Alberta Politics
Amnesty International Canada’s Secretary General, Alex Neve (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s Jason Kenney, not Amnesty International, who’s poking holes in Alberta’s claim we produce the most ‘ethical oil’

Posted on September 11, 2019, 1:32 am
9 mins

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s petulant response yesterday to Amnesty International’s scorching letter about the dangers represented by his United Conservative Party Government’s approach to defending the fossil fuel industry exposes a surprising lack of judgment for a former senior federal cabinet minister.

Rather than reassuring people elsewhere in Canada and potential investors around the world that, no, Alberta isn’t taking a turn toward autocratic far-right populism with a nasty authoritarian streak, he snapped out a series of unconvincing responses to Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Alex Neve’s letter that sounded as if they’d been drafted for him by someone at Rebel Media.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Every lame point you’d expect to hear from the “ethical oil” crowd was there: Mr. Neve was “beyond ridiculous.” Mr. Kenney would “absolutely not” abandon his war room or his inquiry with its universally mocked snitch line. Amnesty should criticize Saudi Arabia or Russia instead of picking on Alberta. The international human-rights watchdog used to do better work when he was running his high school Amnesty club. Amnesty is “fighting to protect foreign-funded billionaires from transparency when they’re funding a campaign to land-lock Canadian energy.”

The general effect of this would be sophomoric were the issue not a serious one, with potentially real repercussions for Alberta and Canada.

It’s pretty obvious that when Mr. Neve warned Alberta risked violating human rights, exposing women and indigenous activists in particular to threats of violence, and endangering the fundamental rights of people in places most affected by global climate change, he was doing it because the world expects better of Alberta than it does of Saudi Arabia, not because he wanted to pick on us.

And you know what? It’s completely appropriate for Amnesty to ask Alberta to be better and also to criticize the likes of Saudi Arabia for gross violations of human rights. It’s totally reasonable for Mr. Neve to ask Alberta to ensure public funds are not used to harass, spy on or criminalize citizens who criticize the Kenney Government’s energy agenda, and also to tell Russia not to abuse the rights of its citizens.

As Mr. Neve told a forum on free speech at the University of Alberta last night, “what is happening in this province is part of the same vile slippery slope” authoritarian populist governments are sliding down elsewhere. “And Premier Kenney has taken a step onto that slippery slope.”

Instead, he said in his letter, “Alberta should be in the forefront of denouncing such actions by other governments, not following their lead.”

By reacting as he did, Mr. Kenney created the impression that if he isn’t quite a two-bit Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s far-right populist strongman, or a half-baked Vladimir Putin, he might aspire to be. He certainly didn’t seem to mind Mr. Putin’s methods when he attacked Greenpeace in Fort McMurray yesterday.

Whatever he thinks, Mr. Kenney is leaving that impression with hitherto disinterested observers elsewhere in Canada and around the world with yesterday’s performance.

Perhaps Mr. Kenney just doesn’t like Mr. Neve. The Ottawa lawyer has been a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. He’s a member of the Order of Canada. And he’s crossed swords before with Mr. Kenney, when the premier was federal minister of immigration.

Still, it’s Mr. Kenney, not Amnesty International, that’s poking holes in Alberta’s claims we produce the world’s most “ethical oil” in the oilsands.

“Amnesty International is concerned that the overriding intention and impact of both the public inquiry and energy ‘war room’ will inevitably be to target, discredit and silence individuals and groups who oppose or criticize the Alberta oilsands or related pipeline projects,” Mr. Neve wrote.

Mr. Kenney’s childish response to that makes the argument seem more valid, not less.

Mr. Neve also raised an issue I’d wager no one the Kenney Government’s strategic brain trust had thought about when it cooked up this plan. “Threatening to impose funding restrictions or limiting a group’s capacity to exercise their rights to freedom of association by securing funding or support from foreign sources is a violation of human rights. As described in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the right to freedom of association allows individuals to form groups for the defence of human rights and the environment.”

The UN declaration “also protects the rights of organizations and citizens to access and receive funding from national and foreign sources,” he said.

