Michael Kalmanovitch.
Edmonton environmental activist Michael Kalmanovitch on Whyte Ave. Credit: David J. Climenhaga Credit: David J. Climenhaga

The way Michael Kalmanovitch sees it, he had no choice but to raise a ruckus inside the Chamber of the Alberta Legislature moments after Monday’s Throne Speech.

The world is afire with climate change, he said, and governments are doing nothing – or, even worse, like Alberta’s, actually working hard to make things worse in the name of profit. 

So, he asked me, what else can a good citizen do but cry out in protest?

Kalmanovitch, well known in Edmonton as the founder and owner for 31 years of Earth’s General Store on Whyte Ave. until his retirement last year, said he regrets embarrassing Marlin Schmidt, his NDP MLA, who invited him to sit with other guests inside the Legislative Chamber Monday afternoon.

But he has no regrets about disrupting the ceremonial occasion. Such tactics are peaceful, and they work, he argued. 

“Yeah, it’s disruptive. People get very, very angry,” he said during a conversation about his role in the excitement at the Legislature.

But, he continued, “if I wasn’t doing this action, we wouldn’t be talking, right? So it’s effective that way. I am a promoter of disruption!”

“We can do a lot more marches. We can do a lot more rallies. We can do a lot more. But we need disruptions. We need disruptions to say, ‘Hey, something’s not right! Something’s wrong!’ Right,” he added.

He described participating in slow marches with Just Stop Oil during a recent stay in the United Kingdom. “We got climate change on the map. Big time!”

“If we stand on the outside of the halls of power … and ask them, even demand, that they do something good. You know what? They do not listen. We need to occupy those halls, instead of demanding from the outside,” Kalmanovitch said.

When Kalmanovitch took his own advice and cried out in the Legislature, the reaction to his one-man protest was swift. The Legislature’s Sergeant-at-Arms dragged him off the chair he’d stood upon, and hauled him out of the Chamber. Kalmanovitch could be heard shouting as he was escorted from the room. 

Whether the tactic worked as well as he’d hoped is another matter. Most Alberta media ignored the disruption. Maybe it wasn’t dramatic enough for their taste? Perhaps they require a massive illegal highway blockade costing Alberta $44 million a day like the one those UCP MLAs took part in last year. Maybe news judgment just isn’t a thing anymore? Who knows?

For the sake of history, here’s a short transcription of how Kalmanovitch’s lone protest unfolded, based on Alberta Hansard, the official transcript of the Legislature, and my own notes:

The Sergeant-at-Arms: Order!

[Preceded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, Their Honours, their party, and the Premier left the Chamber as a fanfare of trumpets sounded]

[The Mace was uncovered]

[Disturbance in the gallery]

Alas, at this point, the official record of the Legislature ceases for a few moments. 

So here is your blogger’s unofficial transcription* of what could be heard during the seconds summarized by Hansard only as “[Disturbance in the gallery]”:

Michael Kalmanovitch: I’m terrified! I’m terrified because we’re in a climate emergency and this government is …

The Sergeant at Arms: “ORDER!!”

Michael Kalmanovitch: … This is important …

The Sergeant-at-Arms: “GET DOWN!”

[Thumping noises]

The Speaker: Please be seated.

Michael Kalmanovitch: …you address the climate emergency … 

[Thumping noises; muffled cries; excited chatter]

Michael Kalmanovitch: We need to stop drilling for new oil! We need to stop new gas! We need to stop new coal!

At this point, the Hansard transcription resumes:

The Sergeant-at-Arms: Order!

No need to go on. That’s the interesting part. The rest is just a Throne Speech.  

The photo in the Edmonton Journal shows what appears to be an actual oil billionaire, W. Brett Wilson, standing by nearby as the Sergeant-at-Arms attempts to drag Kalmanovitch from the chair he’d clambered onto. (Kalmanovitch said he hadn’t recognized the billionaire, whose extreme views about environmentalists are notorious. It’s almost a pity no one thought to introduce them.)

There has been fallout. 

Kalmanovitch said he has been banned from entering the grounds of the Legislature for a year.

In addition, I understand that the NDP Caucus has been browbeaten into apologizing for the hullabaloo and that Speaker Nathan Cooper has decreed guests will never again be seated inside the legislative chamber. 

I’ll give the last word to the protagonist of Monday’s brouhaha, who describes himself as a “full time professional citizen” now.

“Citizens have rights and responsibilities. But we always just focus on the rights – my rights, Trump’s rights, everybody else’s rights.

“I’m about responsibility. So I try to highlight the responsibilities,” he said.

*Disclaimer: I cannot guarantee my transcript is as accurate as that of the government’s professional transcriptionists.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...