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Forget Postmedia's propaganda: Becoming an environmental pariah won't restore the 'Alberta Advantage'

Oil processing facility in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: kris krüg/flickr

According to the United Conservative Party and its media echo chamber, there's "a growing national push to suppress Alberta's economy." War metaphors abound.

I'm not making this up. The words quoted in the sentence above come right out of the headline on a recent column by Don Braid, the Calgary Herald's political columnist.

The way Braid seems to see it -- judging from his rambling column, anyway, which also spent a lot of time complaining about Canada's equalization program -- governments in Ottawa, Quebec City and Victoria are all trying to drive Alberta into the poorhouse by suppressing our oilsands industry.

Never mind that there's a case to be made the entire Alberta bitumen project is looking shaky for reasons that have very little to do with environmental regulations anywhere in Canada. (Hint: It's the market.)

Nor is Braid the only journalist sounding increasingly agitated about this topic, although he's probably the most prominent one. But consider Rick Bell, also from Postmedia in Calgary, and Markham Hislop, the Vancouver-area-based proprietor of the American Energy News website. Hislop recently advocated throwing his pipeline-protesting neighbours in jail until Kinder Morgan Inc.'s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project has been completed! (I've got news for you, buddy … there aren't enough jails in British Catalonia for that plan to work.)

This tone, though, really originates with Jason Kenney, leader of the Opposition United Conservative Party in the Legislature, and his well-staffed and apparently generously financed online anger machine. Kenney's strategic brain trust has obviously concluded that perpetually sustained paranoid rage about how the rest of Canada is supposedly mistreating poor Alberta is the way to win elections. Judging from some recent polling, they might just be right.

The thing is, though, even if the claim there's a vast economic conspiracy against Alberta isn't true yet, it probably will be soon enough -- at least if we foolishly follow the strategies demanded by Kenney and his amplifiers in media.

As a public opinion survey released yesterday shows, a huge proportion of Albertans have been persuaded by people like Kenney, his Wildrose caucus-mates and right-wing media, that global warming isn't caused by anything we humans do.

Barely half of the Alberta respondents to the poll conducted by Abacus Research for a group called the Ecofiscal Commission even believed there is conclusive evidence climate change is a thing! According to the pollster, moreover, only 13 per cent of the respondents thought taking action on climate change should be the top public policy priority for governments.

This contrasts pretty sharply with attitudes in much of the rest of Canada, particularly the easternmost parts.

If true, these results are bad news for Alberta's NDP government, which is trying to sell Alberta's bitumen but also reduce carbon outputs through other policies while diversifying the economy with the province's long-term well-being in mind.

Unsurprisingly, it works for Kenney and the UCP, which is a big part of why they are so deep into climate change denialism. Needless to say, this means neither Kenney nor his party and its supporters are going to change their tune any time soon.

As for journalists like Braid, the kind of things they are saying give rise to the sort of conspiracy theories that have divided and bedevilled the United States and given the world President Donald Trump -- also an outcome that suits the UCP and its corporate sponsors perfectly well.

Which is where the real danger comes in. If the road to victory for Kenney and the UCP runs through climate change denial, and the likely policies of some future Alberta government turn out to Make Alberta An Environmental Pariah Again (MAAEPA will fit nicely on a green ball cap), the conspiracy theories promoted by Postmedia will quite likely become reality.

How else do you expect still-unjailed voters in British Columbia and the rest of Canada, not to mention much of the rest of the world, to react to an apparent determination by the voters and officials of this province to endanger the survival of the planet and directly threaten the economic interests of other provinces?

Of course, the pressure is unlikely to be applied by fleets of black helicopters from the United Nations, or even principally by external environmental regulations that are actually designed to win a few more years of social licence for bitumen development.

Rather, it will most likely come about through Kenney's beloved market. The impact on Alberta's economy will not be much prettier, especially in the absence of efforts to diversify the provincial economy such as those that are being encouraged by Premier Rachel Notley's NDP.

Renewed status for us as an environmental pariah will not renew the mostly imaginary Alberta Advantage. It will only bring us a world of hurt.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: kris krüg/flickr

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