Alberta’s government may brandish democracy when it promotes its oil to the world, but its transparent efforts to silence voices of opposition to fossil fuels come direct from the playbook of some of the world’s most oppressive petro-states, says a new report from Toronto-based Environmental Defence.
Criminalizing protest against fossil fuel infrastructure and tagging climate action groups as hostile foreign agents are all in a day’s work for autocratic regimes like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, the report states. The research reveals shocking parallels in the tactics Premier Jason Kenney and his government use to “harass, silence, and intimidate” anyone who dares criticize the oil industry.
“The report shows how the Alberta government’s repeated false claims that opponents of the expansion of the province’s oil and gas industry are working on behalf of foreign interests is a common tactic used in other countries to dismiss opponents and cast aspersions on their motivations,” Environmental Defence writes.
Other tactics shared with oppressive regimes (and, sometimes, the Canadian federal government) include revoking the charitable status of non-profits that speak out against oil and gas development and criminalizing protest against fossil fuel infrastructure. Such actions bear “a strong resemblance to model legislation drafted by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a powerful industry lobby group,” ED notes in a release.
The province’s willingness to mimic the actions of those willing to forfeit a central pillar of a democratic society in return for oil dollars can in practice reap nothing but painful uncertainty and hard times for the people of Alberta, writes The Narwhal Editor-in-Chief Emma Gilchrist.
“For the last six years, Albertans have been living life on the downward slope of a rollercoaster, with no end in sight for low oil prices,” Gilchrist says. “The resulting economic outfall has meant real people have had real struggles. Fingers have been pointed. Bombastic columns have been written. Truck rallies have been held. But nothing is going to bring back the heyday of the oilsands.”
And none of this is helping the reputation of Kenney’s United Conservative Party, which is being widely pilloried for such taxpayer-funded debacles as a recent report placing the blame on “the transnational progressive movement” for “strangling Alberta’s petroleum industry.” Described by The Narwhal as a “133-page humdinger” of conspiracy theories and textbook climate denial, the document expends a great deal of ink attacking journalists, most particularly those who share stories that disseminate the science of the climate crisis and its solutions.
Gilchrist notes the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) was “swift” to condemn the report, citing CAJ President Brent Jolly’s stern rebuke: “Journalists have a moral obligation to clearly inform the public of any catastrophic threat, whether it’s the coronavirus or climate change. Reporting on climate change should not be seen as an act of advocacy; it is the telling of a very real truth that is unequivocally backed up by scientific facts.”
The Kenney government must somehow discover the spine and empathy to share this “very real truth” with its constituents, however belatedly, Gilchrist adds. The UCP may well end up on the slag heap of political history, but the citizens they (mis)led must, and will, move on.
“The sooner Alberta’s politicians accept this, the more likely they’ll be able to help light the way forward for their beautiful, embattled province and its people,” she says.