A lot of Albertans may not be comfortable with this fact. Mr. Putin doesn’t like it much either. But professional political advisors to the premier of Canada’s richest province have no excuse for being unaware of it.

And judging from the premier’s response to the letter, Mr. Neve told the forum last night, “that’s exactly the aspect of the letter he missed.”

Anyway, as Mr. Neve’s letter said, “it is troubling that your government’s focus on foreign funding appears to extend exclusively to critics of the oil and gas industry and not think-tanks and other organizations actively supporting the industry.”

“Furthermore, the evidentiary basis for why concerns over ‘foreign funding’ would warrant this degree of public expenditure and attention and the risks entailed to civil liberties appears to rely on vague conspiracy theories about the hidden goals of U.S. based foundations,” he wrote.

“Labelling information that does not align with your government’s policies as ‘false’ and ‘lies’ leaves little room for dialogue, which is essential to the exercise of human rights and central to a healthy democracy,” he concluded. “Harassing and threatening individuals because they promote views contrary to government has significant consequences for everyone’s human rights in Canada.”

Mr. Kenney may not care that much about human rights, at least when the opinions they protect run contrary to the ones he wants to promote. But if he thinks this kind of reaction doesn’t matter, or the attention it attracts can’t have economic consequences, he mustn’t have been paying attention.

Numerous corporations have already told U.S. states like Georgia that if they don’t start respecting the rights of their citizens, they’ll take their resources, jobs and money somewhere else. Mr. Kenney sounds as if he’d like to test their willingness to do the same thing here. That might not turn out to be a good idea.

14 Comments to: It’s Jason Kenney, not Amnesty International, who’s poking holes in Alberta’s claim we produce the most ‘ethical oil’

  1. Dave

    September 11th, 2019

    Outsiders expect better of Alberta and so do a lot of Albertans too. We are not a one party petro state and shouldn’t aspire to that, especially as there are so many examples of them being badly governed for the benefit of a few and to the detriment of most of their citizens who don’t really benefit from their resource wealth.

    I suspect Mr. Kenney has figured one way to sustain his popularity in the face of or to distact from his planned austerity, that he knows may be unpopular, is to focus on external enemies as much as possible. Of course, if they don’t exist, he may have to help create them, but I don’t think Kenney lets the truth get in the way of what he considers good politics. So local environmentalists should brace themselves for the full onslaught of the state and it will be nasty.

    So our oil will be viewed as a bit less ethical, not that this ever meant that much in a debate about climate change which is really about carbon output. It was and is mostly just a clever distraction by the energy industry.

    Mr. Kenney may grouse about Amnesty not being as good as when he was in high school. If they had GSA’s back then I suspect he would probably say something similar about them. It seems he is perpetually agrieved these days and he uses the tactics of populists to inflame grievances and use them for his political advantage. Of course, being a career politician he is not the most convincing populist but he knows their tactics well and how to use them for his political advantage.

    Unfortunately, this will tarnish Alberta’s reputation further and hurt us in the end, but I suspect by then Kenney will have moved onto bigger and potentially bigger political opportunities, especially if there is an opening for Federal Conservative leader after the upcoming Federal election.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    September 11th, 2019

    Dear old wannabe Emperor and sub-Pope Jason 1 of Alberta – whadda guy! Still, in tone-deaf Alberta, Mr Neve’s thoughts will be dashed on the rocks of navel-gazing provincialism, I’m afraid. My relatives in Calgary seem well-bamboozled.

