Alykhan Velshi, a 27-year-old who established himself in Ottawa as a master of messaging and a crucial cog in the Conservative machine, has a new job – he’s out to polish the image of Canada’s oil sands in the minds of freedom-loving people everywhere.
“When petroleum reserves were deposited around the world, it is unfortunate that they were all given to the world’s bastards,” he said. “With the exception of Canada, most of them are with the world’s bastards. You need to recognize that when you are buying oil.”
Never known for subtlety, Mr. Velshi now runs EthicalOil.org, a blog set to relaunch on Thursday.
A few months ago, he was the communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. He was also an important part of the Tory war room that steamrolled the Liberal Party en route to victory.
During his years as a lawyer-turned-political-aide on the Hill, Mr. Velshi had a knack for generating publicity – and controversy. These days, he is very busy on his iPad, working to create provocative, even outrageous, Internet ads.
The message? The cruellest crude is “conflict oil” flowing from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran – this is the stuff that greases the wheels of “dictatorship,” fuels “terrorism” and even results in “women stoned to death.”
Is there an alternative? You bet. The ads argue that Canada’s oil generates taxable revenues that are used to help fund “democracy,” “peacekeeping” and even Pride Day parades for gays and lesbians.
The choice couldn’t be presented more starkly. “When people buy coffee, they want to buy fair-trade coffee. This is a similar sort of idea,” Mr. Velshi said.
Ethical oil is not a new concept. The pundit Ezra Levant first popularized it a couple of years ago in a hardcover book. When Mr. Levant moved on to Sun TV this spring, he handed over the reins to his friend, Mr. Velshi.
Now that he’s inherited the EthicalOil.org blog, he wants to drive home the messaging with short, sharp bursts of social media. “We don’t have an office,” he said. “It’s just words and pictures and YouTube videos. And I’m trying to keep it that way.”
Mr. Velshi says he is not paying himself a salary. A PayPal button on the website is being used to gather small donations for media projects.
Asked whether he is getting corporate donations, he said, “I won’t take money from any foreign corporations, any governments.” Pressed about Canadian corporate donations, he said he wouldn’t refuse any.
Mr. Velshi says he’s not violating the federal law that forbids former aides from lobbying for five years after leaving government. He stresses that he’s not lobbying former Conservative colleagues about the oil sands. He hardly needs to – Environment Minister Peter Kent has already taken it upon himself to use “ethical oil” parlance.
Burnishing the image of the oil sands globally is a much taller order. Environmentalists have spent years telling the world that the oil sands are a calamity that will contribute vastly to global warming. The European Union has threatened to do what it can to brand the oil sands as a “dirty” fuel source. Ottawa is sending lobbyists abroad in hopes of battling bad press and securing export markets.
“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges mankind faces,” Mr. Velshi conceded, before offering a litany of arguments suggesting the oil sands’ carbon footprint isn’t as bad as many fear. And it’s the “hands down” ethical choice, he said.
History has shown Mr. Velshi can go to great lengths to neutralize those whom he considers adversaries. For example, a Federal Court judge last year probed certain behind-the-scenes dealings that resulted in Canada’s bureaucracy barring maverick British MP George Galloway from entering the country by branding him inadmissible as a supposed terrorist threat.
“One might hope that a ministerial aide would exercise greater restraint,” Judge Richard Mosley wrote in a passage critical of Mr. Velshi’s manoeuvrings.
No longer restrained by any role in government, the former political aide is training his crosshairs elsewhere.
“I’m not shying away from picking a fight with Saudi Arabia,” said Mr. Velshi, who spoke contemptuously of Saudi princes. “When you’re filling up the tank, I think you’re indirectly funding them and their pet projects – and their pet projects are less likely to be peacekeeping than funding terrorist organizations.”