“Post-truth” Politics in Alberta

Albertans can learn a lot about the importance of truth in politics from the Trump/Clinton presidential race.

Political lies have moved beyond “misstatements” for which politicians “take full responsibility” and (sort of) apologize, to “truthiness”, a term coined by Stephen Colbert for a lie that appeals to a voter’s feelings, not reason.

A “truthy statement” is accepted as true because it feels true.  And since it feels true no one is accountable and no one has to apologize.

The best way to combat “post-truth” politics is to call out politicians who lie.

Typically this would be the media’s job.

trump_flicker_face_yess

The joke candidate looking presidential

 

However the transformation of Trump from a joke candidate to the Republican nominee for president demonstrates the media is ill-equipped to play its role effectively.  (It was only recently that The New York Times allowed its reporters to use the word “liar” in connection with a politician).

Alberta’s “post-truth” challenge

Albertans are at a disadvantage when it comes to “post-truth” politics because they’ve spent the better part of the last 44 years living in a petrostate.  

Alberta’s dependence on oil revenues made the industry the government’s BFF*.

Until recently, the industry supplied 30% of the government’s revenues.  The government never forgot its friends and rewarded them with light-handed regulation and low taxes and royalties.

The election of the NDP in 2015 burst the PCs’ bubble but the petrostate mindset endures.

Two generations of Albertans are convinced the oil industry is essential for the good life, booms and busts are par for the course and if the government would simply leave everything alone Alberta would return to prosperity.

The Wildrose and PCs are stoking this belief in anticipation of the 2019 election by embedding a couple of “truthy statements” in the heart of the electorate.

“Risky ideological experiments”

The Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives denounced the government’s plan to hike personal and corporate taxes and increase the minimum wage as “risky ideological experiments” that will crash the economy.

It’s an interesting phrase with multiple meanings.

For the Wildrose “risky ideological experiment” is code for “the NDP are socialist commie pinkos.”  They’re not shy about putting their Red Scare rants on record in the Legislature.

Hansard includes speeches by Wildrose MLAs calling Notley’s staff “Soviet-era communists” and declaring that Bill 6 (farm safety) is the first step in the implementation of the Regina Manifesto of 1933 which will replace free-enterprise farms with “socialist economic planning.”

The PCs use the phrase in a less inflammatory way to indicate that such policies disrupt the efficiency of “trickle-down economics.” As if that’s been a smashing success.    

This resonates with Wildrose and PC supporters who agree with Stephen Harper:  all taxes are bad, period.

Anti-oil activists

The second “truthy statement” undermines any actions taken to address climate change.

mciver-jean

Mr McIver (PC) and Mr Jean (WR)

At first it was difficult for the Wildrose and PCs to attack the Climate Leadership Plan which was supported by Suncor, Cenovus, Shell Canada, Canadian Natural Resources and CAPP, however they quickly zeroed in on the carbon tax as a job killer which looped back to the first truthy statement—more taxes will kill the economy.

But that was just the lead-in.

When Tzeborah Berman was appointed co-chair of the Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) the truthiness meter went berserk.

OSAG was formed to implement the Climate Leadership Panel’s recommendations.

Berman has a well-deserved reputation as an effective anti-oilsands activist.

The truthiness argument is Berman was appointed to sabotage the process…and what?  Kill the oilsands?

Berman is one of 18 OSAG members. She shares the co-chair duties with Melody Lepine, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Dave Collyer, a former Shell executive who was the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) for six years.

The industry is represented by Canadian Natural Resources, Statoil, Cenovus, Shell, MEG Energy, Suncor and ConocoPhillips Canada—all major oilsands players.

Climate change advocates are represented by Pembina, Environmental Defence and STAND.

The Wildrose and PCs are asking us to believe that eight heavy hitters from the oilsands will be cowed by Berman, three environmentalist, two municipal administrators, two First Nations representatives, one Metis representative and a corporate lawyer who sits on the board of the Canadian Parks and Wildlife Society.  Really?

Anger, fear, prejudice 

Politicians who play “post-truth” politics are dangerous because they whip up fear, anger and prejudice in order to win.

