Responding to the Newfie Windbag: Rex Murphy wrong about social licence, energy politics

Rex Murphy
Freelance columnist, speaker, and TV personality Rex Murphy/ Photo; CBC.

Rex Murphy is captured. A boot licker. A sycophant who steps ‘n fetches for the master – Hislop

A principle of media punditry is – or used to be and should remain – that complex issues be explained in the simplest and most insightful way possible. Being sesquipedalian is verboten. So we turn to Rex Murphy, the arch-conservative scribbler who unfailingly obfuscates with a fog of foot-and-a-half long words. Take the idea of social licence, for instance.

Rex Murphy
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at the Calgary Petroleum Club, 2015.

In his Friday National Post column, the Honourable Windbag from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador objects to the idea of industry and government having to earn social licence from British Columbians for the Alberta oil sands and pipelines prior to the construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion project.

He is particularly incensed by this Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remark during a speech at the Calgary Petroleum Club: “Social licence is more important than ever. Governments may be able to issue permits but only communities can grant permission.”

The Honourable Windbag’s take on that comment:

But, insofar as Trudeau’s statement can be understood to mean anything at all, the official government permission — the one that counts — under the elastic rules of social licence really has no force at all.  Governments “may” issue permits (permission) he says, but only communities can grant “permission.” A very odd understanding from a prime minister: that “communities” are the final authority, and that government permits function very much like tarted-up suggestion boxes.

I suspect Trudeau would like to have that comment back. Bit of a Mulligan for the PM, what?

Trudeau the speechifier and Trudeau the Prime Minister are, in the case of Trans Mountain Expansion, very different animals.

Rex Murphy
Jim Carr, natural resources minister. photo.

The federal Liberals have behaved just as Jim Carr, natural resources minister, said they would when I interviewed him last year: consult extensively, review the project, make a decision, then enforce that decision if necessary.

Carr even threatened to haul out the Canadian military – a remark he later apologized for, but which nicely illustrated government resolve – to keep unruly Trans Mountain Expansion protestors from interfering with construction of the pipeline.

The Honourable Windbag has been covering Canadian politics long enough to understand the fallacy of hanging a government’s intentions on the hook of one sentence in one speech.

Especially in this case, since the Canadian government’s actions are bang on what Murphy is arguing for in his column. Oh, the irony.

Rex Murphy
Rachel Notley, Alberta premier.

Lest you think Ole Windy saves his spleen just for Trudeaus – he’s not fond of Pierre Elliott, either – he also took Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to the figurative woodshed:

She was willing as premier to accept the terms of the social justice-environment crusaders (against the mood of the majority of Albertans, it is fair to say) and seek to fulfill the conditions of social licence…In return — having demonstrated all sorts of environmental good intentions, the Carbon (dioxide) Tax being the most numinous — she then expected the crusaders would relent and grant this most touted social licence.

Stop right there, Windy.

The “social justice-environment crusaders” in BC or any other province were never, ever asked for social licence. That, right there, is the fallacy that in a thrice destroys Windy’s argument.

If any group was asked for support it was middle-of-the-road Canadians. And, if you believe an Abacus Data poll from last fall, they granted it.

Rex Murphy
David Coletto, CEO, Abacus Data.

“There are strong voices on either side of the energy/environment debate, but most average Canadians are somewhere in the middle,” David Coletto, Abacus CEO, said in an interview.

“They recognize the importance of our country dealing with the climate crisis, dealing with carbon emissions, but at the same time, they’re not willing to completely give up on the energy sector and see the importance of that to the country, that they almost want a balanced approach.”

The results of the Abacus poll show beyond a doubt that Canadians have granted “social licence” – or political support or whatever one wants to call it – to new pipelines.

As I wrote in that column, seventy-six per cent of respondents across the country would support or accept a balanced approach that combines energy transition policies with new energy infrastructure.

The numbers were slightly higher in British Columbia, with 42 per cent supporting and 36 per cent accepting.

Then why is Ole Windy blathering on about the supposed failures of Notley and Trudeau to build political support for Trans Mountain Expansion?

Easy answer: Murphy is in the pocket of the Alberta oil industry.

Now, I don’t mean a company or industry organization has specifically bought and paid for the opinions expressed in this column or others. Or his fatuous, yawn-inducing screeds on CBC. The relationship is not that direct.

I ‘m not even suggesting that Ole Windy’s large speaking fees to bloviate before fawning Calgary audiences of oil and gas executives influence his opinions.

I am saying that Murphy is captured. A boot licker. A sycophant who steps ‘n fetches for the master.

And what does the master want?

Political scientist Keith Brownsey explains: the “oil and gas companies want the national government to remove these impediments [opposition from eco-activists, First Nations, directly affected communities like Burnaby], get them out of the way. I’d say the majority of the oil and gas industry – be it in pipelines or exploration and production companies, whatever – still feel that way.”

That view, reinforced by Ole Windy, would move Canada backward. Canadians are not a backward-looking people.

Ed. note: I have ruffled some feathers of Newfoundland ex-pats by my use of the word “Newfie.” Now, in my admittedly limited experience, Newfoundlanders are a good-humoured lot and quite prone to call themselves Newfies. After feedback from readers, I am now confident I was wrong in that opinion. To readers who were offended, I apologize and promise I will henceforth refer to the citizens of that grand province as Newfoundlanders. If they prefer another title, I’m all ears.

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  1. I’ll stick with Rex! He has shown a better understanding of the energy industry than most other commentators and I believe he is right to be concerned about the social license phenomenon, especially if it can come around post-NEB approval and bite you in the ass!

    • Markum cites poll data regarding infrastructure development. The NEB correctly interpreted public opinion. Social licence never meant unaminous consent. Rex doesn’t seem to understand that.

  2. I’m sorry but you should seek out Mr. Murphy and discuss your feelings of inadequacy where his obvious superiority is concerned. I also think the term “boot licker” should be hung on those playing popular opinion to those ignorant of the value and integrity of the industry they seek to destroy. I have no time for those whose very livelihood we provide yet question the way we provide it. I’d rather you just said “thank you” and went on your way. Either way, don’t give a $&@! What you think. It’s totally flawed and perverse!

    • Our readers are highly educated, disrespecting them makes you look petty. And since you can’t figure out the difference between offering varying opinions, and “TRYING TO DESTROY OUR INDUSTRY”, I’ll let you get back to reading Rebel Media. We take our journalistic integrity seriously. If you’re not adult enough to hear an opinion you disagree with(in this case, I don’t think you even understand), I’d suggest going back to your sandbox.

      • Jude, just curious. This, like many, seem like pretty biased articles. Was wondering if you could provide a list of contributing authors to the American Energy News as well as some contact information.

  3. A typical left-wing rant! Rex has more wisdom in his little finger than does your entire organization. He’s hardly in the pocket of “big oil”, he just uses common sense and logic. This whole business about AGW is a trumped-up Agenda 21 farce. CO2 is plant food, not pollution; if you want the real story on climate change – look to the sun. This specious need to regulate carbon is just a ruse. The only thing that is “man-made” about all this nonsense is the nonsense itself!

  4. I don’t get it. How can people take Rex Murphy seriously…For me he’s not more than a Newfie joke with giant wiggle googly eyes…I just don’t get how can he be the voice of wisdom of the R.O.C… you deserve better…or maybe not when you consider yourself as leftovers…Rest Of Canada…Sometimes I just listen to his comment on youtube when I need a good laugh…Specially on Quebec bashing. I know it’s CBC best seller but come on, he barely hide his racism. It’s even worst when you think that you pay for it with your taxes.

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