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Civil disobedience, Alberta-style: Obviously it's only an outrage when non-conservatives talk about it

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Rick Strankman

VICTORIA, B.C.

Before I leave La-La Land, I just wanted to say one last thing about That Radical Book -- you know, the one the Wildrose Party says Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips inspired by writing an introduction.

That's the volume entitled An Action A Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away by the tireless Michael Hudema, now of the Alberta chapter of Greenpeace Canada, a how-to-protest guide published in 2004 and no doubt responsible for dozens of cases of law-breaking and severe indigestion, which can happen at the same time if environmental activists take the book's advice and eat their ballots in protest.

I'm not sure about this, but I'm guessing this is a kind of law-breaking that would be acceptable even to really serious vegans, as long as the ballots weren't printed on paper once used to wrap bacon, and we all know just how bad vegans can be when they go radical!

A reviewer called the book "pleasantly full of non-linear chaotic interventions that contribute to enlivening the potential for change." I don't know what effect this will have on the capitalists, but to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington's observation about his army, by God it frightens the Wildrose Party!

But je digresse. The Opposition party said Thursday in an impassioned news release about Phillips that the book "advocates everything from climbing buildings and dropping banners to taking 'militant' action against government and industry," and, as if that weren't bad enough, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean huffed that "the views expressed in this book are offside with the values and opinions of everyday Albertans."

"This kind of radical and staunch ideology only creates more concerns for industry and at the worst possible time," the party’s energy critic, Leela Aheer, chimed in, although we're not sure what she had in mind with that staunch bit.

"Ministers need to be able to balance competing interests. The opinions in this book will do precious little to assure industry they're getting fair treatment from an NDP government that already has them against the ropes," Aheer hyperbolized, blaming the NDP for the state of world oil prices, I guess, and possibly exaggerating the condition of the still-highly-profitable energy industry just the teeniest-weeniest bit.

Regardless, like I say, while I'm still out here on the increasingly hot and dry West Coast where this sort of commentary passes for normal political discourse, I just want readers to know that notwithstanding the views of Jean's everyday Albertans I think the people inspired to take action by Hudema's book and Phillips' intro were people who had the courage to challenge the injustice of the law by placing themselves in violation of it.

Their acts were purely symbolic, of course; they did not riot, broke no windows, no one was assaulted, no big profits were collected.

Their courage and conviction never faltered. It is through them that the consciousness of this country on this issue was really raised.

These people were not criminals. They were our fellow citizens. Citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging injustice.

So! I wonder what Jean and Aheer think about that?

Well, if it were really me speaking about Phillips and Hudema, presumably, the answer would be not much.

But the three and a half paragraphs in italic type above were not spoken by me, of course, and they were not about Phillips, Hudema or any peckish vegan pondering munching on a meaningless Alberta senate selection election ballot -- perhaps with a little kale, good runny Conservative Camembert being out of the question for such vegetarian extremists.

These are, of course, exact quotes, transcribed without a hint of irony by the CBC and the appropriately named Southwest Booster of Swift Current, Sask., made by none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself.

Harper was speaking in 2012 of the group of 13 farmers who almost a decade earlier had illegally carried grain across the U.S. border to protest the monopoly then held by the Canadian Wheat Board on wheat and some barley sales. A few of the farmers served a few days in jail and had to pay fines for their violations of the Customs Act, the Immigration Act and the Criminal Code. Harper used his prime ministerial prerogative to pardon them for their convictions.

Our tough-on-crime prime minister, evidently, didn’t think violating the Criminal Code in the cause of "market freedom" was anything but a laudable act of heroism. He also believes that similar protests in the cause of protecting the environment are tantamount to terrorism, judging from other comments has made and his instructions to the organs of state security.

By the sound of it, it's also pretty safe to assume the Wildrose Party agrees with his sentiments on both kinds of peaceful protest.

So it's important to remember, as Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason pointed out in Question Period Thursday, that among those 13 scofflaws was a farmer named Rick Strankman, who is now the Wildrose Party's MLA for Drumheller-Stettler and the party's tourism, parks and recreation critic.

If Phillips has some 'splainin' to do, as the Wildrose suggests, surely Strankman has even more.

He didn't just contribute to a book about protest, in an action that was obviously offside with the values and opinions of everyday Albertans he went right out and defied the laws of the land, spending a week in jail out of a 180-day sentence for his effort.

Strankman may have been pardoned by our soft-on-crime-by-friends prime minister, but surely the political responsibility remains. He was also the bring-your-wife's-pie guy in the last election, by the way, but let's never mind that just now.

It's a fair question to ask what such a person is doing as frontbencher for the Official Opposition -- other than the fact, of course, that all members of the Wildrose Party are frontbenchers, despite outnumbering the cabinet, which is presumably evidence of the massive cabinet they'd saddle us with if they only had the opportunity.

This may just be another example of the well-established principle that for Canadian conservatives, whatever they happen to call their party, the rules are only for everyone else.

That was certainly the message sent by the prime minister's pardons after the courts concluded his friends' illegal actions were serious enough to warrant jail time, and it sounds as if that’s the message being sent by Jean and the Wildrose Opposition through the elevation of Strankman as well.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will be so kind as to issue a press release explaining this seeming contradiction to Albertans.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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