Trump’s supporters are angry and fearful because they’ve been left behind by globalization, technology and income inequality.  Their prejudices have been sharpened by the lie that others (non-whites) are stealing advantages that rightfully belong to them.

Albertans are a little different.  They’re angry and fearful because two years ago they had it all, then oil prices collapsed and now it’s gone.

They want someone to blame and the Wildrose and the PCs are serving up the “socialists” and the “environmentalists” on a silver platter.

Combating “post-truth” politics

Albertans get their news from PostMedia newspapers and talk radio hosts.  Right leaning analysts from The Fraser Institute and the U of C School of Public Policy figure prominently in political analysis.  It’s unlikely that Alberta’s media will be effective in examining the lies generated by “post-truth” politics.

So we have to do it for them.

Yes, Alberta’s economy is suffering.  Oil prices crashed and we failed to develop other economic sectors to offset the drop in oil revenues.

But the economy is not crashing because:

  • We’ve raised taxes—Alberta’s taxes are the lowest in the country (we don’t have a sales tax) and Alberta has twice as much investment per capita as the other provinces.
  • We’ve raised the minimum wage by a dollar—this increase applies to 3% of the lowest paid segment of the population.
  • We’ve implemented a carbon tax—more than 60% of the population will receive a full or partial rebate and Brian Jean says he’d consider imposing a carbon tax similar to the one in BC.
  • We’re pushing ahead with the Climate Leadership Plan—it allows carbon emissions to increase by 30% and the industry to expand by 50%. No wonder they like it.

So here’s your assignment.  Stay informed and speak up when someone is spouting something that feels right to them but has no basis in fact.

If nothing else it will make for an interesting conversation over the Thanksgiving turkey.

*For readers without teenagers, that’s Best Friend Forever

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18 Responses to “Post-truth” Politics in Alberta

  1. Douglas Taylor says:

    The Drumpfster is so applecart upsetting, even his hand gesture using the index finger confuses me into thinking he is raising his middle finger and I have to stop and reflect on what that finger is again? Is it the ” nice” one or the one that deals with sex and travel. :>D

    • Douglas, I find all of the Drumptster’s gestures annoying. I don’t know if you caught the piece in the Globe on Friday. The Globe interviewed Newt Gingrich on Trump. Gingrich was asked what he’d say to US allies who’re unnerved by the thought of Trump as president. Gingrich replied: the US has been at the centre of sustaining free society on the planet since 1941 and likely be at the centre for the next 50 years…then he added Trump is an “international person”. He has property all over the planet. He’s married two Europeans. So the idea that Trump is an isolationist is a New York Times fantasy picked up by sycophantic left0wing reporters. That may feel good to his supporters and yes we can’t argue with the fact that he has property all over the world and he’s married two Europeans. But that doesn’t make him “international” (whatever that means) or not “an isolationist”.

  2. Ted says:

    John Ralston Saul defines some characteristics of ideology as a decleration of inevitability and a decleration of truth. I would add to that list a decleration of absolute certainty. This is what the oppostion appears to be frothing forward as inevitable truths. Add to that the false inevitablity that the market leads and everything else follows and you have the mayhem that Alberta has become. I found this Chris Hedges interview with JRS that covers these points succinctly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXUJEWNHweE Many thanks for your informed eloquence, Susan. It’s aways a pleasure to read and discuss with others.

    • Ted, thank you for the support and for that excellent youtube clip. I’d forgotten how crisp and eloquent JRS is. In the space of 28 minutes he summarized so many critical issues. I’ve got Voltaire’s Bastards on my bookshelf. It’s time I read it.

  3. david says:

    Thoughtful comments Susan. Here’s hoping we won’t allow our leadership races in Alberta to degenerate to the same levels as US!

    • Thank you David. You’ve had a long political career and know better than most of us how hard it is to get voters to listen (let alone understand) the facts underlying an issue. I just read about a study into the “backfire effect”. Researchers found that liberal thinkers are more likely to accept a correction to what they’d previously believed was a “fact” than conservative thinkers who not only didn’t accept the correction but became even more convinced that their misconception was true. Lord only knows how we can overcome such deeply ingrained feelings but we have to keep trying.

