Swedish activist Greta Thunberg marched alongside thousands of protesters in Alberta’s capital on Friday as she waded into a contentious debate about how to confront climate change just days before a federal election.
Ms. Thunberg’s appearance in Alberta had drawn criticism from provincial politicians and other pro-oil voices in the province, although her speech at the event did not touch on the province’s oil sands. In a speech on the legislature steps, the 16-year-old said she had received a “wonderful reception” in Alberta.
“We cannot allow this crisis to continue to be a partisan, political question. The climate and ecological crisis is far beyond party politics and the main enemy right now should not be any political opponents, because our main enemy is physics,” she said.
Ms. Thunberg visited Montreal last month, where climate marchers numbered 500,000. But in Alberta, where the energy sector drives the economy, the climate rally comes at a fraught political juncture. As the Oct. 21 election day draws near, some Canadians have the issue of climate change at top of mind, but for many Albertans, a still-sagging economy remains a top concern.
As protesters rallied outside his office, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a staunch advocate for his province’s key industry, was at the opening of new natural gas pipeline that is part of a project to convert a coal-fired power plant to gas.
Ms. Thunberg had little specific to say about the province or the country. But she said in the push to dramatically cut greenhouse gases, richer countries such as Sweden or Canada “need to get down to zero emissions much faster so that people in poorer parts of the world can heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructure we have already built – such as roads, hospitals, electricity, schools and providing clean drinking water.”
She called on “the people in power to unite behind the science.”
The marchers chanted and sang, with Indigenous protesters leading the walk. Throughout the march, Ms. Thunberg was surrounded in protective fashion by supporters and, after her speech, by Edmonton police on bicycles.
Kenzie Gordon, a PhD student, brought her four-month-old son to the climate strike.
“As a new parent, it’s scary,” she said. “I don’t want him to ask, ‘Where were you? What were you doing?’ So we’re here to demand action.”
And on streets near the legislature, Alberta oil and gas supporters from a group called United We Roll who had travelled from south of the city loudly honked their horns in a counter-rally. There were a few people who shouted at the marchers at the sidelines but, overall, Edmonton police thanked everyone who took part in the rally “for their co-operation.”
Among the protesters were a handful of marchers with a different message. Cort Gallup of Fort McKay, an Alberta First Nations community surrounded by oil sands mines, wore a bright green “I love Canadian oil and gas” shirt.
“I love my country very much. And it’s hard for me to sit by and watch people attack it, and see Canada shoot itself in the foot,” Mr. Gallup said. “I want to represent the other side – the support for Canadian oil and gas.”
The days’ events were largely ignored by the United Conservative Party government, which won a majority this year on a strong pro-industry platform. Earlier this week, the government said Ms. Thunberg should recognize the province’s "leading human rights and environmental standards, especially in comparison to oil-producing dictatorships” such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Venezuela.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Kenney said instead of calling for the shutdown of the modern economy, ”and “instead of supporting policies that would throw millions out of work, folks should learn a little bit about real practical measures that industry is taking in order to reduce emissions for the power that they rely upon every single day.”