Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is under fire for using a meme from the Oscars as a way to draw attention to green energy policies, which he disagrees with.
The meme, which was posted on Kenney’s social media accounts, is a photo of actor Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock on stage over comments made about Smith’s wife at the awards show on Sunday.
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In Kenney’s version of the tweet, the word “reality” is written in text over Smith while “green energy policies” is written over Rock.
Many have criticized Kenney’s use of the meme, saying it promotes violence and questioned his intentions behind the use of the image.
Calgary police commissioner Heather Campbell urged Kenney to delete the tweet, saying Kenney’s use of the meme is “abhorrent.”
“The idea that you and your staff have used the abject violence of that terrible moment as a comparison to the need to achieve net-zero and decarbonization… is abhorrent,” Campbell tweeted on Monday morning.
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University of Calgary’s vice-provost for equity, diversity and inclusion Malinda Smith also denounced the meme and asked if someone hacked the premier’s Twitter account.
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“The apparent hackers are promoting physical violence… Disappointing judgement, poor taste, bad timing?” Smith’s tweet reads.
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Lori Williams, an associate professor at Mount Royal University, said Kenney’s tweet is an indirect endorsement of violence against his critics.
“It looks like an endorsement of violence against those with whom you disagree. We’re seeing too much of that at public events. We’ve seen attacks against health-care workers and attacks against opponents at various rallies,” Williams said.
“Clearly he’s not directly advocating violence, but he is using an incident of absolutely inappropriate violence to suggest that he’s somehow in touch with reality.”
Williams also said Kenney’s use of the meme is a dog whistle to people who disagree with environmentalists and environmental policies while blaming the extra costs on the federal government.
“It’s meant to appeal to the base to look like he’s fighting for Albertans, but all he is doing is pointing the finger at the federal government for all of the problems and challenges that all groups are facing without recognizing the biggest expense: utility bills, ”Williams said.
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Political memes are also potentially dangerous.
Williams said memes that encourage respectful debate are great, but are problematic if they start attacking others for having a different opinion.
“We know that young people can often be turned off politics. You know, it’s entirely possible that this kind of meme, if it keeps young people that oppose Jason Kenney from participating in the process, would probably be fine with him,” she said.
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Kenney defended the use of the meme, saying the image has taken over the internet and is a “great way of making a point” about energy affordability in the province.
“The point is that folks who have been trying to drive families into energy poverty got it wrong… I think that ordinary people will understand what that reality is,” he said during a news conference aimed at attacking the federal carbon tax on Monday.
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Later in the media availability, he read out the definition of a meme while saying green energy policies are making life more expensive for Albertans.
He also said the reduction of energy development has led to geopolitical instability in places like Syria.
“It is time for a balanced debate on energy policies,” he said.
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