Alberta needs the adults back in the room before it’s too late
Danielle Smith has agreed to chat about energy policy with Tucker Carlson at a January 24 event in Calgary. The move is a crass attempt to further the “enshittification” of energy discourse. After all, if you want to lower the quality of a conversation for public consumption, who better to enshittify it than the former Conspiracy Theorist–in-Chief for Fox News, the American station that lies to feed its audience’s unhinged Trumpist political views.
Smith is the perfect complement for Carlson.
She lies like a sidewalk. The Alberta Premier lies so often and does it so convincingly that fact checking her is futile. Canadian journalists are in the same position their American counterparts were with Donald Trump in 2017: at what point do you call an elected leader on their mendacity? For me, that time is now.
Smith is a master at enshittification*, which I define as a bad faith communications style that involves a welter of deceit, conspiracy theories, misinformation, lazy research, grade school-level debate, all wrapped up with an intense sense of confident entitlement. Trump is an enshittifier extraordinaire. Smith is his pupil.
As is Tucker. A New York judge said in her decision in a 2020 slander lawsuit that Carlson was not “’stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary,’” according to an NPR news story. Nothing that comes out of his mouth is believable.
Smith and Tucker on the same stage will be red meat political theatre for the Alberta evangelical Christian social conservatives who captured every board seat at last weekend’s UCP annual general meeting. Tucker is not (and never was) a journalist, isn’t even an American media star anymore, but these are his people. You can bet that the Tucker/Smith event will be sold out and talked about for a long time.
What won’t be talked about is actual energy policy. Smith barely manages to do that now. Her approach is to blame every sparrow that falls from Heaven on Justin Trudeau and the Liberals while running provincial energy policies through the political meat grinder. Witness her unnecessary and unjustified 7-month moratorium on renewable energy development.
As a consequence, instead of discussing how Alberta should adapt to a rapidly accelerating global energy transition, one that even the Calgary Chamber of Commerce admits is an “existential threat” to the oil and gas sector, the Tucker/Smith show will no doubt feature plenty of climate denying, wind and solar energy bashing, more attacks on reputable energy agencies like the IEA, and a general wallowing in the gutter of energy-related nonsense.
Nothing good can come of this.
Further enshittifying the Canadian energy conversation is a drag on the country’s efforts to respond to serious energy transition challenges. This can’t be stressed enough. Canada’s response to the energy transition has now fallen well behind the United States. The Americans are hellbent on catching China for the lead in building clean energy industry while Canada is barely out of the starting blocks.
Why is Canada behind? In large measure because it has allowed enshittifiers like Smith and Premiers Scott Moe of Saskatchewan and Doug Ford of Ontario to dictate the conversation around energy.
This column is a perfect example. I would prefer to write about how Alberta is working to attract investment in wind and solar generation, energy storage installations, the development of hydrogen hubs, progress on critical minerals mining, or efforts to scale up closed loop geothermal. But Alberta is doing very little of that, preferring to spend precious time and effort on bread and circuses.
Alberta needs the adults back in the room. The window to act is rapidly closing. Dr. Kwasi Ampofo, BloombergNEF’s head of metals and mining, told me last year that Canada has two to five years to begin building industrial clusters and supply chains for clean energy technologies like batteries. Alberta, led by Smith, acts like it has decades.
I’ve argued in columns that Smith’s strategy is to shield the oil and gas sector from energy transition disruption, to protect the province’s highly profitable energy status quo as long as possible. The principal tool in her political toolbox is enshittifying the energy transition discussion, which in turn mutes political pressure to pivot to low-carbon business models.
Tucker Carlson’s role is to play the clown in yet more enshittification political theatre.
Enjoy the show.
*My definition of enshittification is not to be confused with that of NY Times writer Cory Doctrow concerning tech platforms, which you can read about here. But plenty of English words have multiple meanings, so I’m adding one in this case.