Brett Wilson has long been a master of business and self-promotion.
But eight years after he left CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Twitter has become his platform, and politics his passion. The famous financier is now better known – and perhaps infamous – for a clamorous pro-energy, social-media profile laced with expletives and jokes aimed at climate-change campaigners and political opponents.
Some believe that the Calgary businessman goes too far in dabbling in unverified news stories, talk of treason and his antipathy toward Justin Trudeau and other federal Liberals. But for all the social-media sneers thrown his way, Mr. Wilson often accurately captures the angry mood of Alberta workers and energy executives who believe that the Canadian debate about oil and the environment is rife with hypocrisy.
“We’re the only country in the world not participating in the growth of the global oil industry,” the 62-year-old repeats again and again – referring to Canada’s inability to get crude to international markets outside of the U.S. – during an interview in his Calgary office.
In this federal election campaign, he has proffered Western Canadian fears regarding a minority government requiring the support of the Green Party, NDP or the Bloc Québécois – who variously have said that the oil sands need to be phased out and want to stop future pipeline construction. The Liberals, he says, have been incompetent on the energy file, and have stymied investment and potential export projects with new laws regarding tanker exports and future pipeline projects.
This week, Mr. Wilson was arguing on Twitter that there is no reason why oil and gas workers should not organize a counterprotest to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s rally in Edmonton on Friday. And while he says he’s a frustrated nationalist, some of his tweets dabble in soft Alberta separation rhetoric.
“Separation might have been everyone’s seventh choice," he says. "It’s now second, in a lot of minds.”
Mr. Wilson has a storied history in Calgary’s business community. He co-founded boutique energy investment bank FirstEnergy Capital Corp. in 1993. He’s a part owner of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, and an investor in oil and gas, power generation, cannabis, real estate and restaurants.
His friend Michael Lang describes how some well-heeled Calgarians have got their backs up when Mr. Wilson has insisted that everyone enjoying the eating, drinking and schmoozing at his annual garden parties bring a substantial cheque to benefit causes, including mental health and the United Way.
“Brett is long past the point where he’s worried about offending people for a cause,” says Mr. Lang, chairman of StoneBridge Merchant Capital Corp. “Brett’s heart is always in the right place.”
Mr. Wilson says after almost two decades of managing recurrent prostate cancer, his outlook on life is different than most, and little bothers him. He donates to all of Canada’s political parties so he can get their e-mails. But in this election, he’s backing Andrew Scheer and the third-party groups who support the Conservative Leader, such as Canada Proud.
He notes that "a number of well-known politicians and recognizable people” (who he declines to name) feed him information and opinions, because he can tweet and “add colour.”
“I’m not elected, so I can’t get kicked out. I’m not employed, so no one can fire me,” Mr. Wilson says. “If someone chooses not to do business with me, then go ahead. But you know, the list of those that will do business with me keeps a bunch of people real busy.”
And there’s a marketing method to everything Mr. Wilson does. He says the language he chooses is simply in alignment with the social-media age we all live in. “I’m comfortable in using the f-bomb from time to time. In the context of two identical tweets, one with an f-bomb, one without, the f-bomb goes three times as far.”
But those who take umbrage with his tweets are many. Thomas Lukaszuk, a former provincial Progressive Conservative cabinet minister in Alberta – who is no slouch himself at making waves on Twitter – says Mr. Wilson is emblematic of what happens in an angry, ultrapolarized political environment.
“Brett is that personified,” says Mr. Lukaszuk, who is no longer in government. “How can this person become ‘that person’ in such a short period of time?”
For his part, Mr. Wilson argues that Canada is the best at environmental compliance when compared with other oil-producing countries, yet it faces the most attacks and scrutiny. On that basis, he has had too many clashes with environmentalists or centre-left politicians to list.
But one clear example came last month, when the environmental law group Ecojustice threatened to challenge Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s creation of a public inquiry into the foreign funding of environmental charities on the basis that it could constitute interference in free speech.
In response, Mr. Wilson tweeted that the group should “watch their back.” Some said his words could be construed as a threat.
“I didn’t threaten them with anything,” Mr. Wilson says. “'Watch your back’ is a conventional ‘Be careful.’ ”
Mr. Wilson says his sarcasm is often misinterpreted, and he takes exception to my calling his tweets divisive. “It’s actually the opposite,” he says, arguing that he is helping to bring middle-ground Canadians into the energy debate.
Mr. Wilson says with some pride that his monthly impressions on Twitter have increased tenfold in the past two years, up to 12 million impressions a month. At every Calgary business event he attends, he says people approach him to thank him. People are demoralized, and appreciate the frank language of his pro-Canadian oil and gas tweets.
"Which is why I’m not walking away from it.”