I think it is fair to say Alberta lost the public relations battle over oil a long time ago. The oil industry, as well as successive provincial governments in Alberta, did not take the opposition to oil seriously enough. As it turns out, the opponents have a great deal of money, and money buys the best public relations people. Now the environmental groups are clearly in charge of the agenda.
Past provincial administrations in Alberta seemed to either ignore the mounting protests (think Ralph Klein) or actually be on the side of the protesters (think Rachel Notley). Now, at last, Jason Kenney has decided to take on the opposition. In early June, Mr. Kenney created what he called an energy “war room” to battle the opponents of the oil industry. In order to show how serious he is, Mr. Kenney has given this office a $30 million budget. The idea here is that waiting for an official government response to some of the nonsense remarks that come out of the mouths of environmental groups takes too long.
Predictably, the environmental groups were quick to respond. The immediate criticism of this new initiative was that it will simply serve to galvanize the opposition to Alberta’s oil industry. In response to this Mr. Kenney correctly stated that the defensive posture used in the past was not working. Greenpeace was the first to respond. In a perfect example of slick public relations jargon, Greenpeace managed to use all the key “scare” words in one statement: wildfires, heat waves, floods, rising seas, inconvenient truths. You should read the whole statement made by Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada; it is a truly amazing piece that uses a lot of words but really says almost nothing. Presumably, this is the type of thing the war room is designed to combat.
It is about time we stood up to the environmental lobby. I often ask myself how did the world come to be like this. It appears to be impossible to have any serious discussion about oil and climate change without having your sanity questioned. Yet at the same time, we cannot question the drivel that comes out of the environmental lobbies. For instance, Greenpeace can make the statement that this initiative “does nothing to prepare Alberta for the coming transition off fossil fuels” without someone questioning the facts. The answer is that there is no factual basis for this type of statement, it is simply conjecture. If no one questions statements like this, the public begins to believe these types of predictions. We need fast, factual responses to these types of statements, so that we can win back the public relations war. I would like to think the creation of the war room will somehow turn the public relations tide the other way.
Frank Atkins is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.