“You can’t fight in here, this is the war room,” Peter Sellers says in the classic 1964 apocalyptic political satire “Dr. Strangelove.”
I’m reminded of this joke by Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement this week, unveiling a kinder, gentler war room than the vitriolic inquisition against “foreign-funded” environmentalists he promised on the campaign trail.
The war room has been rebranded the Canadian Energy Centre in a clear effort to detoxify its brand, but the purpose remains the same – to facilitate the province’s transformation into a full-blown petrostate.
CEO Tom Olsen – a former Calgary Herald journalist and failed UCP candidate – promised Tuesday that his propaganda apparatus will operate with “respect, civility and professionalism,” yet its entire premise is based on the notion that anyone who opposes oilsands expansion is a liar with ulterior motives.
The idea that environmentalists believe Canada in general, and Alberta in particular, ought to take responsibility for its highly disproportionate carbon emissions per capita, and start envisioning a future free of fossil fuels for planet’s betterment, is out of the question.
The centre’s $30 million budget is roughly equivalent to the $30 million being cut from the Calgary Board of Education’s budget.
But, we’ve been told by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, teachers are breeding the next generation of radical environmentalists by suggesting that critical thinking skills are also applicable to debates surrounding oilsands extraction.
Remember, we’re at war. There’s no room for nuance here.
Even National Geographic – not exactly renowned as a hotbed of radical environmentalism – is in on the plot, publishing an article that called Fort McMurray the “most destructive oil operation” on the planet.
Energy Minister Sonya Savage wrote them a letter to express the government’s disapproval in June.
Regardless of what one thinks of this frame of analysis – if there’s any value in labelling any one particular fossil fuel project the “most destructive” – it’s frightening when a government thinks they can determine what sorts of articles are fit for publication.
Those expecting a modicum of transparency from the Canadian Energy Centre, whose entire premise is allegedly to enhance transparency among environmentalist critics, will be sorely disappointed.
The Canadian Energy Centre is a private corporation, so its inner workings are exempt from freedom of information legislation.
One of the warriors appointed to the energy centre – Fraser Institute alumnus Mark Milke – wrote a book called the “Victim Cult: How the culture of blame hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations.”
Apparently, this frame of analysis doesn’t apply to Alberta, which is being victimized from all sides – the federal government, environmental NGOs, National Geographic magazine and even its own teachers.
Amnesty International said in September it was “deeply concerned” the war room would be used “to cast a chill” on oilsands critics.
If Kenney was trying to demonstrate otherwise, he did a very poor job in his response, engaging in the crudest form of whataboutism imaginable, pointing to severe human rights abuses in other oil producing nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia and Iran.
Are Albertans supposed to pat themselves on the back because they don’t jail and execute dissidents, but merely dedicate public resources to their vilification and harassment without a shred of transparency?
Is “We’re not as bad as Saudi Arabia” the winning slogan that will attract investment to the oilsands?
At best, the war room is an expensive joke. At worst, it’s a grave threat to our right to dissent.