Advice to Alberta energy leaders: Better policy ideas, better politics, stop saying stupid stuff in public, emulate Dave Collyer
Are you familiar with the expert fallacy? An example is the medical doctor who thinks that because he’s a smart guy, has deep technical expertise, and works in the healthcare system that he knows all about health policy. Or any public policy, for that matter. Well, the expert fallacy is rife in the downtown offices of Alberta-based energy companies. Lord, save us from these incompetents.
Energy industry public affairs is being run into the ground by engineers, lawyers, economists, and accountants who have become executives and now think they know all about public policy and energy politics.
Like the medical doctor opining on health policy, says Keith Brownsey.
The political scientist from Calgary-based Mount Royal University says it’s commonly believed that very public figures in the Alberta energy industry – high-profile CEOs, for example – think they know best on everything.
“It happens because of respect for the individuals. Respect for the engineering degree, respect for the law degree, respect for an accountant’s expertise, for example,” he said in an interview.
“On the other hand, these people do not always have really good political sense.”
Let’s look at some examples of Alberta energy industry hubris.
Last Sept., the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Oilfield Drilling Contractors tromped off to Ottawa with a petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “vocally support the oil and gas industry, new pipelines across Canada, and hundreds of thousands of employed and unemployed oil workers.” CEO Mark Scholz took along a curious mascot, Bernard Hancock (aka Bernard the Roughneck, a cartoonish parody of oil and gas workers), who talked up the virtues of energy infrastructure.
Turns out poor Bernard was an associate of alt right Ezra Levant and Rebel Media – recently linked to the Russian-backed election email hack of French president Emmanuel Macron’s campaign. Hancock later spoke at Rebel Media’s infamousDecember anti-carbon tax rally, during which he called for hackers to hack into Government of Alberta computers.
Then he threw his shoes at the front door of the Legislature.
One has to hope Scholz now regrets putting Bernard the Roughneck front and centre in a national political lobbying effort.
Then there’s Mark Salkeld, CEO of the Petroleum Services Assoc. of Canada. Salkeld’s a smart guy and knows the industry really well, which is why I frequently turn to him for expert comment on news stories and columns.
But what was he thinking a year ago when PSAC’s federal budget submission called for national equalization payments “be reduced or forfeit” if a province doesn’t support a pipeline project? Salkeld told me in an interview the proposal was a “poke in the ribs” for the Canadian public on energy infrastructure projects, an attempt to kickstart public dialogue.
Calgary communications advisor Doug Lacombe drolly panned PSAC’s strategy: “Hostility is really not a very good political strategy.”
What makes that strategy even worse is PSAC’s board of directors – which includes representatives of some of Canada’s largest service companies – unanimously signed off on it, according to Salkeld.
Then there’s W. Brett Wilson, the Calgary-based multi-millionaire (reportedly worth $300 million) energy investment banker and former reality TV star whose energy policy pronouncements border on the bizarre.
Take this one from his Facebook page: “Eco-terrorists (whomever they are) must be the idiot offspring of the chance mating of genetically related morons to miss this key element of resource rich Canada…”
Or this one, same source: “We cannot survive on unicorn farts and rainbow dust. But we allow (and narrow-minded Mayor’s[sic] encourage) mindless protesting in the supposed cause of saving the planet from evil forces. This madness has to stop before we handicap our nation’s economy.”
“You have someone like a Brett Wilson saying that he’s leading a delegation to Saskatchewan to learn from [Premier] Brad Wall how to run a government to replace [Alberta NDP Premier] Rachel Notley – is at best insulting,” says Brownsey.
“How do you respond to something like that?”
As I’ve pointed out many times, comments like this from high-profile energy supporters like Wilson are heard in other provinces where Alberta needs political support for pipelines and the oil sands.
They aren’t appreciated.
How do I know? Because I regularly defend pipelines and the oil sands on CKNW in Vancouver and CFAX1070 in Victoria, and hosts and listeners alike have remarked upon the disrespectful and dismissive attitude of Albertans – like Wilson – to British Columbians they disagree with.
It’s hardly a novel observation to say that Alberta politics is insular. And in the case of climate and energy politics, out of step with Canada, our allies and customers – even the United States under Donald Trump, as hard as that is for some Albertans to believe – and the global community.
“There’s still a tendency for Albertans in our industry to look at things very much through our lens, as opposed to the lens of people outside Alberta,” Dave Collyer, oil and gas industry veteran and former president of the Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers, said in an interview.
“What I often tell people is if we want market access – and we need it, and we need market diversification, we need west coast market access for example – we need to be listening to and be responsive to the concerns of people outside Alberta, whether that’s the lower mainland, Ontario, or Quebec.”
Collyer worked on committees with eco-activists, people like Tzeporah Berman who publicly oppose the oil sands and more pipelines, to reach consensus on the Alberta government’s climate and energy policies.
He’s diplomatic, even in my interview, preferring the carrot instead of the stick to change the political culture of Calgary energy executives.
I prefer the stick. Listen up, Alberta energy leaders.
You need to be better at politicking. You need to have better strategies. You need to stop saying stupid stuff in public.
And you need to work harder at building bridges to your fellow Canadians.
That critique isn’t appeasement, by the way. It reflects the naked self-interest of oil and gas producers and pipeline companies who need to up their game on the public stage.
Smarter politics and better policy input is the best way to protect hundreds of billions in energy capital and tens of thousands of energy jobs.
Time for Calgary-based executives to stop thinking they’re experts on subjects – politics and policy – where they clearly are novices at best.
Donate now! Please support high quality journalism by contributing to our Patreon campaign. Even $5 a month helps us continue delivering high quality news and analysis about Canadian and American energy stories that affect your life and your lifestyle.
Well written and gets to the heart of the mater! The NDP see this as a way to market our oil and have been pushing this! When you jump up and down like spoiled children making baseless claims you look the fool; unfortunately there has been so much of this going on that most people have been fooled!
I somewhat agree but mostly disagree with this article. The author is actually doing exactly what she accuses these “engineers, lawyers, etc” of doing – making inflammatory remarks and ridiculing people to try and advance her position.
The fact is, and I have heard this from people in Vancouver directly, is there is nothing that can be done or said that will change their attitude on pipelines. Nothing. Secondly, Quebec doesn’t hesitate stands up for itself with strong words and its mostly worked for them.
When you are right, and Canada’s oil and gas business is integral to our economy and way of life whether economically ill informed overly complacent people recognize it our now, you have every right to stand up and say so. And more people should. There is absolutely no good reason why our infrastructure development is not being welcomed widely.