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Kenney government opts for sophomoric tweets to counter visit by Greta Thunberg

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Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Image: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia Commons

Apparently uncertain how to respond to news Greta Thunberg will soon visit Alberta, the Kenney government seems to have opted for adolescent sarcasm as an appropriate counter to the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist's message.

"We trust that Ms. Thunberg will recognize Alberta's leading human rights and environmental standards," said Premier Jason Kenney's spokesperson, Christine Myatt, in a statement yesterday. "Especially in comparison to oil-producing dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela -- which she will presumably visit next …" (Emphasis added.)

Myatt also suggested Thunberg should visit "major growing emitters like China."

Such a strategy doesn't give the impression grown-ups are in charge here in Alberta, and appears to ape U.S. President Donald Trump's similarly sarcastic response to Thunberg's grim speech on climate change to the United Nations Climate Action Summit last month.

"She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future," President Trump tweeted. "So nice to see!"

Still, it's not as bad as a complete meltdown. I suppose we Albertans should count our blessings.

Myatt's one-liner was echoed, unsurprisingly, by Matt Wolf, the $200,000-per-year Kenney court tweeter, between tweets insulting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Rockefeller family, presumably intended to shore up the government's taxpayer-supported federal election campaign and its alternative reality conspiracy theories.

Even Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said to be one of the adults in Premier Kenney's inner circle, weighed in with a similar if milder line, tweeting that Thunberg should "learn how Albertans are proud to produce energy the world needs with the highest environmental, social, and governance standards. Then she should visit other energy producing countries ..."

For her part, Thunberg has not indicated when she will arrive here, or by what mode of transportation, although one imagines she is enjoying the furor she is already provoking in Alberta's say-ethical-not-fungible oil circles. Neither has she yet responded to the Kenney government's sarcastic cheap shots.

Presumably when she does, she will remind the United Conservative Party's (UCP) supporters that even if China can be persuaded to buy and burn bitumen from Alberta, that will nevertheless result in more carbon in the atmosphere for which both Canada and China will share responsibility.

As for the Kenney government's commentary about Canada's genuinely admirable commitment to protecting human rights, it is in significant part the result of our 1982 Constitution, which impacts Canada's political reality today largely because of the commitment during that decade of prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his Liberal government.

Moreover, we should remember that the Constitution's Charter of Rights and Freedoms in particular was unpopular with many hard-core Conservatives in the 1980s. In fairness, charter opponents included non-conservatives and Progressive Conservative premiers Bill Davis of Ontario and Richard Hatfield of New Brunswick who supported the prime minister.

Opponents argued, quite rightly, that the charter undermined the supremacy of Parliament. And a good thing that was too!

In addition, it is worth remembering that in 1998, Kenney demanded premier Ralph Klein use the charter's notwithstanding clause to overturn a Supreme Court of Canada ruling making it illegal to fire employees on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

And in 2001, Stephen Harper, who would later become Conservative prime minister and after that the UCP government's eminence grise, helped draft the notorious firewall manifesto urging Klein to weaken Alberta's ties to Confederation.

While the firewall letter, signed by a group of right-wing activists associated with the University of Calgary, called for Alberta to take such measures as replacing the RCMP with an easier-to-control provincial police force, dumping the Canada Pension Plan, and creating a U.S.-style private health-care system, it was undoubtedly inspired by hostility to the elder Trudeau's successful constitutional project.

To Klein's great credit, he ignored both Kenney's and Harper's suggestions, placing them in the constitutional trash bucket, where they belonged.

So when Conservatives like Kenney and Savage harp on Canada's enviable human rights record to visiting activists like Thunberg, we need to keep in mind that many of them have opposed it every step of the way.

Moreover, when they sarcastically advise Thunberg to visit autocratic petro-states like Russia and theocratic petro-states like Saudi Arabia and Iran, these places are very much the model for some of the Alberta separatists they have been encouraging, not to mention those oil billionaires who apparently think holding environmental convictions is the equivalent of treason and ought to be punished accordingly.

Thunberg, meanwhile, appears content to give the Kenney government a few days to work itself into a full-blown swivet before she announces her Alberta itinerary.

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: Anders Hellberg/Wikimedia Commons

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