Protesters disrupt Stelmach's fundraising dinner
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, April 24, 2008 11:37PM EDT
EDMONTON - As protests go, the timing couldn't have been better.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach was just about to deliver an anti-Greenpeace message to a Tory fundraising dinner Thursday, when two Greenpeace activists dropped from the ceiling with a large anti-Stelmach banner.
"Stelmach, the best premier oil money can buy,'' read the large banner with a prominent Greenpeace logo. "Stop the tarsands!''
The punchline of the premier's speech was how he was planning trips to southern California and central Europe later this year to dispel the Greenpeace message that rapid oilsands development is creating an environmental disaster.
"We cannot sit back and let others damage our reputation and give the world a false picture of Alberta,'' Stelmach told the annual premier's dinner. "It's my responsibility as premier to protect Alberta's reputation.''
Alberta politicians are worried about other countries refusing to buy oil and gasoline refined from the tar-like bitumen that's scraped from huge pits in northern Alberta's oilsands region.
So the province is preparing to spend $5 million developing a public relations campaign to show that the oilsands are becoming an environmental success story.
The government is calling it a branding process and millions more will be spent on advertising around the world.
But Greenpeace punched the air out of the PR campaign as reporters and TV cameras converged on the protesters, who were arrested, charged with trespassing and released.
"The public has repeatedly told this government that they want to brakes put on oilsands development,'' said Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema, who was in the crowd wearing a suit.
"We're here to send the government a very clear message that it's time they started listening to Albertans.''
Hudema was quickly spotted by security after the protest banner was unravelled at the back of the hall by a man and woman who dropped from a catwalk on ropes.
Hudema, 31, Steven Anderson, 27, of Grande Prairie, Alta., and Denise Ogonoski, 26, each received a $287 ticket for trespassing.
The three were escorted from the building, but not before Hudema spoke with reporters.
The premier later dismissed the protest as a stunt and insisted that he didn't even notice the banner as he was speaking.
But Stelmach says he's not surprised that the protesters interrupted his speech, especially after banner-waving Greenpeace activists dogged him throughout the recent Alberta election campaign.
"You've got to be prepared for that kind of behaviour,'' he later told reporters. "And that's why in my speech, I talked about getting the message to other jurisdictions around the world.''
"We're certainly not going to leave it to Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, because at the end of the day they're not accountable to anybody.''
Stelmach will travel to San Diego in June and central Europe, including Germany, in the fall to talk about how the province is reducing the huge level of emissions from rapidly expanding oilsands projects.
During a speech in Washington a few months ago, the premier said it's a myth that oilsands projects had been developed with a heavy toll on the environment.