods in the Wildrosers’ Tea Party pantheon.

So it’s unlikely many readers were troubled by the lack of any reference to the cozy relationships among Ms. Smith, various far-right Astroturf and propaganda organizations and the tobacco industry.

Nor would many have noticed that the Wildrose Party indicated in its response to the survey that it would not agree to consider taking action on such measures as banning candy-flavoured tobacco, reducing sales to minors or suing tobacco companies to recover health care costs resulting from disease tied to negligence by the industry. If Wildrose MLAs wanted to do something about those things, they could introduce a private-member bill, the party’s response said.

Ms. Smith has worked for three well-known far-right organizations that have all shilled for the tobacco industry, helping their fight against legislation to control tobacco and smoking: the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and the Canadian Property Rights Research Institute. At least two of them, the Fraser Institute and the CPRRI, received direct funding from the tobacco industry.

Not so surprisingly, then, Ms. Smith and the Fraser Institute have both bloviated time and again on the topic of how Canada should eliminate all taxes on tobacco as a way to reduce the illegal trade in contraband cigarettes.

Back in 2003, for example, Ms. Smith informed her Calgary Herald column readers that “tobacco companies are not to blame for the trade in contraband cigarettes. Unless governments realize high taxes are the real cause, the smuggling business will thrive.” (Emphasis added.) This would be a theme that resonated through the right-wing echo chamber.

Last year, for example, the Fraser Institute argued that Canada should eliminate all taxes on tobacco as a way to reduce the illegal trade in contraband cigarettes. “The imposition of excessively high taxes on tobacco is likely the main factor encouraging the contraband trade. Eliminating taxes on all tobacco products would be expected to significantly reduce the contraband tobacco trade.”

Also in 2011, Ms. Smith told the Wetaskiwin and District Chamber of Commerce that the seizure by authorities of 75,000 cartons of cigarettes on the Montana First Nation in the nearby Hobbema was the result of “overtaxing by the provincial government,” in the words of a March 23, 2011, Wetaskiwin Times story that is not longer available on line.

And so it goes. Back on Dec. 2, 2002, Ms. Smith used her Herald column to argue against regulation of second-hand smoke. On May 25, 2003, she marked the death of anti-tobacco activist Barb Tarbox by quoting a tobacco-industry-funded researcher to argue that second-hand smoke poses no risk. She went on, and I’m not making this up, “the evidence shows moderate cigarette consumption can reduce traditional risks of disease by 75 per cent or more.” (Yes, you need to read that twice. No idea what a traditional risk is. Obviously it’s not just climate change!)

On June 1, 2007, as Director of Provincial Affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an Astroturf group that purports to represent the interests of independent businesses while working against them, Ms. Smith wrote then Health and Wellness Minister Dave Hancock to argue against the then-proposed restrictions on the retail display of tobacco products.

“We are unaware of any research that shows that eliminating these retail displays will have any impact on the decision whether to smoke or not,” she told Mr. Hancock, complaining that while placing screens over tobacco products would have no impact on sales, they would be “a significant financial hardship” for business anyway because of the cost of the screens.

Instead of allowing tobacco companies to advertise to impressionable young people through colourful displays, she suggested that “the government should be more aggressive in prosecuting the underage possession of cigarettes.” So here we had this great foe of tax increases suggesting that the taxpayer fund expensive prosecutions to save retailers the cost of the equivalent of a window blind. Did I get that right?

Can we conclude from this that a Wildrose government would eliminate those restrictions, now in place? Would it roll back tobacco taxes?

And would Ms. Smith argue that her beloved “property rights” do not allow non-smokers to be protected from second-hand smoke? After all, the CPRRI, for which she once worked, has argued at another time in the past that municipal politicians need to be informed about “the grave consequences for private property rights entailed in banning smoking in all indoor, publicly accessible places.”

Whatever happens, it’s a safe bet we won’t be seeing anything more that the tobacco industry doesn’t want during the life of any government presided over by Ms. Smith.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

5 Comments on "Where there’s smoke, there’s fire: Danielle Smith and Big Tobacco"

  1. Alex P says:

    My dear wife's reaction: Yeah, moderate smoking totally cured my asthma.

    But at least Smith tolerates intolerance and they call it standing up for 'real Albertans.' A nice bit of messaging.

    Smoking, I have to point out, does not prevent shark attacks. So what use is it?

  2. Filostrato says:

    From the Toronto Star's western bureau reporter Petti Fong:

    Alberta election: The education of Danielle Smith

    …[O]f all the students he had taught, Flanagan said in an interview three years ago, Smith was the most brilliant student he could remember.

    [Smith] took [Flanagan's senior statistics] class with her then-boyfriend, who was too busy with his job working for Conservative MP Art Hanger to do his assignments.

    "I ended up doing the course work for both my boyfriend and me so Tom saw that I was a fairly hard worker. He kept marking my boyfriend with a higher grade and I ended up with a lower grade," Smith said in an interview, with a laugh. "He gave me a B+ but he thinks he gave me a higher grade."

    That used to be called cheating when I was in university. I checked with a current university student and was relieved to find that it still is. It would get you "thrown out of the university", according to my source.

    That's a relief then.

    But Flanangan giving a higher grade to the then-boyfriend when Smith was doing the work for both and submitting it? Is this the kind of man you'd trust your political future to?

  3. Sam Gunsch says:

    @Filostrata: "Is this the kind of man you'd trust your political future to?"

    I'd say you are being sort of kind, it's much worse given the philosophical pedigree.

    The point with regard to the ethics of neoconservatives leading political parties is that decades of evidence and analyses demonstrates they cannot be trusted, and as many have argued given Leo Strauss's worldview as their inspiration, they can't be trusted by definition.


    re: Calgary School neoconservative informal leader Flanagan, his protege Smith, university course work and grading, ethics via Leo Strauss and Machiavelli

    Neoconservatism: Their behavior as reported is consistent with Straussian elitism: Deception is just fine and necessary for the elites who know they are the elites, and who know they must take up the responsibility of leading the rubes, for the good of society.

    Tyee and Wikipedia sources:

    …excerpt from Gutstein on Tyee:

    Strauss recommended harnessing the simplistic platitudes of populism to galvanize mass support for measures that would, in fact, restrict rights. Does the Calgary School resort to such deceitful tactics? Drury believes so. Such thinking represents "a huge contempt for democracy," she told the Globe and Mail's John Ibbotson.


    "Critics of Strauss accuse him of being elitist, illiberalist and anti-democratic. Shadia Drury, in Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999), argues that Strauss inculcated an elitist strain in American political leaders linked to imperialist militarism, neoconservatism and Christian fundamentalism. Drury argues that Strauss teaches that "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them."

    "Journalists, such as Seymour Hersh, have opined that Strauss endorsed noble lies, "myths used by political leaders seeking to maintain a cohesive society "

    The Wikipedia entry for neoconservatism sets out lots of uncontroversial evidence of neoconservative deception, primarily in USA politics over the last few decades.

    Sure, libertarian captures much of the Wildrose platform and their supporters views.

    But *THE LEADERSHIP* derives their programming from Leo Strauss and borrows from USA political exponents as to how they have employed Strauss's modes of ruling.

    My allegation does not apply to 99% of the people who vote for them.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely – because 99% of the people who vote for them don't understand Strauss anyway and certainly haven't given it that much thought! :)

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