Over 600 academics from across Canada have signed a letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, criticizing his comments about a University of Calgary professor in the legislature on Monday, Nov. 25.
It started with sparring between Kenney and NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley over the dismissal of Alberta Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson.
“U of C political scientist Melanee Thomas says, ‘The premier is using the power of the state to silence an independent body and this is corrupt,'” said Notley on Monday as she listed numerous political commentators and academics who were critical of the government’s handling of the election commissioner, who was actively investigating members of the United Conservative Party.
Kenney responded: “It’s so sad they are now resorting to quoting NDP candidates as objective sources like Ms. Thomas.”
The comment caught the attention of academics across the country and more than 600 have signed an open letter to the premier.
The letter says the comments “are consistent with an increased disregard for expert knowledge and… send the message that those who take positions that do not align with the government of the day can expect to be summarily dismissed.”
Thomas ran as an NDP candidate in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections prior to starting her doctorate.
“To be directly targeted by a head of government is chilling,” she tweeted.
Thomas added that her inbox now has two types of messages: fellow scholars offering support and others “that range from derisive to openly misogynistic.”
“This has generated enormous attacks on social media and really raises questions about the appropriateness of those kinds of criticisms,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams on Sunday.
Williams is one of the academics who signed the letter. She said personal attacks can have an intimidating effect on people wishing to speak out about government policy.
“I don’t think it’s effective and I think it would be much more effective if the government had taken on the substance of the criticism,” Williams said.
Global News reached out to the premier’s office for comment several times on Sunday and did not receive a response, but Kenney’s spokesperson has been publicly quoted saying, “Professor Melanie Thomas ran for the NDP as a candidate twice and that speaks for itself.”
Thomas said she has not held any position with any political party following the 2006 election.
On Sunday in an interview with Global News, she questioned why for some scholars “much more intensive formal engagement with politics while they are faculty lends them credibility, but for others, the argument is that they must be dismissed.”