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His private member’s bill was meant to get an over-the-top reaction. And Alberta fell for it

Bill WhitelawWell played, Chuck. Well played.

You put the landmine out there, with a big neon blinking “TREAD ON ME” marquee on it, and as you knew they would, a bunch of righteously indignant Albertans goosestepped right toward your private member’s bill minefield.


They gave it to you good; just like in a vintage Batman comic strip.

The outrage-and-angst explosion you so carefully planned for and executed reverberated across social media, press releases and wire services from coast to coast, just as you knew it would.

Charlie Angus alberta

Charlie Angus

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Once again, you proved to our fellow countrymen that some of our oil and gas folk are a naïve, gullible, and easy-to-offend bunch. We’ve shown ourselves incapable of not swallowing hook, line, and sinker the obvious chum you toss out into the public domain sea – and you gleefully watch as we take the bait.

The result: all Albertans writ large, based on the emotive responses of just a few, look to the rest of Canada like adolescent cowboys who can’t control their emotional horses.

I don’t often valorize NDP political manoeuvering, but I grudgingly doff my hat to you, Charlie Angus. You played us like a cheap fiddle.

Your proposed private member’s bill was a semantical masterpiece, gussied up as it is with all parliamentary jargon and bureaucratese but seeded seditiously with all the right trigger words. Why, the threat of imprisonment and hefty fines for merely advertising and admiring oil and gas stoked the coals of the always simmering outrage of that small population of Albertans always looking for a spat on whatever issue crosses their myopic views.

As a parliamentarian, you know well that only 30 private member’s bills have passed since 1901, but given our governing system, they’re handy tools for stirring the pot. Your specious conflation of tobacco advertising and oil and gas advertising was a great sleight of words, even if there is not a lick of linkage between the two things. You took something you know will never fly and turned it into the equivalent of a supersonic jet.

Chuck, you crafty fox, you just sat back and watched the foaming at the mouth commence.

And froth the angsters did, you old foment dissenter you.

But here’s the thing Chuck. Not all Albertan oil-and-gas folks are whack jobs. In fact, most take seriously a commitment to help fellow Canadians not only understand our sector but listen to the roles they can play in our collaboratively evolving energy future. There’s tonnes of good stuff happening here, but word of it can’t achieve escape velocity from the shackles of dogmatism that define this part of our population.

So, I want you to read a memo I’m sending to the folks you so obviously enjoy firing up. They’re a small cadre, but their outrage is disproportionate to the reality of the oil and gas population who just want to see the bickering and animosity go away.

To Alberta’s Outrage Machine:

Smarten up or shut up. Your sophomoric response to such obvious political baiting is embarrassing. Stop the low-road lunacy and get a grip. You’re poisoning any hope of oil and gas being a national sector all Canadians can point to with pride.

The consequences of your anger are even more problematic; beyond affirming for the rest of Canada we’re a self-centred bunch of polluting and environment-degrading idiots. If you want to hand the next federal election back to the Liberals and NDP, keep churning out the vitriol. Canadians look at us with a blend of bemusement, scorn, and despair. Empathy for our hate-on for Ottawa? Forget it. The noise of a handful of rabble-rousers is conditioning an entire country’s view of Alberta as the Province of Petulance.

Our young people, when they leave the province, make up “masquerade” careers so they don’t have to admit they work in oil and gas. In large part, that’s down to the crap you pull when the idiots in Ottawa try to get our goats.

But your outrage also undermines the credible efforts to communicate with Canadians rationally and reasonably.

To wit: I chair the Canadian Society for Evolving Energy. We’re fossil fuel folks through and through. We have a formal and very cool outreach program via which we talk to post-secondary students across Canada about what they don’t know about oil and gas and why we need them to put down career stakes in our sector. We also have a brand-new Energy Ambassadors program, which provides perspectives to our younger leaders on how to communicate with Canadians.

But how do we square the circle when the audiences they’re talking to are exposed to your puerile ad hominem and factually deficient froth on social media? It’s embarrassing and disconcerting for them to have to indicate not all Albertans are cut from the same character cloth.

I can’t speak for the Canadian Energy Executive Association, which also takes outreach seriously through its Energize Tomorrow and other programs like scholarship initiatives. But it’s entirely possible they’re of similar despair. Many of their leaders were at Queen’s University a few weeks back, for example, credibly communicating with engineering students about Canada’s energy future. What are those students, who might have been contemplating a career “out west,” to think when they read the garbage that flows from your fingers to the keyboard. You can be sure that it’s not “Boy, that’s a sector I would love to spend the next 35 years of my working life in …”

So, as hard as it is for your fingers not to twitch and mouth to froth every time Ottawa dingles its Pavlovian bells, keep your poison to yourself – and maybe the rest of Canada will understand we’re not that bad after all. 

You should be ashamed for falling for the schoolyard tactics of Charlie Angus types.

Be assured, Charlie, many proud oil and gas folks – who are wise to the baiting of politicos like yourself and Steven Guilbeault – are not so easily duped.

We don’t doubt for a moment the courage of your convictions, but nor should you doubt ours.

Canada needs its oil and gas industry, and the oil and gas industry needs its Canada.

So, as much as I want our lunatic fringe to quit mucking things up for the real Alberta, I would like to see political leaders like yourself smarten up, too and behave like the adults in the room you’re supposed to be. Quit throwing baited political hooks into our pond.

I grudgingly admit you set a slick trap and captured some kooks in the process. But we have to live with them, and that just makes me wish more fervently we would all grow up and get on with the real work in front of us.

Bill Whitelaw is a director and advisor to many industry boards, including the Canadian Society for Evolving Energy, which he chairs. He speaks and comments frequently on the subjects of social licence, innovation and technology, and energy supply networks.

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