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COLUMN: Premier Kenney must stop the name-calling

'If Kenney can’t see beyond names to a more civil discussion, he can’t see the majority of Albertans who care about their province.'
Lorne Fitch mug CC
Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired provincial fish and wildlife biologist, and a former adjunct professor with the University of Calgary. SUPPLIED/Photo

Alberta's Premier Jason Kenney throws the term “eco-terrorists” out on a somewhat regular basis; I suppose whenever he is peeved at some concern voiced about the environment.

I guess, by whatever interpretation he uses for “eco-terrorists,” as a biologist and a person concerned about the environment, I seem to be one. Kenney includes in this sweeping bit of name-calling many, maybe most, Albertans who speak up on environmental issues. How voicing one’s concerns on issues such as water quality, landscape integrity, climate change, sustainability, and biodiversity makes one a “terrorist” (and “anti-Albertan”) is mystifying.

In the hierarchy of disagreement, name-calling is the lowest type of argument and the most demeaning and insulting. Why we can’t have these essential discussions on the fate of our province without resorting to schoolyard tactics also escapes many of us.

The people Kenney denigrates with slurs and name-calling include bird watchers, anglers, naturalists, Raging Grannies, scientists, farmers, ranchers, parents, and others who wish to breathe unpolluted air; drink clean water; maintain wildlife; and support sustainable, ecologically benign economies. When questioned about their motives all say they also wish to leave something for the grandkids, other than an ever-increasing environmental debt and a toxic future.

As a group and individually they write letters, donate, demonstrate, plant trees, recycle, reduce personal expectations and consumption, or do without. To my knowledge, they do not blow up things, they act peaceably when demonstrating, and they retain an atmosphere of politeness when meeting with politicians over environmental issues. The are hardly the actions of terrorists.

Acting as the adults in the room, we owe them for contributions to our health, safety, landscape integrity, transition to clean energy usage, and sustainable forms of economic activity that work towards dealing with climate change. Just as we are asked, if we eat, to thank a farmer, maybe some recognition and thanks are due to people concerned about the environment.

The prevailing narrative by the name-callers, such as Kenney, is that these people are against everything involving economic activity. Contrary to that, most are for many economic initiatives. There is support for an economy shifting from endless growth to thoughtful development, from the burning of petroleum and mining of coal to renewable energy that would still entail tremendous investment opportunities and produce sustainable jobs.

I see restoration of landscapes ravaged by inappropriate land uses, shortening supply lines and reducing energy costs by buying locally, as well as support for sustainable, restorative agriculture as other examples of economic activity supported broadly by Albertans. What most people want to understand is what the real and full costs are of something, not just the hype of inflated and sometimes illusionary benefits.

One of the great fallacies in today’s world, especially the western one, is we think we can have our cake, and eat it, too, because of the perception there is always more where that came from. We think we can have unbridled economic development and protect the environment; we can ramp up the extraction and use of fossil fuels and still reduce greenhouse gases; and we can have unrestrained off-highway vehicle use of public lands and still maintain biodiversity, water quality, and quiet recreation. If it seems too good to be true, it is. Ask someone with an environmental background.

As for the premier, words matter and are an indicator of behaviour. If Kenney can’t see beyond names to a more civil discussion, he can’t see the majority of Albertans who care about their province.

Like many of Kenney's tactics against those he dislikes, when directed at people concerned about the environment, name-calling creates a false narrative which is offensive, one that lacks any evidence, and publicly displays his antipathy to the concerns of many Albertans.

It’s time for the premier to move from the name-calling sandbox of his youth to the adult world, where we treat each other with respect.

Lorne Fitch is a professional biologist, a retired provincial fish and wildlife biologist, and a former adjunct professor with the University of Calgary.