“Recovering” Albertan feels the need to apologize

(March 11, 2020)

SINCE Jason Kenney became premier of Alberta, I have had this urge to apologize for being born there.

Claiming the bully pulpit of “speaking for all Albertans,” especially when ranting about pipelines, Kenney’s first legislation this year, Bill 1, would make any blocking or interference with “essential infrastructure,” into a major crime, subject to thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.

What’s more, anyone (like me) or any corporation (like this newspaper) that “aids, counsels or directs,” another person to take part in such interference — whether or not anyone listens — would also be liable to arrest and prosecution. Fines for corporations go as high as $200,000 — and the directors of corporations are individually liable for prosecution, too. Any environmental organization and the Winnipeg Free Press (actually, any free press) could be prosecuted under this blanket legislation.

Just to be sure everyone gets Kenney’s petulant rage at pipeline protests, every single day any “essential infrastructure,” is blocked constitutes a separate offence.

What is “essential infrastructure,” you ask? Essentially anything that has ever been made or built. If someone blocks or interferes with something not on Kenney’s list (such as a play structure in a park), the Lieutenant Governor in Council has the right to designate it as “essential infrastructure,” too.

Take that, you dastardly defenders!

I suspect that Bill 1 violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as running utterly afoul of common law, but that legal reality won’t make a dent in his fossil-fuelled rhetoric.

Kenney seems bent on recreating Alberta as a fascist petro-state, and so — taking a page from North Korea’s playbook — he is trying to convince Albertans that they need to hunker in the bunker against all the evil forces of the outside world. Whether or not the first charge laid under this law is tossed out on its ear, Kenney’s apparent intention is to threaten, exclude and otherwise punish anyone who does not fit into his vision of Fortress Alberta.

Like the rants of politicians elsewhere, Kenney’s outbursts would be asinine if they were not so dangerous. This is why I feel the urge to apologize for being born in Alberta, because it’s not the province I remember, nor does Kenney represent the Albertans I knew.

I grew up with a good dose of Western energy alienation, the heritage of the “fuddle-duddle” language and finger gestures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father. If I’d been old enough to drive a car, I would have happily bumper-stickered it with “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark” the way others did.

But these things were irritants of a long history of being out West, a minor part of the identity that took people — often by economic necessity — from the familiar roil of urban life or the smell of the sea and dropped them into the foothills to create a new life.

No one survived for long as a rancher or a dry-land farmer in Alberta, however, if they were not utterly pragmatic and able to dream, too. Big sky, big dreams, and a lot of hard work every day. That’s the Alberta I remember.

We left there just as the oil boom hit Turner Valley. People from elsewhere poured in, looking for get-rich-quick opportunities in the oil industry and its hangers-on — people, in fact, like Jason Kenney, who arrived in his 20s, after the economic bust of the 1980s.

He might claim to speak for all Albertans now, but he was born in Oakville, Ont., in sight of the large car and truck assembly plants. With the smell of petrochemicals in his nostrils and its toxins in his blood, like everyone else who lived there, it’s no wonder Kenney was drawn to the Alberta oil patch and its co-dependant urban sprawl: it reminded him of his childhood home.

It takes more than a Stetson and a photo op flipping flapjacks at the Calgary Stampede to make you a local, however. Alberta needs to find another, better path — one that respects its roots in the land, under the big sky, honouring the Indigenous peoples there as well as those people from away who helped to create the province with every crop they planted and every herd they tended.

The pragmatist knows that the days of oil must soon be over — and that means in Alberta, too. Their children and grandchildren will inherit the same future as everyone else.

But the dreamer wants to find hope in the midst of that struggle for a just transition from oil to whatever comes next. Kenney’s rants — and Bill 1 — are a cruel denial of creativity and optimism, replacing them with bitterness and rancor instead.

So without further apology, after 50 years of provincial oil addiction, call me a recovering Albertan. Put away the petulance, Premier Kenney, and do your job properly — for all real Albertans.

Activist and author Peter Denton is Albertan by birth and Manitoban by choice.

Pipelines bad business, plain and simple

(February 24, 2020)

There is no doubt building a pipeline in Canada is a “wicked problem.” A “wicked problem” is one that is difficult or impossible to solve, because of its interwoven social, cultural, economic and political factors.

I have opposed the construction of pipelines in these pages before (cue the chorus of internet trolls), so it will be no surprise to hear that I think the federal and British Columbia governments are making a hash of things once again. Deployment of the RCMP tactical squads certainly did not help. If someone aims a weapon at me, my first thought is not that they’re just looking at me through the rifle scope because it is such a hassle to get their binoculars out instead.

That there have been no casualties — yet — is a tribute both to the protesters and to the self-control of the police officers on site, despite the increasing stress on both sides. For the federal government to claim it has no influence on the situation is disingenuous, but the bugle charge that Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tried to sound last week is downright dangerous and irresponsible.

Politicians playing their games makes wicked problems even worse. Using the “We’re tough on these bad guys” attitude to shill for money for Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Party, while the embers at the blockade west of Headingley were still warm, was both seedy and disrespectful. If further actions don’t end so quickly or peacefully in our province, Premier Brian Pallister can take some of the responsibility for such an escalation.

Once again, I oppose what is being done, but for reasons other than you might at first expect. Yes, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground, because if we don’t, the planet will warm to a point that life will be difficult — or impossible — for billions of people, including our children and grandchildren. Yes, reconciliation means taking a path other than the destructive, colonial exercise of power that has in the past been used against First Nations and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Yet both these serious and vitally important concerns are being swamped by economic arguments about jobs and the national interest. New pipelines, however, especially the ones causing trouble today, are actually bad business for almost everyone concerned.

