Even before the official start to the provincial election campaign, a battle between the two main Alberta political parties over which one is the true law-and-order party had turned into a showdown at the O.K. Corral.
But when it comes to crime and social disorder, the default position in the province for many seems to be that conservative parties will do a better job, something confirmed in a Calgary-focused poll in April by Janet Brown Opinion Research. Asked which party was best able to handle crime, the UCP were picked by 45 per cent, the NDP 29 per cent.
The UCP has been trying to capitalize on that perception with ads targeting Rachel Notley and the NDP as soft on crime-fighting.
UCP ads used some creative out-of-context quotes from NDPers about the whole “defund the police” movement. Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis accused the NDP of “insulting law enforcement with hateful comments” and championing “extreme leftist policies” to flood streets with taxpayer-funded drugs, something dismissed by Notley as a hypocrisy, given the UCP’s tenuous relationship with the law.
The UCP rode in on its white horse to save the day against crime plaguing Edmonton and Calgary transit systems. A pre-election plan to hire 50 additional police officers for each city over a period of 18 months attracted applause from the usual suspects.
The proposal was given the cold shoulder by some crime experts who called it a Band-Aid solution that won’t solve the mental health issues fuelling crime problems. “It’s like crisis management at this point,” Dr. Kaylie Rodriguez, a registered Calgary psychologist told CityNews, adding it “doesn’t address what’s underneath” the problem.
Critics said there was no long-term guarantee for the police funding, which could leave municipalities once again holding the bag in the long run. And did anyone mention the transit crime problems ballooned over the UCP’s term of office, which saw funding for police services cut in 2019?
Not to be outdone, the NDP hauled out its own goodie bag, promising to hire 150 additional police officers plus 150 social workers to work with police in integrated teams. The NDP also isn’t onside with the UCP proposal to replace the RCMP in rural areas.
At the same time, Notley has tried to maintain focus on the premier’s controversial taped telephone call -- the subject of an investigation by the ethics commissioner – with street pastor Artur Pawlowski about his criminal trial related to a COVID-19 protest in 2022 at the Coutts border crossing. Notley says Smith owes Albertans an explanation about why she would interfere with an individual facing criminal charges.
That phone call drew criticism in an analysis by University of Calgary faculty of law emeritus professor Nigel Bankes, who concluded the premier’s behaviour and that of her staff did not follow normal constitutional procedure involving accused. “At a stroke, the premier has seriously undermined the principle of equality before the law of all persons, and public faith in the fairness of criminal prosecutions,” said the analysis, co-authored by U of C law professor Jennifer Koshan.
University of Alberta political science prof Jared Wesley says the phone call is just one example involving the UCP over the past four years that shows the party “has shown disregard for the separation of powers and the rule of law” while showing “anti-democratic impulses.”
In a column posted on The Conversation academic media website, Wesley cites a list of inappropriate UCP moves he says are of concern. They include firing the election commissioner before an investigation into former premier Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign, and then attorney-general (now deputy premier) Kaycee Madu’s phone call to a police chief to discuss his traffic ticket.
Mired in a series of investigations, “the UCP’s actions indicate it considers itself above the law and beyond reproach,” Wesley warns.
Which is the true law-and-order party? The verdict will be delivered on voting day.
Ashley Geddes monitors politics for Alberta Prime Times. Over more than 45 years in journalism, he spent much of the time covering municipal, provincial and federal politics, most of it in Alberta.