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Smith refuses to talk about threat to sue CBC days after her deadline passed

A spokesperson for the CBC says no lawsuit has been filed against the public broadcaster on behalf of Danielle Smith or the UCP, despite a deadline passing Friday.

The CBC was served with a notice of defamation on April 2, which demanded an apology and retraction by April 28, or "the premier will take such further legal action as may be advised."

The threat surrounded a CBC story headlined "Danielle Smith discussed COVID charges 'almost weekly' with justice officials, according to leaked call."

Smith has said her party would pay for the lawsuit but refused to say anything about the situation during her campaign launch in Calgary Monday morning.

"I think that Albertans are interested in what we're going to be campaigning on to move the province forward and that's what I'll be focused on for the next four weeks," Smith said.

Smith continued to refuse follow-up questions from reporters, a new policy the press gallery has demanded that she drop.

A spokesperson for the UCP also declined to address the lawsuit threat when reached by CTV News Edmonton.

The dispute came after the CBC, and other outlets, reported on an 11-minute phone call that Smith had with controversial street pastor Artur Pawlowski, who is facing criminal charges related to a COVID-19 border blockade in Coutts, Alta.

Smith is heard on video offering to make inquiries on Pawlowski's behalf, revealing to him internal government arguments over case direction and telling him that the charges against him are rooted in political bias.

She also said she was reminding prosecutors “almost weekly” about her concerns with pursuing such cases.

The CBC has stood behind its reporting, which Smith has called "misinformation." She has insisted that she only spoke to justice officials and not directly with prosecutors.

Since the notice of defamation, Smith has repeatedly told reporters she can not talk about the case because it's pending legal action.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Monday that she believes Smith was caught "dead to rights" on video attempting to interfere in the administration of justice and speculated that she "panicked" before threatening to sue.

"This was always an effort on their part to try to give her an opportunity to skate away from accountability, from her conduct on this matter," Notley told reporters at her campaign launch.

"The fact that they haven't moved ahead, I would suggest, means, yeah, she said exactly the things and did exactly the things that were reported in the media and that we described as a result of seeing her on video saying the things."

Political scientist Duane Bratt said Smith's refusal to address the lawsuit Monday makes it clear that it was a "just a political stunt."

"What it was designed to do was prevent her from talking about the Pawlowski call. But now she can say there's an ethics investigation, so I can't talk about it. I don't expect her to file a suit against the CBC," he said.

Bratt believes the election is a tossup between the UCP and the NDP and said it's close because many voters simply don't trust Smith or believe what she says.

He pointed to statements Smith made for years prior to becoming premier about more private and out-of-pocket health care, which she now says she won't follow through on.

"Why does she need to have a public health guarantee? Does Rachel Notley have to come out and sign a public health guarantee? No, because when she speaks about health care, people believe her," he said.

"If it wasn't an issue, the UCP is winning this election. The fact that it is an issue is why it is a flip-a-coin scenario."

CTV News Edmonton has reached out to Munaf Mohamed, the lawyer who prepared the notice of defamation, for an update on the case.

Albertans will go to the polls on May 29.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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