Saturday, March 2, 2013

Danielle Smith–Something Wicked This Way Comes

Editor note: During the same time period that this blog was being released, Danielle Smith, Opposition Leader and leader of the Wildrose Party, was revealing her perspective on the events surrounding Tom Flanagan.  References in this blog to Ms. Smith not having responded to questions are now different in context since she has since responded to the media although said references in the original text of the blog remain.  Given that I find her explanation weak at best, especially from someone with aspirations to be Premier of Alberta, the analysis in this blog stands as originally presented.  The original blog follows.

Now that the emotion has mostly worked its way out of the Tom Flanagan affair, there are still some intriguing elements at play that I find interesting as a strategy person.

Back in April of 2012, I was critical of Wildrose Party and Alberta Government Opposition Leader Danielle Smith’s handling of some controversial events and how she reacted by appearing to be annoyed that the electorate would dare demand that she take some form of action.  I also cautioned readers that they got the government that they deserved if they proceeded to elect her as Premier during the election (which they didn’t).

Now I see a new approach to controversy that she has adopted when things hit the fan.

She just disappears.

Now in fairness it would be difficult to absorb the impact of hearing the news that Mr. Flanagan, her former election campaign manager and associate in the right-wing think tank Civitas, has claimed more than once that child pornography is not a big deal since there are no victims and that he happened to “be put on” the mailing list for the North American Man Boy Love Association.

To be allegedly blindsided by such an event would be devastating to anyone, especially if one is in public office.

However, I guess it depends on the nature of how she was blindsided, doesn’t it?

If there is the possibility that she was blindsided more by the revealing of his opinion to the public than the discovery of such a belief system, then we have a different issue.

And when she vanishes and leaves Albertans to cut each other apart in the vacuum of facts and data while she pretends to “be busy”, then it speaks VERY poorly about her leadership style.

It also speaks very poorly about her beliefs regarding whom she serves … the people of Alberta.

Meanwhile in the Twitterverse ….

The Twitterverse was alive with this story and as usual, the rhetoric, hatred and fact-less debate that swirled around the story proved that many people have a natural ability to “be the the twit in twitter”.

One person commented on my observations by telling me that there is no issue with saying that child pornography doesn’t hurt anyone – that such a statement is just an expression of an extreme ideological belief.

I replied by asking her if she would have felt the same way if he had stated that wife battery is a crime that hurts no one.

She never answered.

Meanwhile Ms. Smith marched out her obligatory statement to distance herself and her party from his comments.  Yawn – any politician would do the same thing. 

It takes no courage to do the expected.

However, she has not answered the question about whether she knew about Mr. Flanagan’s beliefs before hiring him as her campaign manager and contributor to Wildrose Party policy.

And that answer matters because it provides insight into her character.

You are the company that you keep

Mr. Flanagan has a history of “unusual remarks”, including other comments about child pornography in 2009 as well as expressing the need for someone to assassinate Julian Assange for his role with Wikileaks.

If anyone in my inner circle made such statements, they would be removed from my inner circle – quickly and permanently.

Who I am and who I am perceived to be is in large part measured by the type of people I associate with.

And so if Ms. Smith had any advance knowledge of this man’s views, then I have to wonder about a few things.

1. Did she chose to separate his personal views from his professional contributions and hope she could ignore the former while leveraging the latter?  This is a flawed strategy since everything we are as a human being flows back and forth between our personal and professional lives.

2. Does she possibly agree with many of his ideas but finds them politically inconvenient to allow such ideas to leak out to the public.  After all, she did invite him to be her campaign manager and contributor to the creation of Wildrose policy.  Anyone who works on any of my teams, while not always in lock step with everything I think, must still have a moral and ethical compass that resonates with mine otherwise we don’t work together.

3.  Some people have suggested that his behavior doesn’t reflect criminal intention (which may be the case) but that he merely is able to objectivise the human experience to the point where he can analyze such things as child pornography in the same way that we might observe an insect, emotionless and analytical.  If this is true, I wonder what type of government such emotionless, analytical observation would produce.

4. Is she a puppet for someone more powerful in the Wildrose Party and every once in a while, is stuck with sucking up the public punishment for someone else’s ignorance?

5. How did his views evade due diligence?  I don’t think they did – the beliefs were just ignored for reasons of need and convenience.

We get the government that we deserve

None of these elements produce much comfort.

However, we will never know the truth since Ms. Smith has resurfaced as if the event had never happened.  She hasn’t answered questions about whether she knew in the past as claimed by some people, preferring to discuss other things in the hope that this event will fade into the past.

And with such behavior, she exhibits the same attributes that too many politicians have …. the gifts of avoidance and secrecy.

But events like this one and ones in the past for the Wildrose Party suggest that there is something else swirling around within the Party and its leadership that is not immediately obvious.

Or maybe it is obvious but we choose to be apathetic, indifferent or afraid to demand answers  - being afraid of being bullied by the ignorant and uninformed who follow some people blindly.

Which leads me to repeat what I had said in my previous observations about Ms. Smith.

These events and how she is handling them are early indications of what her leadership of the Province might look like.

The famous quote “We get the government we deserve” applies here.  When we blindly elect a party and a leader without taking the time to understand what we are electing, then we deserve what we get.

I just don’t want to hear anybody whining about it later because the damage will already have been done.

However, the real reason I don’t want to hear any whining is because Ms. Smith will not be alone in owning responsibility for the damage.

We will share the blame, for having enabled her in the first place.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – March 2, 2013

In this Calgary Herald article from March 2, 2013, Ms. Smith claims that Mr. Flanagan’s beliefs took her completely by surprise.  The fact that she has worked side by side with Mr. Flanagan for years and the fact that he had made similar statements in the public previously suggests that either her current statements of surprise are not true, she doesn’t pay attention to the company she keeps, she is junior or incompetent as a leader or she is totally naive as a human being.

In this Edmonton Sun article on March 1, 2013, she says that she’s heard loud and clear that Albertans want her to say what she believes.  Leaders don’t need to be told this – they should already know it and demand it of themselves and others.

When one then considers comments such as back in October of 2012 when she suggested that meat tainted with e coli could somehow be rendered safe and be fed to the homeless (implying that what’s not good enough for most people or animals is good enough for the homeless) and this summary of some of her personal beliefs (referenced as a summary only - I do not endorse that author’s content in general) , one cannot help but wonder if there is a vacuum of strong, consistent, authentic leadership within the WRP.  For these reasons, my analysis of how she handled this event and my concerns regarding her leadership remain.

Many people will suggest that this is all part of a learning experience as she grows into her leadership role.

Maybe so – but is that a risk that the electorate wants to take a gamble on?

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