United Conservative Party leader Danielle Smith posed for photos with campaign supporters Wednesday night, including three people who were either fined or charged for their role in the so-called Freedom Convoy to Ottawa.
Political events attract people from all walks of life and politicians are not known to waste opportunities to try and secure votes, but an Alberta analyst said this is not the first time Smith has met with supporters who hold extreme views.
“Politicians take photos all the time. If this was a one-off or a two-off or a three-off, you know, no big deal,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.
“But there seems to be a repeated pattern all related around COVID that Danielle Smith keeps sticking her foot into.”
Smith had posed with James Bauder, his wife, Sandra Collins Bauder, and Harold Jonker at a fundraising event for Eric Bouchard, the UCP candidate for Calgary-Lougheed — former premier Jason Kenney’s riding.
“James Bauder and Sandra Collins Bauder with Premier Danielle Smith and Ontario trucker Harold Jonker at a dinner and silent auction in Calgary. Doing our small part to make sure Alberta is a beacon of Freedom to the rest of Canada,” reads the caption on the Facebook page for Canada Unity, which Bauder co-founded.
The UCP told Global News in a statement that Smith didn’t know the trio.
“As usual, the premier took part in a routine photo line-up with nearly 200 people last night. The Premier does not personally know these individuals,” the party said.
James Bauder is a commercial truck driver from Calgary who helped organize the convoy. His wife, Sandra Collins Bauder, was also involved.
The report from the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act during the 2021 convoy named him as one of five figures who played important roles in mobilizing the demonstration, though they didn’t always act in unison.
The Bauders are both facing charges, including mischief to obstruct property, disobeying a lawful court order, and obstructing a peace officer.
Bauder’s Canada Unity group had prepared a “memorandum of understanding,” demanding that the senate and governor general force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the provinces and territories to override government public health measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I mean, that’s sedition. So once again, (Smith) is tying herself into the key individuals associated with COVID and fighting COVID restrictions,” Bratt said.
Bauder and his MOU largely faded into the protest’s background, getting upstaged by the trio of Tamara Lich, B.J. Dichter and Chris Barber as they became the faces of the convoy, holding media availabilities throughout the occupation in Ottawa.
During the inquiry, Bauder testified that mRNA vaccines alter people’s genes, that God told him to organize the convoy, that the 2020 United States presidential election was rigged, and that an international declaration on ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects authorized the Senate to override domestic law in certain circumstances.
“Once again, Danielle Smith is spending her time meeting with extremists facing serious criminal charges. This is not the behaviour of a premier,” said Irfan Sabir, Alberta NDP candidate for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall.
“Smith is showing Albertans once again that she is not focused on their needs. She is focused on the dangerous agenda of extremists like James Bauder and Artur Pawlowski, both of whom were criminally charged for their actions.”
Pawlowski is known in Alberta for his high-profile and disruptive demonstrations against the LGBTQ2 community and COVID-19 health rules.
His charges from the January 2022 blockade at the Coutts border crossing include mischief for inciting people to block public property and willfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.
“This is a pattern of behaviour for Smith to meet with people who undermined the rule of law, harmed our economy, and caused tremendous hardship for ordinary people,” Sabir said.
Harold Jonker, who owns and operates a trucking company, used to be a part-time councillor for West Lincoln, a township near Niagara Falls in Ontario, but lost his seat during a municipal election last October.
An integrity commissioner investigation before he lost his seat had found that he broke the municipal code of conduct for participating in the convoy.
Last summer, councillors voted to penalize Jonker by stripping him of 30 days’ pay, account for all donations he received during the protest, and repay that amount.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms later filed a lawsuit against the township n his behalf for reprimanding him.
Bratt said that given Smith’s history, most Albertans should have a good sense of where she stands.
“There’s going to be one view that just says, ‘Here’s another example’ and another view that says, ‘You know, this is no big deal, (Rachel) Notley is worse.’ And then there’s going to be a subsection that’s going to be cheering her on. Going, ‘Yeah, keep doing this for us.’
“I don’t think this is going to change anybody’s view.”
Also in attendance at Wednesday night’s fundraiser was Theo Fleury, the former NHL player who in recent years on Twitter has become an outspoken anti-vaxxer and spreader of unfounded COVID-19 conspiracies.
Alberta’s provincial election is scheduled for May 29.
— with files from The Canadian Press