    Following Hurricane Dorian here in NS, where I got my power, cell and internet back after three days yesterday, the same kind of nonchalant political outlook means that hey! A $120 million joint federal/provincial/municipal-funded Arts museum strategically located on the Halifax waterfront a metre above high tide, will still go ahead. I mean, those ten metre wave surges during Dorian around the headland, a mere eight miles away as the seagull flies that tore down a huge breakwater, won’t ever make it into the harbour, right? The wind never blows that way. Dumb and dumber rule the day. JT and Public Safety minister Uncle Ralph used the damage as a backdrop for TV questions yesterday, you know, all concerned like. Did Goodale promise to bring up the cell system backup battery failures of both Bell and Rogers with the CRTC as he was relentlessly quizzed on the topic by citizens and journos? I mean, there was no 911 service – nothing. The towers themselves escaped damage, they just had batteries with no life in them when the power failed in the hurricane something Ontario companies never considered, because there are no federal standards for cell tower operation at power off. Just a mnor point. Ralph’s advice? Citizens should complain to the CRTC to establish documentation. Why, senior pols are above taking public concerns to their own bureaucrats, after all. Not in their remit as they basked in the late afternoon sun and regular folk worked hard at clearing debris caused by a breakwater failure not 100 yards away. Your average citizen must do that complaining to bureaucrats themselves, don’t you know? Of course. You’re only the Public Safety minister, Ralphie – if not you, then who in hell should get on the file? Oh, there’s an election coming? Suspend action immediately!

    Meanwhile, DJC, you and the other Dave seem to be all that allows the outside world to know what’s happening in the wilds of Alberta. No mainstream media coverage critical of Kenney ever makes it out so far as I can see. Criticism bought off by media sympathetic to Cons. Who’d a thunk it? The MSM journos write the slanted crap for Post Media, apparently addicted more to a job than honesty or mass resignation on principle. Understandable if not praiseworthy. Keep up the great work.

    The rest of you, wake up and dump the Libs and Cons in this federal election. This country needs new blood at the helm, not the same old grifters pushing empty slogans, promises and just in it for themselves and their corporate sponsors. This will be near enough a sham federal election, sponsored mainly by business, and indifferent to the citizens who trudge out and vote for the old time parties, hoping against hope that this time will be different. Who’s kidding who?

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      September 14th, 2019

      Mr Malcolm: re DJC & the other Dave, there is a third voice bringing common-sense, balanced discussion of Alberta
      politics … Susan on the Soapbox https://susanonthesoapbox.com/. Re MSM coverage, Star Metro Edmonton or Calgary is somewhat less awful than Postmedia.

      Reply
  3. Geoffrey Pounder

    September 11th, 2019

    Jason Kenney says “Amnesty is ‘fighting to protect foreign-funded billionaires.'”

    Not only are traitorous Canadian ENGOs foreign-funded, but even the billionaires that fund them are foreign-funded.
    Who is funding billionaires these days?
    And is this website foreign-funded too?
    Time for an inquiry.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      September 12th, 2019

      Since you’ve raised the question, Geoffrey, this website has never received foreign funds. It’s never even received a foreign fund! There is a PayPal button, however, and residents of other countries and continents, even benighted Australia, are invited to make contributions. Please chip in, mates! It’s time to give readers something to report to the Foreign Funded Dissidents Inquiry snitch line! DJC

      Reply
  4. Public Servant

    September 11th, 2019

    Jason Kenney lets the mask slip a little bit more. His contempt for democracy is alarming.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    September 11th, 2019

    There are some facts missing with Jason Kenney. Starting with Ralph Klein, the Alberta PCs allowed oil companies in Alberta to get away with not cleaning up any messes they made. Albertans now have to pay $260 billion to clean up messes made by the oil industry in Alberta. How will Jason Kenney deal with that?

    Reply
  6. Simon Renouf

    September 11th, 2019

    Oh dear, “ethical oil”: Jason Kenney’s claim to the moral high ground is this: “As world energy demands continue growing, . . . that demand will be filled. It will be met. The only question is, who will supply that demand?”

    That’s likely the same justification the guy at my local gas station would use if he was challenged about selling cigarettes: “they’re addicts, they’re going to buy them somewhere, might as well be me.”

    Reply
  7. Sheldon

    September 11th, 2019

    I recently visited my in-laws in the lower mainland and the Trans Mountain Pipeline was a topic of conversation. My relations were mildly opposed to its construction. But what struck me was how their perception of Albertans has been negatively affected by this issue. They see our Premier as being too strident on this issue and cannot understand why he fails to understand theyr reasons for opposing the pipeline. They see the Premier and his supporters as being unreasonable. And they see threats of Alberta separation as ridiculous.

