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Jason Kenney responds to Amnesty International letter with full-blown tantrum

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Jason Kenney, Alberta's head of government. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Methinks the premier doth protest too much!

What else can we say about Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's bizarre 2,330-word public letter yesterday to Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada, attacking Neve, the organization he leads, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, the Soviet Union, the Saudi royal family, the Qatari royal family, the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, OPEC, "eco-colonialists," the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller family, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, Canadian environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, the tar sands campaign, and maybe the Internet too?

Well … first this: Sarcasm does not become a premier.

Especially, if I may be so bold, a Conservative premier.

There was a day when Alberta's Progressive Conservative premiers ignored what they deemed to be unfair or unreasonable criticism with dignified, even stately, silence. Which, more often than not, was any criticism at all. For most of 44 years, this worked magnificently.

Ignoring criticism is not our hypersensitive premier's thing, obviously.

Apparently stung to the core by Neve's thoughtful open letter Tuesday about the dangers he sees with the United Conservative Party's strategy of "war rooms" and inquiries that decide first and interrogate witnesses later, Kenney responded with a full-blown squalling tantrum, a malediction worthy of one of those poor eccentrics who in the normal course of governing a province like Alberta send their loopy fulminations to the politicians who occupy Kenney's current office.

Instead of strategic dignity, Kenney opted for a barrage of bitterness and sarcasm -- all published on the official government website.

"I understand it must be hard for you," he derisively told Neve as if they were arguing on the steps of the legislature. "When you look around the world and see the rise of authoritarian governments, civil war, human trafficking, genocide, and other gross violations of human rights, it must be a tall order to find something, anything to denounce here in our gelid but placid Dominion."

Alas, our placid Dominion along with the rest of the planet is becoming less gelid by the minute, and it turns out that's a problem raised by Neve in his letter that Kenney and his government would really prefer not to confront. So a strategy of drawing more attention to what Neve had to say, and, inevitably, engaging more readers who may agree with the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, is probably not the best way to achieve the premier's objectives.

Better from Kenney's perspective, perhaps, to have ignored Neve's criticism with a hyperboreal chill worthy of Peter Lougheed, who knew how to do that sort of thing. If I were the premier, I'd leave sarcasm to what he calls bohemian Marxists with blogs!

Well, this is what happens when a thin-skinned control freak gets into the premier's office and makes his communications staff hand over the password to the provincial website's content management system!

And who can doubt Kenney wrote this by himself? It has the sophomoric ring of a man, thesaurus in hand, who left college in a huff and privately wishes he hadn't. Well, he has the National Post fooled, at least. It re-published the entire thing for the edification of the nation.

It's becoming glaringly obvious that Kenney, though a campaigner of undoubted talent, is as out of touch as Donald Trump, and possibly less charming! Whatever role he played to the court of Stephen Harper (jester?) it couldn't have been his thoughtful counsel on diplomacy or conciliation the boss was seeking out.

In order to harness his energy and talent without smashing the crockery, Harper clearly kept him firmly under his thumb. It must have been exhausting! No wonder the former Conservative prime minister looks a little bilious of late.

Kenney has now revealed a conspiratorial turn of mind for which the traditional journalistic prescription is to brusquely instruct the afflicted to go forth in search of a tinfoil cap.

"As for the rest of your accusations and insinuations," the premier screeched at Neve, "they only make sense if you deny that there is a well-funded campaign against Alberta's natural resource industry and a concomitant need to rebut it. This would be the campaign that you dismiss as 'vague conspiracy theories about the hidden goals of U.S.-based foundations.' I assure that if their goals are hidden it is because they have worked hard to keep them that way." (Emphasis added.)

This is, shall we say … unlikely, undignified and possibly unhinged.

And don't forget that Kenney is the man federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has asked to replace Doug Ford on the campaign trail because the Ontario premier nowadays arouses too much hostility among the vote-rich province's citizenry. The mind reels.

It's hard to imagine to whom this denunciation is supposed to appeal. The bitterest denizens of Calgary's oil towers, one supposes. The truly desperate who wish the inevitable decline of fossil fuels as a commodity could be staved off another century, perhaps.

The premier obviously knows many Canadians regard Neve as a thoughtful man, and Amnesty International remains a respected organization, even though the premier is no longer president of his high school Amnesty club. Nothing in his screed changes that.

Indeed, the secretary general of AI Canada can now safely rest his case, confident the jury's on his side.

Kenney has only been in power for four and a half months. He still enjoys a post-election honeymoon with voters. He has a powerful mandate to do whatever he pleases. Isn't it a little soon for him to jump the shark?

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: David J. Climenhaga

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