Only three you say? It’s just one week, May 17-23, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The MacPherson Missive.” Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/

The theme of these weekly newsletters is the ongoing irrationality of the UCP government, led by Jason Kenney, the king of confusion and chaos.

This week though, I’m going to flip the premise and talk about a few things that happened that may seem irrational on the surface, but when you consider a few additional factors, may not be completely incoherent.

Be prepared, this is going to get a little disturbing in three major ways.

There were 19 official news releases, only four of which were related to COVID continuing the trend of downplaying the pandemic stats while the government tries to distract from its terrible handling of the whole situation. At the beginning of last week, Alberta hit a new record number of people in intensive care – 186.

1.

There was no official release about the biggest story of the week, which involved Vivian Krause, whose research and writing inspired the Allan Inquiry into “Anti-Energy Campaigns.” Krause raised questions pre-pandemic about who funds environmental groups opposed to the tarsands. Further, based on the negative impacts on the Canadian energy industry, she asked whether US energy companies could be gaining an unfair advantage.

“Whether it was the Rockefellers intention or not, what is being protected is the American monopoly that has Canada over a barrel and is subsidizing the price of gas in the United States to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.” Vivian Krause in Over A Barrel. (around 19:17 in the film)

Krause began fundraising for the film on Gofundme.com in June of 2019, just months after the April election of the UCP and Jason Kenney. The inquiry was announced around the same time, in July of 2019. The resulting documentary, Over A Barrel, starring Krause, was released in early October of 2019.

On May 18, Krause tweeted, “Yes, the aim is to land-lock (flag of Canada + barrel emoji). However, as I’ve said over & over, I’ve seen no evidence that the deeper motivation is to benefit (flag of United States emoji) competitors.”

The Twitterverse erupted and media immediately went for the “backtracking” narrative. This resulted in more than a few story corrections and updates, in addition to some deleted tweets. The reality of what happened back in 2019 and what is happening now is a lot more complicated.

Krause is smart enough not to make direct accusations or draw conclusions. After all, her blog is called, “Fair Questions” not “Fair Answers.”

Of course, Over A Barrel raises questions and uses classic conspiracy theory techniques. These include dramatic footage of disasters, depictions of violence at pipeline protests, interviews with people making unsubstantiated claims, conflating examples from other environmental battles, and finally, insinuations of wrongdoing by charitable and environmental foundations.

Note: Misinformation expert Timothy Caulfield was recently interviewed by the Star about the spread of COVID-19 misinformation. It’s an excellent read and offers up some insight into how conspiracy theories spread. Political scientist Jared Wesley also brings some specific observations about the “individualistic cowboy populist libertarian” take on conspiracies.

“It comes back to people seeking to have their pre-existing beliefs validated as a source of comfort,” says Wesley.

After its release, the filmmaker, Shane Fennessey expressed his desire to make people feel a little bit “uneasy” and wanted to “spread some knowledge.” The website for the film has been taken down but if want to watch the full documentary it appears to still be available at the time of this writing for free on Facebook.

Krause has recently stated that people have jumped to conclusions that aren’t backed by the facts.

”People look at me hoping to hear what they think would make sense, which is that the oil companies are behind it. I tell them all the time, ‘Sorry, guys, no. I don’t see that.’ People have jumped to a conclusion that is unsubstantiated. I can see why. It sounds logical. But you can’t make that assumption.” From the Globe and Mail, May 21

The Allan Inquiry was entirely created to substantiate her theory. The trouble is that many people pointed out numerous flaws in her research from the start, including Sandy Garossino and energy journalist/publisher Markham Hislop.

That didn’t stop the government though.

Many felt they should never have committed $3.5M for an inquiry. The report is now almost a year late and just recently received another extension, revealed by Kenney in a Facebook Live event (unscheduled).

Some might say the statements from Krause this week come at an awkward momnent for Kenney and the UCP. The Allan report is due in July of 2021. However, having Krause step up and offer this clarity does actually set the stage quite nicely for Steve Allan, who according to insider Donna Kennedy-Glans, is regretting his decision to sign on to lead the public inquiry.

Allan and the UCP government may argue they can’t be blamed for looking into the allegations, nor for following up on the evidence put forward by Krause. Screenings of the Over A Barrel documentary were reported to be sold out across the province and hundreds of people watched the film. They made a promise during the election they had to keep and they will say – let’s just move on.

If the heat gets too much, they can always blame Krause, although it probably won’t be necessary since so many are already doing that anyway. They’ll just leave Twitter to do what it does best (or worst, depending on your perspective at any given time).

At the end of the day, NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley really sums up what we should be concerned about here.

It goes back to the letter Kenney received from Amnesty International when the inquiry was first announced.