    Amnesty International is not a partisan player. In a democracy we are all entitled to our own opinion. More toleration and respect for those who disagree with us is in order. The Premier’s attack on Amnesty International will, I expect, have a negative effect on his image with reasonable people . The farther away you go from Alberta the more tattered will be the Premier’s and our image.

    I am beginning to doubt the view Mr. Kenney is aiming to be a future Prime Minister. His tactics work here but they will undermine his popularity in other, more populated provinces not as dependent on oil and gas extraction.

    Reply
    • Tom

      September 12th, 2019

      I agree. Soon no one but Albertans will want Albertan oil–and not even some of them.

      Reply
  8. Jim

    September 12th, 2019

    Hold on there Jason didn’t Amnesty provide cover for the Syria and Libya wars which you supported? Don’t bite the hand that feeds, did Kenney support Iraq war one? Another instance where Amnesty provided cover in case anyone doesn’t remember the babies in incubators story was not true.

    Reply
  9. Jerrymacgp

    September 12th, 2019

    There hasn’t been a greater threat to our freedoms — of thought, of opinion, of expression, and of peaceful dissent — since Bible Bill’s “Accurate News and Information Act” of 1937 — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accurate_News_and_Information_Act.

    Another item from the 1930s, was the creation, in Germany, of a secret police force which encouraged neighbours to spy on & report their neighbours, friends on their friends, and spouses on their spouses. Perhaps you’ve heard of … it was called the Gestapo. So, on social media I have taken to calling this iteration, the “Alberta Gestapoil”.

    How long do you think it will be, before the UCP introduces “extradition” legislation to try and get oil & gas dissenters from Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, Fort St John and Dawson Creek — Alberta’s extraterritorial enclave in B.C. — shipped to Calgary for trial? 😉

    Reply
  10. Murphy

    September 12th, 2019

    There is no getting around the fact that the US Empire used, and continue to use, NGO’s to loot and destabilize Russia. Even mainstream Imperial media has had to admit that Russia was subjected to predation in the post-Soviet period:

    “The Harvard Institute, together with the Chubais “dream team,” as Summers called it, presided over Russia’s economic “reforms,” many of them U.S.-funded, including privatization. But the reforms were more about wealth confiscation than wealth creation. The first stage of privatization, which had substantial input from U.S.-paid Harvard advisors, fostered the concentration of property in a few Russian hands and opened the door to widespread corruption.

    Then Chubais approved the “loans-for-shares” program, which was masterminded by his associate, Vladimir O. Potanin, a onetime deputy prime minister for economic affairs who also is named in the current money-laundering investigations. It was under this scheme that insider deals and coziness between government and Russia’s oligarchs became crystallized for all to see. But the Clinton administration continued its support for its favored “reformers.”

    In the name of privatization, loans for shares transferred control of many of Russia’s prime assets for token sums to seven preselected bank chiefs. Potanin, chairman of one of them, the powerful Unexim bank, since 1993, paid rock-bottom prices for shares in some of the nation’s crown jewels. He also enabled the Harvard Management Company, the university’s endowment fund, to participate in loans-for-shares auctions and get in on two of Unexim’s best deals, despite the fact that foreign investors were supposed to be excluded under auction rules.”
    https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-sep-12-op-9170-story.html

    “On closer inspection, it turns out that this so-called “mounting criticism” is in fact being driven by a specific group in the Russian political spectrum – and by its American supporters. The leading Russian critics of Putin’s handling of the Beslan crisis are the pro-US politicians Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov – men associated with the extreme neoliberal market reforms which so devastated the Russian economy under the west’s beloved Boris Yeltsin – and the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Centre. Funded by its New York head office, this influential thinktank – which operates in tandem with the military-political Rand Corporation, for instance in producing policy papers on Russia’s role in helping the US restructure the “Greater Middle East” – has been quoted repeatedly in recent days blaming Putin for the Chechen atrocities. The centre has also been assiduous over recent months in arguing against Moscow’s claims that there is a link between the Chechens and al-Qaida.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/08/usa.russia

    Reply

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