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It's time for a frank talk about the T-word: Just who's advocating treason anyway?

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One of those "Alberta Fights back" billboards. Image: Alberta Fights Back/Facebook

It's time, my fellow Canadians, for us to have a frank talk about the T-word.

Albertans who have been paying attention to politics for the past few years cannot have missed the fact certain elements of the right-wing ideological ecosystem have been sloppy and irresponsible in their use of terms like "treason" and "traitor" to describe ideas and people they disagree with.

It is impossible in this province not to have heard the right-wing rage machine refer frequently to both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former NDP premier Rachel Notley, in this manner.

Conservative politicians like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney have been careful not to use this kind of language themselves, but they certainly encourage such rhetoric and attitudes among their supporters when it suits them.

Of course, the "treason" of which Trudeau and Notley were regularly accused didn't fit the definition in the dictionary or the law. Rather, it amounted to advocating tax and environmental policies with which their accusers disagreed.

Since both Trudeau and Notley were making such remarkable efforts to encourage the success of Alberta's fossil fuel industry, it seemed at times their sin was not being extreme enough to suit the most over-the-top climate-crisis deniers among Canada's movement conservatives.

In the case of environmentalists and ordinary Canadians in other provinces who had their doubts about Alberta bitumen being shipped through their territory, some well-known voices on the right -- including one prominent holder of the Order of Canada, for heaven's sake -- called for their fellow Canadians to be hanged for this crime!

Needless to say, this does not foster a positive attitude about Alberta ands its fossil fuel industry in other parts of Canada -- but in the short term, from the Conservative perspective, it can be said to have helped get Kenney's United Conservative Party government elected, and therefore to have worked.

The defeat of Notley's NDP in April, instead of calming things down, though, appears to have driven the right-wing rage machine to new levels of fury.

As is well known, Kenney has announced he will build a "war room," to crush democratic dissent at home and, he blusters, elsewhere.

Still infuriated by their loss of control in Ottawa to Trudeau's Liberals in 2015, Alberta Conservatives and their allies in other provincial governments have turned the focus of this fury on this fall's federal election.

In their blind rage, they have raised the spectre of Alberta separatism and the destruction of Canada as a stick with which to beat the rest of Canada and its doubting citizens into submission, or, failing that, to keep voters inclined to support the federal Liberals at home.

Kenney and his ilk, of course, have once again been very careful about how they phrase such threats, casting themselves as defenders of national unity, which they argue can only be preserved if Alberta's fossil fuel industry is given carte blanche to do whatever it pleases.

If legislation imposing more rigorous environmental approvals on fossil fuel infrastructure projects and protecting the environmentally sensitive north coast of British Columbia are passed, Kenney claimed recently, "this will be inflaming a growing national unity problem in Alberta."

But for this threat to have any weight, there must be a credible separatist threat to back it up, and Kenney's cheering section at Postmedia, on social media and in the mysteriously (foreign?) funded infrastructure of right-wing political action groups has been quick to gin one up.

Postmedia scribes have apparently been working overtime churning out nonsense about the threat of separatism.

"Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall has compared the government's environmental assessment bill to kindling, fuelling the flames of Western alienation, and its oil tanker ban to lighter fluid," wrote the foreign-owned newspaper chain's John Ivison in a June 6 screed attacking Bills C-69 and C-48.

"Not even a pipeline will soothe Western ire when this legislation sails through the House," said the headline on the piece, in case you're wondering how Postmedia will play a federal decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline today.

"The national unity crisis is real," screeched Matt Gurney in the same publication on June 12. "Trudeau's talking point on national unity is dangerously wrong," said the headline.

Licia Corbella's hyperventilating meditation on the same Brad Wall observations in the Calgary Herald the next day was headlined: "Will pipeline approval quell western separatism rise caused by Trudeau?" She even trotted out the imaginary "Laurentian elite."

All this because Trudeau addressed the elephant in the room and observed, "it's absolutely irresponsible for conservative premiers to be threatening our national unity if they don't get their way."

The day after Corbella's effort, the Herald published an unhinged rant by its former editorial writer (and former Wildrose leader) Danielle Smith that bizarrely claimed, "Alberta's energy industry has solved carbon dioxide," and went on to trot out the warning that not giving Kenney his way will ensure "Canada is fractured."

Then there's Barry Cooper, another Postmedia perennial, musing on Global TV that we cranky Albertans aren't just alienated, we're practically separatists, also citing "Laurentian" boogeymen.

And claiming to be BFFs with members of Kenney's cabinet, Craig Chandler, the bad penny of Alberta far-right politics, reappeared on social media to proclaim, "most Albertans want to separate."

Meanwhile, a mysteriously funded Conservative PAC is running billboards that ask, "Should Alberta ditch Canada?" They provide a link to a website that calls for a separation referendum.

Readers will get the picture.

Now, Chandler has a history of ludicrous comments and is not exactly a credible source. Nevertheless, he may be onto something this time. To give the man his due, he was campaign manager for Calgary-Peigan UCP MLA Tanya Fir, who is now Kenney's minister of economic development.

Obviously, the financial and political oxygen for this fake separatist movement is coming from somewhere to achieve something.

The dictionary, meanwhile, defines treason as "the crime of betraying one's country," a notion that can include a multitude of sins.

The Criminal Code of Canada defines treason in part as waging war against Canada, or "any act preparatory thereto." Treasonous activities defined in Section 46 of the Criminal Code may also include using force or violence to overthrow a provincial government, attacking the sovereign, disclosing "without lawful authority, military or scientific material to agents of a foreign state," or aiding Canada's enemies.

I am not, of course, suggesting that Kenney, other Conservative politicians or their overwrought journalistic supporters are guilty of treason, although I believe many of the things they say and do are extremely irresponsible and potentially harmful to Canada and Canadians. Nor am I saying that simply advocating separatism, no matter how ludicrous one's arguments, is treason.

Still, given the words of the law passed by the Parliament of Canada, some of these Conservatives' followers are starting to sail very close to the wind -- and not just those on the fringe if Chandler is to be believed.

Given the frequent abuse of the T-word in recent Alberta political discourse, surely it's now reasonable to ask: Just who are the real traitors here?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Alberta Fights Back/Facebook

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