“Amnesty International is concerned that the overriding intention and impact of both the public inquiry and the energy “war room” will inevitably be to target, discredit and silence individuals and groups who oppose or criticize the Alberta oilsands or related pipeline projects.”

*More background on my small, but successful campaign related to this conspiracy theory in late 2019.

2.

Another development this week that kind of flew under the radar but is nevertheless concerning, was the decision to change some rules for the Legislature with regards to remote voting. MLA’s will vote on it this week but the plan is to finally allow for voting via video link.

Speaker Nathan Cooper, who seemed to have no trouble finding time to sign a letter opposed to COVID-19 restrictions (he later apologized), is only now finding time to come up with a way for MLA’s to vote remotely. Fourteen months into the pandemic seems a little behind schedule.

However, there’s a catch. Any MLA who wants to speak to a bill, an amendment, a motion or another matter will have appear in person. They can’t accommodate any online debate. For those of us who’ve not seen our co-workers in real life for over a year, who are conducting all aspects of work and life online, well, this seems absurd.

Also, municipal councils in Alberta, legislative committees and members of Parliament have been debating government bills online for months.

Government house leader Jason Nixon blamed the “reliability of Internet service” across the province. If only the government could do something about that, right? They could have but they haven’t.

Just a reminder, the NDP were in power for four years and the Conservatives for 40+ years prior to that.

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta have been calling for the federal and provincial government to work more directly with municipalities to get quality broadband internet service out to the rural areas. Just 13 per cent of Alberta communities have service that meets target speeds sent by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.

The provincial government said in early 2019 it was working on a strategy. During the pandemic, rural dwellers have been extremely frustrated by the lack of adequate coverage.

You’d think there would be a renewed focus on this important telecommunications infrastructure but then again, claiming you can’t have online debates on government bills is also handy. Particularly when you have a dissatisfied backbench and a particularly effective opposition party to contend with.

Also, there are now two less MLA’s in caucus and they may have a few bones to pick with the government. Limiting debate on government bills to only those who show up in person, could become part of a strategy to quell open discontent. Combined with other rule changes still to be announced, this may be just another opportunity to shut down challenges to some of the government’s more controversial decisions (for example, a new coal policy and ongoing land use/parks decisions).

Never thought we’d see the day when rural Albertans, who’ve voted for conservatives for decades, would be so blatantly shut out of the conversation but here we are. It’s largely because they no longer support this Premier. Forcing rural MLAs to physically travel to Edmonton to have their say in the middle of the pandemic is just another way to wrestle back some control of caucus.

3.

The third concerning development of this week was that Kenney is hinting Alberta may join the plastics industry in challenging the federal government’s decision to classify plastics as “toxic.” He told the Globe and Mail on Wednesday that Alberta was “leaving its options open about joining them in court.”

Not content to lose in court against the federal government on the carbon tax, Kenney would like to throw more money at a lawsuit that is essentially another jurisdictional argument. Regulating plastics, which have a nasty habit of not obeying provincial boundaries, is likely not an overreach in any way.

Why get involved at all? In the first place, the industry already has this battle well in hand both financially and on the public relations front. The last thing they need is the UCP jumping on board the plastics campaign with their terrible communication strategies and embarrassing PR missteps. They bring very little of value to the table for the industry at this stage.

Secondly, is the UCP government poised to take the province in the exact wrong direction AGAIN! Yes, if the plan is a pivot to petrochemicals.

According to reporting in the National Observer, Alberta wants to attract roughly $30 billion worth of new investments in the sector by 2030.

Globally, new plastic created from fossil fuels threatens our ability to reduce carbon emissions and fight the climate crisis. What we need is less production of new plastic, more recycling (despite decades of effort, only about nine per cent of Canada’s plastic waste is currently recycled) and a focus on renewable energy sources.

There’s no point in trading one damaging output for another. It’s a road to disaster.

But it does create the conditions yet again for a billion dollar bail-out to petrochemical companies when times inevitably get tough. Maybe that’s been the plan all along, though. When Kenney loses the election, will we see him eventually land a board position with Dow Chemical?

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Now I promised some bike news for this week. Vélo Canada Bikes, and university researchers are calling for volunteers to observe and note key information on cyclists on June 1 and June 6. It’s Canada’s first ever national bike count!

The data will be used to “make cycling a part of the solution to climate change and managing COVID-19.” Volunteer here.

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For my video this week, here are the teen sensations, The Linda Lindas who rocked the library in Los Angeles this past month. The video is long but I’m linking you directly to my favourite song in this set. These girls are the coolest.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and was working in Fort McMurray when the tarsands was rebranded the “oilsands.”

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