This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Sept. 5, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.
Watching the fantastic “Electric Dreams” sci-fi anthology on Amazon Prime (yes, I know Amazon and Bezos are not to be glorified but this is a great series), there’s an episode called “K.A.O” (Kill All Others) that is disturbing and provocative.
The series is based on the writing of Philip K. Dick, who was admittedly a troubled and violent man, but a brilliant writer.
Without spoilers, the episode is about a blind obedience to government that becomes brutal and unhinged. It’s just easier for the citizens of this frightening future world to go along with whatever intrusion and lie the government pushes on them.
In this harrowing tale, the government singles out a vague enemy and then slowly turns the population against each other. With devastating consequences.
This fictional account reminded me of what the Jason Kenney government in Alberta is in fact doing with their cadre of “press secretaries” (they’re not really), policy advisors and issue managers, the most infamous being Matt Wolf who keeps inspiring a #fireMattWolf hashtag on a regular basis.
They’ve hired trolls to go after government critics online. It’s not just the Opposition party, targets include former staff, academics, environmental groups, professionals (one doctor even got a visit at his home from an angry cabinet minister for a comment he made online), podcasters and journalists. They’re contributing to a loss of civility by taking part in juvenile ad hominem attacks and threats.
Exhibit A below: This is a screen capture of a tweet from Samantha Peck, the Policy & Communications Advisor to Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy & Innovation last year. By the way, she has blocked me even though I’ve never interacted with any of her tweets.
Every day they participate in lowering the level of interactions online to the point where the government may feel justified in anything, including ideas that are not supported. An online brawl creates a distraction and makes it seem like everyone is unreasonable.
As the government discovered recently, the online fracas can move into the real world quite quickly. Such is the debacle with Alberta Parks. The government has – without a mandate – embarked on a policy of privatizing and shutting down parks across the province, with little or no consultation or support. During a pandemic, when people are flocking to nature, trying to escape the crowds, the last thing the government should be shutting down is the great outdoors itself. But that’s what they announced.
The uproar is now so widespread that even the government seems taken aback. It responded by launching a marketing campaign to counter the wildly successful “Defend Alberta Parks” lawn sign campaign opposed to its planned changes. When that failed, they started to backtrack but even then, the distrust continues.
Facts were posted, then removed. Numbers were stated, then denied and words were repeated and then retracted. It’s a mess and is now to the point where no official statements are taken at face value.
Recently, a release purported to be a reversal of the policy has parks supporters questioning the numbers and finding discrepancies again. There’s speculation the reversal may be a ruse.
This is just the latest in a rapidly declining relationship between the government and Albertans. Even this conservative stronghold is admitting they don’t trust Kenney and his caucus.
How did we get here? MLA’s have long been blocking their own constituents. It’s a seriously dysfunctional relationship, which results in echo chambers of support for themselves. This is a dangerous ego-driven exercise, particularly for politicians who may be susceptible to this type of feedback loop.
Blocking your own constituents on Twitter is akin to locking the front door of your constituency office and only people who agree with you in. Yet, elected officials now blithely block people for even minor disagreements.
Add to this, the illusion of social media, where people can’t look each other in the eye and see the pain and emotional toll it’s taking…we all lose a bit of our humanity in the process. The stakes were raised when Kenney dispatched a team of government employees to stoke anger by engaging in arguments on the ruling party’s behalf. It’s absolutely a partisan and destructive exercise.
They may not have created the problem but they sure as heck are aggravating it. They are certainly not doing anything constructive to correct it.
This has to stop. The government absolutely should not be using taxpayer resources to attack us for disagreeing, whether it’s online or in the media or in person. We are their bosses, not the other way around.
Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and an appreciator of clouds.