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