Someone once said that you should never underestimate desperate people because you never know how far they will go to get what they want.
It’s an aphorism that seems particularly apt in describing Maxime Bernier, the former federal Conservative cabinet minister and now leader of the populist People’s Party of Canada. He is fighting for your attention ahead of the fall election and seems willing to do and say anything to get it – no matter how small and cruel he comes across or how withering the criticism his antics incite.
On Monday, Mr. Bernier focused his sights on Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist from Sweden who recently arrived on the shores of North America to appeal to the world’s adults to take urgent action on climate change. She is expected to speak at a United Nations summit on the matter this month.
In a series of tweets, Mr. Bernier, who came within a whisker of winning the Conservative Party leadership in 2017, assailed Ms. Thunberg, who has Asperger syndrome and has suffered from depression and anxiety, for being “mentally unstable” and a radical ideologue. He said she posed a threat to “our prosperity and civilisation” and suggested that if she wants to play the role of climate alarmist “she should be denounced and attacked.” He seemed to imply in one tweet that the doomsday scenario Ms. Thunberg describes in her speeches is making children suicidal.
Much of his condemnation of the teenager seemed derived from a YouTube video he shared on Twitter of someone denouncing the young Swede as a “deeply, deeply troubled young girl” and a terrible role model for children.
Ms. Thunberg has, by now, become accustomed to these attacks, most often from conservatives. One of those voices, Andrew Bolt, wrote in Australia’s Herald Sun that Ms. Thunberg was a “deeply disturbed” young woman who was spreading unfounded climate panic. The young activist replied on Twitter: “I am ‘deeply disturbed’ about the fact that these hate and conspiracy campaigns are allowed to go on and on …” She went on: “When haters go after your looks and differences it means they have nowhere left to go.”
I suspect Ms. Thunberg has grown up an awful lot in the past year. Not many 16-year-olds could endure the abuse to which she is now regularly subjected. This is what happens, however, when people feel threatened. In the case of Ms. Thunberg, people – mostly men, apparently – feel just so.
This phenomenon is explored in a recent story in The New Republic titled The Misogyny of Climate Deniers. It chronicles how it has most often been white men leading the verbal strikes against Ms. Thunberg and suggests a link between “male reactionaries” and climate change denial.
The piece cites a study by two academics at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden that suggests climate activism challenges the way of life enjoyed by male reactionaries – extremists “motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism and climate denialism.” I don’t know how true that is, but it’s clear to me (and polls support this) that men do make up the majority of climate change deniers/skeptics on the planet. A 2017 study published in Scientific American said males perceive climate activism as an “inherently feminine” pursuit.
Of course, people have the right to believe whatever they wish. And this includes those who insist the warming of the planet is nothing new and nothing to worry about. If Mr. Bernier wishes to adhere to this dogma, so be it.
But I do have a problem with cyberbullying a teenager – mocking her in an attempt to undermine her credibility. It is the most base form of argument there is: When losing, discredit the person who is winning through any means possible.
Mr. Bernier clearly believes that portraying Ms. Thunberg as a mentally unwell climate fanatic will speak to a certain mindset in this country. And that would almost assuredly include those who are unhappy that the Conservative Party doesn’t subscribe to the view that climate alarmism is nothing more than a hysterical creation of the left.
What worries me more generally is that we will come to accept the type of behaviour Mr. Bernier exhibited toward Ms. Thunberg as legitimate, as fair game, as nothing more than what you see the President of the United States engaging in almost daily. Demean, devalue, shame, ridicule, taunt – anything goes, no matter how old your target is.
We must never accept this as normal – ever.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.