  4. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Thanks for your very truthful (not to be confused with truthy) analysis Susan. It went right to the core of my neocortex (not to be confused with the midbrain amygdala, the emotional center). You’ve given readers another piece of top-notch journalism and I hope we’ll all be ready to rumble–to use a term Ralph Nader reminded me of on yesterday’s Sunday Edition–should Alberta degenerate to the same level as US politics in 2019. Keep on writing! Albertans need you.

  5. Gail says:

    Is that why the conservatives have made a task force to take to the liberals, on small business. As a small business owner of 35 years, I opened in a recession…but I can’t afford the federal liberals or the NDP….there is nothing left… Hundreds more will go into bankruptcy, taking all employees into unemployment with them! In my case single moms! Yes retail….I know the truth in numbers!

    • Gail I’m sorry to hear that changes brought in by the federal Liberals and the provincial NDP are negatively impacting your business. It sounds like the rebates and small business tax reduction are not helping.

      • Joe says:

        Yeah, and I blame the NDP and Liberals for my failing marriage, the impending winter, and the fact that my coffee went cold this morning. Give me a break!

        I guess it’s Ok for you Susan to express empathy, but how do any of us know if the root cause of Gail’s misfortunes are really the result of the NDP, Liberals or even the conservatives for that matter? I do know this, there are a lot of people who blame the government for their lot, when in reality much of the blame is due to their own actions.

      • Douglas Taylor says:

        Joe, you forgot to include acne, chapped skin, parking rates and itchy underwear.

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    Here is an interview that in my opinion explains events like Donald Trump in a more realistic way

    https://www.rt.com/shows/on-contact/352948-capitalism-brexit-labor-protests/

    • Carlos, thanks for the thought provoking link. I understand the argument that what we’re seeing is the unraveling of capitalism, what I’m not so sure about is Richard Wolff’s comment that this is the result of a “return of a subordinated part of people’s consciousness”which he defines as the awareness that capitalism is very good for a few people and bad for all the rest. I’m not disputing that this is an accurate description of capitalism, what I’m wondering about is whether people actually believe this in their subconscious minds. What I see in Trump’s followers is a strong belief that if they elect Trump he will run the country like a business and they will all become rich. That’s the epitome of capitalism.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan I clearly get your point and to be honest I do not like that comment either, but I think what he is trying to say is that capitalism has always been a system that favours the few. The only time capitalism has been moderately successful is after the second world war when a lot of changes were allowed to happen pushed by the left. With time they got rid of a lot of them and the results are obvious. Inequality, monopolies….etc. So maybe what he means is that people are starting to realize that what they had heard about capitalism (me included) was not that positive and is coming back. Capitalism did well in very few countries. While the US did extremely well in the 50s and 60s, the rest of the world languished. Why did the US do well? Because they controlled the world economy, just like the Chinese are now doing with a penny a day type of salaries. Any system would do well in those conditions. Right now the US has higher rates of poverty than any other country of the so called developed world. Capitalism brought about some good changes but I do not think that we should stay stuck with it. Evolving is the solution. In this case it is very difficult because like in all other times when big changes happened, those that are doing well do not want change at all. Unfortunately for them, it is clear that it is coming fast and furious.
        As far as Donald Trump I agree with you and it is quite obvious that he does not have a clue about what he is talking about. Running countries like businesses brought us to where we are.
        I strongly agree with Richard Wolff that we are all looking for answers and that capitalism is on the ropes. Will we be able to find a solution? I do believe so, the issue is what will we have to go through until we get there. The general situation around the world is quite unstable and dark and it does not take much to create a domino effect.

      • Well put Carlos particularly your comment at the very end where you said “the issue is what will we have to go through until we get there”. We’re all watching to see how corporate America responds to the pressure building up on the left and the right, but as you’ve pointed out elsewhere we should also look to Europe (where the rise of neo-liberalism appears to be in full swing) for a preview of what might be in store. Turbulent times.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Here is an interesting suggestion to help along our path

        The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen

        Very nice book

        Happy Thanksgiving

  7. Thanks for the recommendation Carlos. I googled the book and learned Partanen moved to the US in 2008 and quickly went from being a successful professional to a wary, self-doubting mess. And she wasn’t alone, Americans were in the same boat. So she wrote a book about how to do everything better.
    Certainly worth a read!

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