Jason Kenney’s Ministry of Truth

Jason Kenney’s Ministry of Truth

As published in the Victoria Standard: January 15, 2020

Alberta’s new Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) intends to improve the image and marketability of oil sands crude in a world that increasing embraces cleaner forms of energy. Their stated mission is to identify and correct public misconceptions about the hydrocarbon industry.

Unfortunately, the CEC casts environmentalists as foreign-funded radicals and even terrorists determined to destroy the oil industry. This is unsurprising since the Alberta government won’t acknowledge the main reasons for Alberta’s troubles: a global drop in oil prices, climate change pressure on oil companies, reductions in global oil investment, increased U.S. shale extraction and market access issues. Premier Jason Kenney minimizes the first four factors while focusing exclusively on market access concerns like pipelines. This tactic deflects attention while exploiting Alberta’s traditionally tense relationship with the old enemy, Ottawa.

Environmental activist Stephen Lee has good reason to doubt the CEC’s claim that it does not target individual citizens. Lee’s Three Percent project provides public education on climate change and related issues. He was contacted by a CEC “reporter” who claimed a parent had complained that Lee’s recent presentation at an Alberta high school was bias against the fossil fuel industry.

The CEC also denounced a Jeremy Appell opinion piece in the Medicine Hat News. Appell had questioned the agency’s motives and called it an expensive threat to lawful dissent. He also critiqued the popular claim that Alberta oil is somehow more ethical than Middle East or Russian oil. That claim is weakened by the presence of Canadian energy workers in oil-rich dictatorships and the sale of Canadian weapon systems to brutal theocracies like Saudi Arabia.

Organizations like the CEC prefer to ignore that fact that Saudi oil is cleaner and cheaper to produce than the Alberta’s heavy bitumen. While Alberta is somewhat justified in its critique of federal policy and the equalization scheme, the province’s energy industry is massively subsidized by both its own citizens and other Canadian taxpayers.

Alberta’s oil industry enjoys federal subsidies including tax breaks, direct grants, loans and publicly-financed research. Without this support, the high cost of extracting and processing bitumen would be prohibitive, especially if full production costs were included in the price per barrel. According to a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Canada’s 2015 federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry totaled nearly $60 billion. Alberta’s equalization complaints are undermined by that fact that the oil patch undoubtedly receives a large percentage of that largesse.

The CEC recently launched a $2.5 million inquiry to examine foreign funding of environmental groups while ignoring the far richer U.S. funding of Canada’s libertarian think tanks. Organizations like the Fraser and MacDonald-Laurier Institute are not required by the Canada Revenue Agency to identify their donors. These influential bodies favor economic rather than political freedom and prefer environmental policies guided more by business than science.

Global organizations like the IMF and the World Bank are now encouraging all nations to stop subsidizing their fossil fuel industries. As well, insurance giant Swiss RE refuses to underwrite hydrocarbon projects and investment leader Goldman Sachs won’t finance future oil and coal projects. According to a report by Arabella Advisors, investor divestment from fossil fuel exploration and extraction has risen from $5.2 trillion in 2016 to a current total of $6.2 trillion. Major oil companies like Shell now acknowledge that this trend is a serious threat to their future profitability.

It is time for the Alberta government to acknowledge the fact that the world is gradually replacing fossil fuels with electricity from wind, solar, hydroelectric and tidal. Canada and the other G20 nations both support this trend and seek to reduce fossil fuel subsides that retard efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta already boasts a prosperous wind energy sector as well as the vast energy potential of its mighty rivers.

Environmentalists and journalists are not Alberta’s enemies, contrary to what Jason Kenney and the CEC would have us believe. As well, Kenney’s tired anti-Ottawa rhetoric serves only his short-term electoral goals, fanning resentment and creating a needless distraction. Albertans deserve better than this cynical demagogue and his Ministry of Truth. There is still time to gradually align Alberta’s economy with the global consensus on climate change.