No one knows what caused the Fort McMurray fire. But that hasn’t stopped too many people – on both sides of the ideological divide – from assigning blame. From pointing fingers, and recklessly accusing others.
It’s happened on the ideological left and on the right.
Early on, former NDP candidate Tom Moffatt posted this on Twitter: “Karmic #climatechange fire burns CDN oilsands city.” He added “FeelTheBern” as a hashtag. What made Moffatt’s idiocy even more appalling was this: He is an Albertan. He should know better.
There were others. “Burn, tar sands, burn!” wrote Edouard Dugas, in Quebec. Dugas describes himself as a separatist and a capitalist. He later allowed that he wanted the “tar sands” to burn – not the actual people who work there.
Another one, on Facebook: “I hope everyone gets the irony of a massive fire in the heart of big oil country.” That came from Jim Ray in Guelph, who described himself as an “on-shore Volunteer at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.” Also on Facebook, Carolyn Jean Bernard, in Cape Breton, wrote that it was “karma” for “those satanic oil fields.” She later deleted her comments and apologized.
U.S. news and opinion web site Slate tweeted this: “Wildfire is devastating a Canadian city, now. This is climate change.”
And then, of course, there were the comments of Green Party leader Elizabeth May. On Wednesday, May was asked by reporters if the fire was linked to global warming. “Of course,” she said. “It’s due to global emissions.”
Of course. When a hellfire of criticism started to (appropriately) rain down on her, May hurriedly reversed herself. She claimed she hadn’t been attempting to link the Fort McMurray wildfire to climate change – although everyone knew that is precisely what she had done. “No credible climate scientist would make this claim, and neither do I make this claim,” May said, in a written statement.
The Left weren’t alone in their rank stupidity. Some on the right side of the spectrum were just as stupid.
Their targets, for the most part, were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Trudeau and Notley’s sin: one was a Liberal, the other a New Democrat. Ipso facto, Trudeau and Notley were the arsonists.
To its credit, the conservative web site The Rebel had decided to raise money for the victims of the Fort McMurray. Unfortunately, the rebels also declared that Notley has “money for everything else, for everyone else – but not for firefighters.” Trudeau, meanwhile, was apparently no better: Syrian refugees, the rebels sniffed, are “a higher Liberal priority than Fort McMurray.”
One commenter on the far-right Small Dead Animals blog wrote that, after the fire, “The Fort McMurray Somali murderers and drug dealers will get a chance to repopulate around the country for a while.” He went on: “If Fort McMurray was a Lebanese/Syrian port city [Trudeau’s Liberals] would have sent a warship at no cost to the foreign ‘victims’.”
Over on Twitter, biochemistry student Sean Krys expressed support for Fort McMurray, then added that “Notley is a bitch.” There was a lot more of that, and worse.
Whenever something terrible happens, there will be those who will plumb for votes in the depths of someone else’s misery. Fort McMurray – via the echo chamber of social media – is simply the latest manifestation of that illness.
What to say, then? To me, the most appropriate response came from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Asked about Elizabeth May’s appalling statement, Trudeau was clear.
“There have always been fires. There have always been floods. Pointing at any one incident and saying: ‘This is because of that,’ is neither helpful, nor entirely accurate. We need to separate a pattern over time from any one event. What we are focused on right now on is giving the people of Fort McMurray and the rest of Alberta the kind of support that they need right now and in the months and indeed the years to come.”
See? That’s how a prime minister speaks. It is how any decent person would speak, in fact.
This May, things are hot enough as it is. We don’t need more fires set, rhetorical or otherwise.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.