So it’s come to this has it? Premier Redford has officially abdicated responsibility for the Canadian natural resource strategy to her communications director, Stefan Baranski, who persuaded Ms Redford to place an ad in today’s New York Times.
The ad, entitled Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason, was meant to counter the Times “just say no” editorial that urged President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline*.
The Times’ position in a nutshell was this: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.*
Mr Baranski advised Ms Redford to go with the Keystone ad after the Times turned down the government’s request for a guest column similar to the one Ms Redford posted in USA Today.
This is an extremely risky move on Ms Redford’s part—and that’s why pipeline and oilsands executives who woke up this morning expecting to celebrate St Paddy’s day with green eggs and ham are on their blackberries instructing their communications departments to prepare a statement in case the media calls for a reaction.
The ad was a really bad idea. Here’s why:
One: The ad will not persuade the Times to soften its position. The fact that the only way Ms Redford could get the government’s position into the Times was through a paid ad proves that this issue is no longer open for debate as far as the Times is concerned.
Two: The ad is pitched to the wrong audience. Rather than changing the minds of Times readers, it gives the 346 readers who commented on the Times editorial another kick at the can.
Three: The ad is a sanctimonious mishmash that is both offensive and patronizing to Americans and Albertans alike. Its headline: Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason implies that those who oppose the pipeline are unreasonable (I’ll give Mr Baraski credit for resisting the urge to call them “demonizers”—a term used by pipeline supporters to trivialize those who dare voice an opinion contrary to their own).
Four: It refers to Alberta’s strong environmental policy, ignoring the fact that Alberta has seriously undershot its annual greenhouse gas emissions targets and is allowing oilsands producers to proceed with 27 high-risk and experimental end-pit lakes in the Athabasca boreal region.**
Five: It lauds Alberta’s development of clean technology but sidesteps the elephant in the room—coal, not hydro or natural gas, generates over 70% of Alberta’s energy.
Six: It hits a quasi jingoistic note by urging Americans to buy from a “neighbor, ally, friend” and not “unstable foreign regimes”, while blithely ignoring the fact that the Redford government vigorously supported the CNOOC takeover of Nexen notwithstanding the US government’s reservations.
Seven: The Redford government wraps itself in the American flag by highlighting pipeline-related job opportunities for the middle class (did you get that Mr President, we like the middle class) and returning war veterans (that one made my dad, a WW2 war veteran, laugh out loud).
The Keystone ad is a really bad idea because instead of communicating the right message (whatever that may be) to the right audience (US senators, congressman, and regulators) it has communicated a half-baked message to the wrong audience.
As a result, people will re-read the Times editorial, the 346 commentators and their friends will have another opportunity to voice their concerns, and the oilsands producers and TCPL, the owner of the Keystone pipeline, will hunker down in their glass towers waiting for the all-clear siren to sound.
It’s the government’s job to develop a natural resource strategy and use the tools it has at its disposal—the ability to make laws and to form critical relationships with other federal, provincial and state governments—for the benefit its citizens. These tools help grease the wheels of commerce. As an aside, a good government will balance the benefit of greasy wheels for some against the cost of greasy wheels for all.
It is not the government’s job to stamp its tiny foot in a fit of pique and run an ad in a newspaper when the editorial board refuses to let it run a guest column. The “so there!” strategy may make Mr Baraski amd Ms Redford feel better for a nanosecond but it does nothing to serve the greater interests of the people of Alberta.
**Pembina Institute quoted in Daily Oil Bulletin, Mar 14, 2013