Kudos to the citizens who parse Jason Kenney’s policies and winnow the truth from the lies.
This takes tremendous courage given the government’s thin-skinned and overly aggressive response to criticism. (Check its Twitter and Facebook posts, they’re replete with attacks on anyone and everyone from Calgary’s mayor to doctors, academics, journalists, union leaders and ordinary citizens).
One would expect such an over the top reaction from the Kenney government to have a chilling effect on free speech and public discourse.
However, the opposite is true.
When the government’s $30 million/year War Room went after the Medicine Hat News for publishing a column critical of the War Room’s activities, the paper said bring it on, its subscriptions surged and its writers, Jeremy Appel and Scott Schmidt (I’m sure there are others) gained loads of new followers on social media.
When it singled out Steven Lee, a young environmental activist with the 3% Project, in a story featuring a parent irked by Mr Lee’s presentation. Mr Lee said he was disappointed that all the War Room could muster given its mega budget was “the normal messaging everyone else already does”.
When the War Room reacted to an op-ed by environmental activist Bill McKibben, Professor Andrew Leach took it to task for publishing rubbish (my word, not his). He urged the War Room to correct the misinformation it presented as fact. As Professor Leach delicately put it, “Words are important, and it seems that perhaps they were not chosen carefully enough. I’m sure it could not have been intentionally done to mislead, and I expect you’ll want to correct the record.”
This is significant
This push back from academics, journalists, activists, and ordinary citizens is extremely significant. Why? Because they are fighting to protect our democracy.
Jason Stanley, in How Propaganda Works, says it’s a fundamental principle in a democracy that all citizens can participate equally in debating the policies that affect them, and the political discussion is reasonable and rational.
The Kenney government violated this principle when it earmarked $120 million over four years to aggressively protect the energy industry from criticism and set up a $2.5 million public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns. It moved from simply promoting the energy sector (as it would promote any other sector of the economy) to attacking industry critics in a politically charged forum as a matter of ideology—anyone suggesting the oil sands are contributing to climate change is anti-Albertan—they are fair game and the government will use the weight of the state to stop them.
That’s why the push back is so significant. Citizens are reminding us that War Rooms and anti-Alberta energy inquiries and ad hominem attacks on critics are not normal; they’re an attack on democracy.
They know the government and its supporters will respond with both barrels.
And yet, they refuse to remain silent.
They’re fighting back against the government’s efforts to silence them. They’re fighting back to protect public services like education, healthcare and support for our most vulnerable. And they’re showing up at goof ball panels which are nothing more than a distraction from the government’s failure to address a flawed fiscal structure.
Citizens have taken strength from the government’s attempt to marginalize them.
This gives me tremendous hope.