I usually get trolled with sneers like: “You use oil, don’t you? Drive a car? Heat your house?” — as though environmentalists can only be credible if they are running around naked in the bush, eating berries.

It is an ignorant (though expected) ad hominem attack — attack the person, not the argument.

Of course, I live in a fossil-fuel culture — I’m as much a part of it as you are. But that culture, unchecked, will take my children and grandchildren — all the children of Earth — off an ecological cliff. For climate catastrophe to happen, we just have to keep doing little or nothing different than right now. The systems are in place, and accelerating, to turn hell on Earth into a daily reality — and easily within my lifetime.

I was pleased, therefore, to see Tom Rand’s recent book, The Case for Climate Capitalism: Economic Solutions for a Planet in Crisis. We need to find some middle course between the fingers-in-the-ears, heads-in-the-sand, business-as-usual attitude that guarantees catastrophe, and its opposite, the overturn-the-world-economic-order logic that he associates with the radical left.

Rand makes some excellent points about the need for pragmatism in business and politics. Ideology, left or right, will mean the end of everything we value about our global civilization. While we clearly can’t continue as to do business as before, we still need to do business, or the remedy could be as catastrophic as the disease.

So, why are pipelines bad business?

First, none of these pipelines reduces Eastern Canada’s dependency on oil and gas from elsewhere. Most of what the pipelines would carry will never be used by Canadians. They also don’t reduce the current rail traffic through our cities or across the country.

Second, expecting an increased global market “somewhere” is delusional. The growth in renewables, and the increasing antipathy to fossil fuels, brand fossil fuels as yesterday’s (bad) answer. Oilsands products are also dirtier and lower-quality, and therefore always a last option for offshore purchase.

Third, these pipelines have already been a colossal waste of money. Canada will never recoup its investment in the Trans-Mountain pipeline, paying too much for it and then being on the hook for billions of dollars of inevitable delays. Money spent on pipelines is unavailable for the alternative energy development we really need.

Finally, a project in the national interest must mean for all Canadians, present and future, not just a few. These pipelines — all of them — aren’t.

Someone certainly benefits in the short term, however.

I wonder who?

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Ardern, Notley represent different kind of politics

(April 4, 2019)

There is a sign making the rounds on social media that reads, “You know it’s time for a change when children act like leaders and leaders act like children.”

In a long string of recent childish behaviours from leaders, the one exception was Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand. She won public admiration for her response to the mass shootings in Christchurch, even from countries where female political leadership is a rarity.

Countries like Canada, in fact. While we celebrate our own Nellie McClung and the other four women who won the “Persons” case, there are far too few women in politics. What’s more, most women who are in politics still seem to hit the glass ceiling when it comes to the top roles.

So as Ardern’s picture was cast on the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, headscarf and hug, I thought of another oilpatch thousands of kilometres away where Rachel Notley is trying to become the first re-elected female premier in Canadian history.

In 2018, it didn’t turn out so well for Kathleen Wynne and the people of Ontario. Wynne’s Liberals were not only erased at the polls, but the combination of anti-Wynne sentiment and stay-at-home voters meant Doug Ford was elected premier instead. It will take the province at least a generation to repair the damage Ford has already done, especially on environmental issues.

That’s a generation we don’t have, as the slide toward 2 C global warming continues.

It was a replay (on a smaller scale, with fewer tweets) of what happened in the last U.S. presidential election. Hillary Clinton would have been the first female president in that country, but similar attitudes (and perhaps a bit of Russian meddling) put Donald Trump in the Oval Office instead, with much worse consequences for the planet and for America’s role in global affairs.

Yet when you consider that men (of all colours) inflict military, economic and sexual violence on victims everywhere every day, and that none of the high-profile shooters who have killed children in schools or people at prayer have been female, it is hard not to wonder whether female leaders would do things differently than their male counterparts.

At the very least, women in political leadership deserve to be judged for their character and competence, and not ruled out simply because of their gender.

So, while I have frequently criticized Rachel Notley for her decisions as premier, she has brought a new and different tone to politics in Alberta — a place that previously had one-party rule for longer than anywhere except the Soviet Union, with about as little social tolerance for dissent. In 2015, Albertans not only elected a woman as premier, but one leading an NDP government, and (contrary to predictions) their world did not come to an end.

For the record, Notley is tough and smart, driven by a concern for her constituents and not pulled along by the ideological golden nose ring that her Opposition counterparts (such as Jason Kenney) wear so proudly.

Like many leaders before her, however, she is unfortunately still addicted to doing lines of pipe, instead of finding other and more sustainable ways to make Alberta great again.

But I remember the days of the Heritage Fund, those billions of dollars squirrelled away to ensure Alberta’s future, even occasionally paying dividends. As a native Albertan, living elsewhere for most of my life, I was envious of those who still lived in the Land of No PST.

For years, however, money that should have helped build that fund has been squandered. It could have been used to transition the province away from being a one-cow operation, but it wasn’t. There was no vision at all, as the old white guys in leadership instead wallowed in their bank vaults like Scrooge McDuck.

It was the One Party that made those choices, pulled along by its own nose by financial interests from offshore. It had no concern for future generations — in a pirate economy, focused on plundering public resources for private profit, how could there be?

Certainly, Alberta politics and this election campaign have been marred by the kind of juvenile behaviour that the social media sign deplores. Canada needs leaders like Jacinda Ardern, including female ones, but we don’t need to import them from New Zealand.

I am not saying Notley should win re-election in Alberta because she is a woman, however. That would demean the significant contributions she and her government have made to the province and to Canada in the past four years.

But I am saying that, in 2019, she certainly should not lose the election because she is a woman.

If the misogynists join forces again with the people who don’t vote, it would mean the dinosaurs still rule the Alberta badlands after all.

And, just like in Ontario and the United States, that could spell disaster for everyone.

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