Never hit seventeen when you play against the dealer…
For Rachel Notley to have a strong chance of re-election in a Conservative stronghold, she needed every break in the book.
Yet what happened in Alberta's election should serve as a cautionary tale for all Canadians concerned about the most urgent moral imperative we will ever face, the looming climate emergency.
These are times for hard choices, with no safe options.
Do we take our lead from the unforgiving math of an inflexible carbon equation, which dictates opposition to every political concession that fails to meet the modest Paris Agreement goals?
How to weigh the clear risk that an uncompromising stance could result in an even worse electoral outcome?
Albertans gave a short sharp answer to those who rebuffed Rachel Notley's bargain of carbon concessions for a pipeline.
Now that deal is is gambled and gone, like summer wages.
Jason Kenney is far too adept a politician not to see his environmental opponents as sheer political gold.
In one fell swoop he could, and did, paint environmentalists as the enemy of the people, and Notley as their hapless dupe. Notably, he failed to even mention the Indigenous opponents whose court challenges pose the greatest obstacle to pipeline expansion.
Crackdown on NGOs echoes authoritarian playbook
Yet in threatening a public inquiry into foreign funding of environmentalists, Kenney didn’t just respond to regional pressures. He hewed much too closely to a global movement by authoritarian governments to de-legitimize, limit, and ban NGO access to the international philanthropic funding and journalists.
Alberta’s sabre-rattling against environmental activists places it squarely in the company of Egypt, India, Pakistan, Russia, Ethiopia, and Hungary, which have all enacted measures to restrain or prevent local non-profit organizations gaining access to the largest non-profit granting bodies.
All of them have followed the same playbook: stigmatize the world’s largest philanthropies as outsiders meddling in local affairs for ulterior motives.
Don’t like activists exposing human rights abuses, promoting girls’s education, gay rights, access to birth control, or labour and Indigenous rights in your country? Is NGO pressure over pollution, water contamination or climate issues discouraging investors and your party donors?
Accuse them of plotting secretly against the people and cut their money off.
Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s contraception initiative has been targeted as a secret eugenics operation in Africa, with not-so-quiet support by the American Christian right, and even Alex Jones.
Kenney’s war on environmentalist funding is just the same strategy tailored to Canada.
Notice how little of the debate is actually about climate, GHG emissions, the Paris Agreement, and meeting national commitments--all concerns that should be of the highest national priority?
Canadian funding a tiny fraction of global foundation spend, while foreign oil companies reap billions
Instead the message is to distrust and suspect the motives of some of the world’s most eminent scientific and humanitarian foundations. As if there's something deceitful and dishonest about helping community and citizen groups with no other way to be heard.
In fact, the agenda could hardly be clearer.
These foundations are core to a global initiative by twenty-nine major international philanthropies to grant $4 billion to combat climate change around the world. Support for Canadians who oppose oil sands expansion constitutes only a miniscule fraction of their annual budgets.
Not that anyone has taken the trouble to check those numbers.
Absent from the hue and cry over foreign financial support for Canadian climate action is the inconvenient issue of the Alberta oil economy's own much more substantial dependence on foreign investment.
Consider just one example. Over the ten year period that the Tar Sands Campaign stands accused of accepting $40 million from philanthropic organizations in the US and Europe, Imperial Oil generated some $16 billion in net income and retained earnings just to its American majority shareholder, ExxonMobil.
Or take a look at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Board chair Mark Fitzgerald is CEO of Petronas Canada, a subsidiary of the $45 billion Malaysian oil and gas giant.
In fact, despite featuring a maple leaf in its logo, CAPP's board is bristling with representatives of foreign-owned Shell, Chevron, BP, Total Oil France, Statoil, ConocoPhillips, Petronas, and PetroChina. To say nothing of the foreign hedge funds and institutional investors that dominate shareholder lists of every major player in Alberta.
That same board of governors includes representatives from oil companies whose executives held a closed meeting on April 11 in Alberta with top federal Conservatives to map out a strategy to oust the Trudeau Liberals.
The whole issue of untoward foreign influence on Canada's environmentalists is only a scandal amplified for political ends.
Jason Kenney knows perfectly well that it's all a canard, but he also knows how politics works.
Avoid questions about your weak climate strategy by attacking your critics' integrity.
Yet this controversy should also be seen as something more foreboding, about which we should all take heed come the next federal election.
Threat of inquiry into environmentalists an assault on fundamental freedoms
What lies behind the talk of a public inquiry is an assault on Canadians’ fundamental freedoms of speech and association. It’s about sowing distrust, anger and blame.
In a foreshadowing of the coming federal election, Kenney’s true target was right there in his acceptance speech. All grace and goodwill to the defeated premier, he took direct aim at the granddaddy of Canadian environmentalism, David Suzuki.
Cue the tumbrils.
The depressing reality about all of this is that conflict and division fuel news coverage, while stories of unity and inspired common purpose line bird cages.
Yet unity is what we will need more than anything to meet the challenge we all face. Canadians hunger for inspiration and hope.
The truism says, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.
What it doesn't say is that if you want media coverage to get your message out, start a big fight.
It was always going to be a tough slog for Rachel Notley to be re-elected. Yet had more environmentalists supported her bargain of a pipeline in exchange for a sweeping series of carbon concessions, Canada's climate plan might not be in such dire shape today.
The costs of making the perfect the enemy of the good might be a lesson to remember come the federal election.