Jason Kenney’s ‘energy war room’ is ham-fisted attempt at Trump-style populism

UCP leader Jason Kenney speaking to Calgary Chamber of Commerce

Canadians want to be engaged with and talked to about energy issues – not corrected, lectured, or hectored

Let’s call the idea of a “rapid response energy war room” what it really is: stupid. During a speech last week to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Jason Kenney vowed once again that if he becomes premier next spring the Alberta government will have the capacity to “quickly and effectively rebut every lie” told about the provincial energy sector. Insert rolling eye emoji here.

The United Conservative Party leader first floated this idea during his party’s founding convention in Red Deer in early May when he declared political war on the Canadian “green left” and the foreign groups that supposedly fund efforts to landlock Alberta oil and gas.

“We will set up a fully staffed rapid response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world class energy industry,” Kenney told delegates, as reported by the Huffington Post.

The Alberta oil and gas industry loves to think of itself as a victim of shadowy American charities that fund radical Canadian environmental groups.

This worldview is reinforced by the discredited work of Vancouver blogger and worldclass panderer Vivian Krause, who over the years has tracked the inflow of cash from green philanthropists like the Rockefellers and is still regularly called upon to stoke industry paranoia at rallies and events. It’s not her research that is suspect, but the conspiracy theories she spins from the data, as I’ve explained in a previous column.

There are two serious problems with the notion that the Alberta energy sector requires the provincial government to go to war on its behalf.

One, Canadians support oil and gas and pipelines. Or, at the very least, only a tiny minority is opposed.

An early Oct. public opinion poll from Abacus Data asked Canadians if they loved, hated, or didn’t have strong feelings about oil. Almost three of four respondents (73%) says they had no strong feelings one way or the other, “it’s just a product that has some uses.”

In typical centrist and pragmatic Canadian fashion, only small minorities say they love (15%) or hate (13%) oil.

“Most (69%) Canadians ‘support more oil moving through pipelines as long as the country is also moving towards cleaner forms of energy’ while only 31% oppose increasing the amount of oil that moves through pipelines in Canada,” Abacus chairman Bruce Anderson wrote in his note accompanying the survey results.

“Large majorities of Liberal (72%) and Conservative (80%) voters are aligned on this question, while NDP voters are split with 57% saying they support the transition idea and 43% opposed to any increase in pipelining of oil.”

Kenney is fighting a war that’s already been won. And for all the money foreigners have poured into Canada to oppose Alberta interests, they appear to have earned a poor return on their investment.

Two, focusing on eco-activists ignores the role of First Nations and indigenous communities, local residents (e.g. Burnaby, BC terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline), and youth, who are less committed to fossil fuel use than their elders.

For instance, even though Albertans may disagree with the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations leadership of the Vancouver area opposition to the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project, they can still find local fears of a West Coast oil spill to be reasonable under the circumstances.

What purpose will be served by a rapid response rebutal by a Kenney government of those fears? Wouldn’t a more effective response be to engage Vancouver opponents?

Enegi News has consistently criticized both industry associations (e.g. the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) and the Notley NDP for doing only the bare minimum of consultation and engagement required by legislation. Talking to just energy project “stakeholders” or those directly affected isn’t enough.

Neither industry nor the Alberta government has undertaken sustained, properly funded campaigns to sway British Columbians – or other Canadians – in favour of oil and gas and pipelines.

They do nothing, then whine in the face of more vigorous efforts by their opponents.

So, let’s call Kenney’s “energy war room” what it really is: Trumpian populism designed to make Alberta voters feel they’re being attacked by outsiders.

For American President Donald Trump the outsiders are illegal Mexican immigrants or bullying trading partners (including Canada, for heaven’s sake). For Kenney and his industry supporters it is the “green left” and the “radical environmentalists.”

How does a supposedly thrifty fiscal conservative like Kenney justify wasting tax dollars on the millions that will have to be spent on his war room? Or, war rooms, as he has hinted about setting up “satellite offices” outside the province.

As Anderson concludes, “For years, pro-oil advocates and anti-oil crusaders have tried to weaponize public opinion – with very little to show for these efforts.”

If Kenney becomes premier and follows through with his ridiculous “energy war room” promise, he too will have little to show for his efforts but wasted tax dollars.

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