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Jason Kenney's fuming response to Amnesty International was not the adversaries' first go-round

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Jason Kenney in 2013. Image: michael_swan/Flickr

Returned to power after four years, Alberta's Conservative party is governing pretty much as you'd expect from a government that, as Talleyrand supposedly said of the restored House of Bourbon, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Consider the matter of the controversial letter from the head of Amnesty International Canada to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

No, not the one Alex Neve mailed to Kenney last week. I'm speaking of the one Neve encouraged Canadians to mail to immigration and citizenship minister Kenney back in June 2013 condemning the Harper government's decision to deny basic health care to refugees.

"Access to health care for all is a fundamental right, enshrined in international human rights treaties that Canada had agreed to respect," said an Amnesty International leaflet mailed to supporters, urging them to write Kenney asking him to "please reverse the cuts to refugee health care."

It wasn't long after that happened that prime minister Stephen Harper's campaign team had the brainiac idea of the "barbaric cultural practices tip line."

Now Kenney, who has apparently forgotten how that worked out, has come up with the notion of establishing what might be called a "barbaric environmental practices tip line" as part of an "inquiry" run by a reliable Calgary business type into "foreign-funded" environmental opponents of the United Conservative Party's petro-pipedreams.

When Neve wrote a critical open letter about the human rights implications of Kenney's latest scheme last week, Alberta's premier most certainly remembered the sting of his previous contretemps with Amnesty International. And as we should now understand, Premier Kenney is not the sort of fellow who is likely to let go of a grudge, even after half a dozen years.

This may illuminate some of the intensity and bitterness of Kenney's remarkable screed last week, the rambling reply he or some superannuated Postmedia scribe on his staff penned sarcastically attacking Neve and Amnesty for daring to criticize the UCP's fossil fuel advocacy plans in terms suggesting human-rights defenders have no business speaking ill of abuses if they aren't as bad as the ones in Saudi Arabia.

Alert readers noted that none of the premier's 2,330 words actually responded to Neve's point that a climate crisis is by definition a human rights crisis, so we need to do something about rising global temperatures too.

Kenney's actual response to that point, which was not referenced in his letter, is to eliminate the Alberta government offices for climate change policy and scientific environmental monitoring, which a government official claimed in an email obtained by the Canadian Press would "bring many of the department's brightest scientific minds under one division and eliminate some of the administrative overlap that can prevent them from doing their best work."

The email from Alberta environment and parks deputy minister Bev Yee also said "the primary drivers and intended outcomes of this reorganization include enhanced business integration, the achievement of efficiencies, and providing better support to achieve government priorities." I leave it to readers to speculate on what that might mean.

Meanwhile, if you want to know why the UCP wanted a trustworthy business guy to handle its foreign-funding inquiry and snitch line, which have been widely derided as the House Un-Albertan Activities Committee, you need look no further than the dismissal of a UCP complaint against a progressive third-party advertiser by the office of the election commissioner.

Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, who is not a UCP appointee, recently informed Progress Alberta in a letter that "there are insufficient grounds to warrant an investigation" into the group's advertising in 2019 and therefore he was dismissing the complaint by Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper.

Cooper, who is now speaker of the legislature, alleged last December that Progress Alberta had used small donations from the U.S.-based Tides Foundation in 2016 and 2017 to pay for political advertising in 2019.

"This is really the first instance of the UCP trying to use the power of the state to intimidate and bully and silence members of the civil society that disagree with them," Progress Alberta's executive director Duncan Kinney told the Edmonton Journal.

Kinney need not worry, though. It won't be the last.

The so-called "public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns" headed by commissioner Steve Allan is just getting to work. Allan's foreign-funding fink line, alas, is not likely to be very interested in reports about foreign cash flowing to market-fundamentalist think-tanks, fossil fuel industry lobby groups, or training for right-wing activists.

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: michael_swan/Flickr 

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