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Massive Edmonton rally greets eco-activist Greta Thunberg

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Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, at the start of a large march through Edmonton yesterday. Image: David J. Climenhaga

It would have been a remarkable accomplishment for any group to summon a throng the size of the multitude that enthusiastically greeted 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg in Edmonton yesterday afternoon.

To do it on three days' notice in the capital city of Canada's fossil fuel heartland, where everyone supposedly holds the same rosy view of petroleum extraction, is not only a tribute to the incredible organizing skills of the young people who run Edmonton Climate Justice, but a barometer of the true level of concern about global warming in this province, country and world.

Especially with a federal election hours away, Alberta's United Conservative Party and the federal party it supports should take note of the potential long-term impact of denying climate change and stalling efforts to reduce its impact.

Yesterday, however, the UCP mostly took a powder.

That included Premier Jason Kenney, who seized the opportunity to re-announce a natural gas pipeline 70 kilometres out of town.

In addition to widespread concern about the environment, part of the explanation for the huge mid-day crowd was doubtless the star power exerted by Thunberg, who came here despite the threats of a group of United We Roll truckers to disrupt the march.

In the event, the counter-protesters' threats were almost a total bust. Thunberg walked six blocks through the streets of downtown unhindered by cranky truckers, who were kept at a distance by police. She was accompanied by about half the protesters who gathered at the legislature, her small figure shielded by a retinue of young marchers.

When the march flowed into the legislature's plaza like a river of humanity, a massive crowd was already waiting.

Needless to say, the size of the crowd was soon controversial, with some of the usual suspects on the right questioning the organizers' estimate 10,000 people filled the plaza in front of the Alberta legislature. Some cited a police estimate of about 4,000, which would be close to the number of people who took part in the march from Beaver Hills House Park on Jasper Avenue.

The general rule of thumb among veteran Alberta protest organizers, dating back to the days of mass demonstrations against then premier Ralph Klein's effort to privatize health care, is that it takes about 10,000 people to fill the plaza. Yesterday, the throng with Thunberg filled the plaza and overflowed into the square in front of the Edmonton Federal Building. My personal estimate is that the crowd was closer to 12,000.

Thunberg kept her remarks to about 10 minutes and emphasized the gravity of the threat that faces the planet, not the specifics of the Alberta's oilsands or its fossil fuel extraction industry.

"Today, it's Friday, and as always we are on climate strike, young people all around the globe are again sacrificing their education to bring attention to the climate and ecological emergency," she told the crowd. "We are not doing this because we want to, we aren't doing it because it's fun, we aren't doing it because we have a special interest in the climate, or because we want to become politicians when we grow up.

"We are doing this because our future is at stake. We are doing this because in this crisis we will not be bystanders. And we are doing it because we want the people in power to unite behind the science."

"We teenagers are not scientists, nor are we politicians, but it seems many of us, apart from most others, understand the science, because we have done our homework," she continued. "If people really knew about the full consequences of the climate and ecological emergency, then they would join us in the streets."

"And if you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets, or better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process," she said to loud cheers from the crowd.

As for the counter-protesting truckers, they came in about 30 vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, honked their horns and revved their engines while passersby ignored them.

Even if there were two people in each truck, they were outnumbered by climate protesters approximately 200 to one. And, anyway, their protest was no different from a normal driving day in Edmonton when the truck-nuts crowd comes to town.

Despite mainstream media's efforts to make it seem as if the protests were roughly equivalent, and its strange shyness about estimating the size of the crowd at the legislature, the truckers would have done better to save diesel fuel by staying home in Red Deer.

Rachel Notley endorses Heather McPherson in Edmonton Strathcona

Better late than never, Opposition leader Rachel Notley has endorsed Heather McPherson, the NDP candidate in the federal Edmonton Strathcona riding in which she lives.

"With the emerging possibility of a federal government led by Conservative Andrew Scheer and supported by the separatist Bloc, I am deeply concerned for the future of our country," the former NDP premier wrote in a social media post published yesterday, walking back an earlier comment that she hadn't decided whom to vote for because of her disagreements about pipeline policy with federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

"Mr. Scheer's plans with respect to rolling back action on climate change, making massive cuts to federal spending that would hurt Canadian families, and tolerating divisive anti-choice, homophobic and xenophobic views within his party, are deeply troubling," she wrote. In the face of that, it has become increasingly clear, she said, that only one candidate can defeat the Conservative in the riding, and that is McPherson.

"I know Heather McPherson to be an articulate woman of integrity, intelligence, determination and competence. I know she understands the importance of the energy industry to Albertans. I know she will stand up in Parliament, and in her caucus, to ensure Alberta's perspective is heard -- not just by those who agree with us but also by those who do not.

"Last Monday I voted for Heather McPherson. This Monday I urge voters in Edmonton Strathcona to do the same."

Today marks 35th anniversary of Grant Notley's death

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley, father of Rachel Notley,

Grant Notley was killed in a commercial plane crash on October 19, 1984, while flying from Edmonton to Peace River to spend the weekend in his Spirit River-Fairview constituency.

Chosen as party leader in 1968, he was elected to the legislature in the 1971 general election. In the 1982 provincial election he was joined by fellow New Democrat Ray Martin to form the province's official Opposition.

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

Editor's note, October 22, 2019: An earlier version of this article misidentified the planned destination of Grant Notley's flight. It was Peace River, not Grande Prairie.

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