Klein mixed the ingredients for this pie himself

The "pie-that-was-heard-across-the-country" may have been delivered to Premier Ralph Klein early last week - but it had been in the oven for a long time. And the Premier himself had a hand in mixing the ingredients.

That was the assessment from Alberta Federation of Labour president Les Steel after learning of the now notorious "pie-tasting" incident involving the Alberta Premier and three Calgary students.

"For the past week, the papers have been filled with indignation about the so-called attack on our Premier," says Steel.

"Conservative politicians and pundits have whipped themselves into a frenzy debating whether the perpetrators should be jailed, publicly flogged or run out of the province. But what nobody is talking about is why the pie was thrown in the first place and what it says about the levels of frustration and alienation being felt by many Albertans - especially young people."

Steel says that incidents like the Stampede pie-throwing are predictable in a province where the wishes of significant sections of the population are routinely ignored and where legitimate expressions of dissent are often met with hostility, contempt or derision.

"In a lot of ways, we have a feeble political culture here in Alberta - one that pushes too many people to the margins," says Steel.

To illustrate his argument, Steel points to the Klein government's policies on education, deregulation and university funding.

"We've got a government that forced power deregulation on a public that didn't want it. We have a government that claims it can't afford to maintain our education system even though we've recorded years of multi-billion-dollars surpluses. And we have colleges and universities that are being priced out of the reach of more and more of our young people.

"To top things off, when people raise concerns about these things, they're either met with smug indifference or dismissed as 'left-wing nuts.' In this environment, is it any surprise that young people might feel a need to send a message to the Premier and blow off a little steam?"

As a leading member of a group that is also routinely ignored and vilified by the government, Steel says he shares the frustration felt by the pie throwers - though he says his "weapons of choice" will remain the pen and the picket sign.

In addition to sympathizing with the frustration that may have led to the pie-throwing incident, Steel says he's worried the pie throwers themselves may become victims on the way to the court house.

"It's Stampede time in Calgary, and judging by the overblown reaction to this incident that we've seen so far, I'm worried that these young people are going to be stampeded into an unfair and inappropriately harsh legal circus," says Steel.

"That's why we've decided to set up a legal defense fund for the pie throwers. We don't think charges should have been laid at all. But if there is going to be a trial, we want to make sure these young people aren't sacrificed to make some kind of harsh political point. This was just a prank - and we want these kids to get a fair trail."

People interested in supporting the defense fund can send their contributions to directly to the Alberta Federation of Labour's office in Edmonton c/o the "Justice for Pies" defense fund.

Steel says that any funds collected, but not needed for the defense, will be donated to homeless shelters around the province, including the Herb Jamieson Centre in Edmonton - site of Premier Klein's notorious late night visit with the homeless.

"The goal of this would be to remind Albertans that they were lenient and understanding when the Premier stepped over the line with homeless people at the Herb Jamieson Centre in Edmonton," says Steel. "So we would like to see the same spirit of understanding embraced when dealing with the three Calgary students."

For more information, call:

Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at 780-483-3021 (wk)  or  780-910-1137 (cell)

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