Danielle Smith’s controversial 2021 essay arguing how to introduce user fees and co-pays to Alberta health care is not a research paper and was not peer reviewed, a spokesperson for the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy (SPP) said yesterday.
This answers a question that has generated debate in academic circles, some of which has now spilled into social media, after many political commentators became aware of the existence of the paper last week.
“In addition to policy research, part of the SPP’s mandate is to shape public policy by fostering meaningful debates,” said University of Calgary Senior Communications Advisor Dana Fenech in an emailed response to a query about the School of Public Policy’s decision to publish Smith’s commentary last year.
The essay, in which Smith described her strategy for getting Albertans used to paying for essential medical services, was later included as the second chapter of an e-book published in September 2021 by the right-leaning institute, which operates out of the U of C’s downtown campus.
“This e-book was part of our role to generate conversation – as it clearly has in this case,” Fenech said. “It is not a research paper and was not peer-reviewed. As noted in the e-book, the views are the views of the author alone.”
Smith’s musings, though, were only those of a former right-wing radio talk show host in June 2021, when they were first published by the School of Public policy without much fanfare.
Nevertheless, they aroused strong feelings within the academy because while they might have been good enough for an op-ed in a publication like the Calgary Herald, some saw them as not meeting the standards expected from a first-class university or felt their publication by the SPP lent a veneer of academic respectability to a poorly researched piece of work.
Critics of the paper have also pointed to the similarity of the arguments in Smith’s chapter to those of a 2004 publication of the Fraser Institute, a notorious market-fundamentalist “think tank” based in Vancouver, not mentioned in the footnotes.
This might have attracted notice had the paper been peer-reviewed, although in Smith’s defence, her views on this topic are commonplace in the extreme market-fundamentalist circles she has been part of throughout her career, and have appeared in more than one business-funded think tank’s publications.
Regardless, now that she is the premier of Alberta, put in power by a radical anti-vaccine faction of the governing United Conservative Party (UCP), Smith’s views about public health care naturally seem considerably more relevant and significant.
Fenech did not respond to a query about who provided the funding for the commission, something that would normally be disclosed in a scholarly publication, or how much Smith was paid.
The e-book, Alberta’s Economic and Fiscal Future, that includes Smith’s chapter, contains articles by 28 authors, some of them academics and a few like Smith associated with business interest groups. Premier Smith was president at the time of the Alberta Enterprise Group, pro-business advocacy organization with extensive ties to Alberta conservative parties.
Readers who scan the list of authors will recognize such public figures as Jack Mintz, founder of the SPP; economists Todd Hirsch and Trevor Tombe; Alberta Chambers of Commerce President Ken Kobly; Bev Dahlby, a member of Jason Kenney’s 2019 “Blue Ribbon Panel” on cutting public sector salaries; and former senior civil servant Bob Ascah, whose recent blog post about Ms. Smith’s views aroused the current furor.
Smith’s chapter, the first after an introduction, is in effect highlighted as the keynote article of the publication.
The e-book, in turn, is part of an SPP project called the Alberta Futures Project, which says it has plans to publish two more e-books, one on Alberta’s fiscal future and another on heath care. Whether those projects see the light of day after the current controversy, however, remains to be seen.