January 5, 2018 11:48 pm

Alberta environment minister calls ‘eat less meat’ tweet on her account ‘regrettable’

File photo of Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
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After being accused of taking a shot at Alberta’s beef industry, Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips took to Twitter Friday night to explain she was not behind a tweet on her account earlier in the week suggesting people “eat less meat.”

“I was away from my twitter account around NY Day, and the tweet that came from a staff person was regrettable,” Phillips tweeted Friday night. “I’m assured it won’t happen again.”

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A three-day-old tweet meant to promote a local environmental initiative, suddenly saw Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips trending across Canada on the social media platform Friday as members of the United Conservative Party accused her of attacking Alberta’s meat industry.

On Jan. 2, a tweet appeared on Phillips’ account encouraging her local constituents in Lethbridge to take part in a “Green Challenge” organized by a community group called Environment Lethbridge.

“Need a resolution? @EnviroLeth Green Challenge: use reusable shopping bags, take shorter showers, unplug electronics devices, eliminate vehicle idling and eat less meat. The Challenge runs Jan 15-Feb 15. Register online,” the Tweet said.

The Tweet began drawing significant attention online after Unite Alberta, a political action committee that appears to endorse UCP leader Jason Kenney, retweeted it and commented on it.

“So Alberta’s Minister of the Environment is now suggesting Albertans “eat less meat.” And PETA is pushing for a “meat tax,” Unite Alberta tweeted, before mentioning tens of thousands of people are employed through the meat industry.

“Why is the Environment Min. telling Albertans to “eat less meat”?,” Kenney tweeted on Friday, after Unite Alberta retweeted Phillips’ tweet. “Ppl are obviously free to eat what they like – and let’s keep it that way. As someone who supports Alberta’s farmers & ranchers – and enjoys a good steak from time to time – I will not be taking the NDP’s advice.

“We have a government minister trashing our agriculture industry,” UCP MLA Ric McIver tweeted. “Will you have this minister take down her tweet @RachelNotley ? #ableg”

The tweets generated hundreds of responses, with some suggesting the tweet was an attack on the meat industry and they will now eat more meat, while others said the tweet highlights a growing body of research suggesting meat-heavy diets are more detrimental to the environment than other diets.

In an interview with Global News on Friday, Phillips did not mention it was in fact a staffer and not her who posted the tweet but categorically rejected the assertion she does not fully support Alberta’s meat producers and said her NDP government’s support for the industry has been “demonstrable.”

“We as a government, were instrumental in helping the federal government open up the markets… to exports in China which is a massive new market for Alberta beef producers,” she said. “Here’s the thing about Alberta beef producers, they understand with the need to move forward on sustainable beef. That’s why they have an initiative called “Sustainable Beef” and we’ve been very, very supportive of that.

“I personally come from a family of feedlot operators. My grandfather came here as a cow-calf operator, my extended family continues to operate one of the largest feedlots in this province.”

READ MORE: Alberta beef and pork producers hope new deal with China will pay big dividends

Watch below: On Dec. 11, 2017, Tom Vernon filed this report about how Alberta beef producers can now ship more of their product into China.

Lori Williams, a political analyst with Mount Royal University, said she believes the tweet on Phillips’ account only came under attack on Friday for one main reason.

“It looked to me like they (UCP) were trying to distract from the very good news released by Statistics Canada today that there are 26,000 mostly full-time new jobs in Alberta and the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2015,” she said.

READ MORE: Alberta’s unemployment rate drops to 6.9% as more people find jobs: StatCan

“That said, I think some rural Albertans, certainly producers of beef and pork and poultry… it might be an additional offence on top of Bill 6 (the NDP’s controversial farm safety legislation), so it might actually resonate in some communities.

“Probably not the wisest thing to suggest that people eat less meat when the industry has had a few hits in the last years.”

Phillips told Global News the tweet was intended to support a local initiative in her riding and is being made into a political issue by the UCP.

“This (Environmental Lethbridge) is a group that I represent as an MLA,” she said. “Reasonable people, who are not Jason Kenney, understand that as an MLA, I represent a bunch of different groups in my constituency. People are undertaking initiatives all the time, whether it’s doing running races for charities or raising awareness of various kinds (of issues) and I retweet that sort of thing all the time.

“It’s really too bad that Jason Kenney doesn’t understand what his job is, which is to support his community, to listen to Albertans and to get off his phone and quit manufacturing fake outrage on Twitter.”

Williams mused over what impact the tweet on Phillips’ account would actually have on the dietary choices of Albertans.

“I think for a lot of people, they’re sort of wondering — the suggestion in Jason Kenney’s tweet that the government shouldn’t be telling people what to eat — I mean it’s just a suggestion to be more environmentally friendly and we as Canadians are free to follow the recommendations or not.”

Williams said the Twitter controversy, which appeared to have erupted following Unite Alberta’s retweet, raises questions about the influence of political action committees in the province.

“(Unite Alberta seems to be) looking for opportunities to find flaws or shortcomings of the government and that’s fair enough,” she said. “But the fact that it’s a political action committee that’s initiating this particular firestorm is relatively new for Alberta.

“For political action committees to possibly be bigger actors in Alberta politics, should be something that we as Albertans watch more carefully and make a decision about whether we want to encourage or reward that type of participation.”

Phillips said her staff will often user her Twitter account to promote local initiatives, however, she added that it is her account and she takes responsibility for it.

Global News reached out to Jason Kenney but was told by a spokesperson that he was unavailable for comment.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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