If one didn’t know better, you’d swear Whistler was trolling the good people of Alberta by demanding the oil and gas industry there ship them money to pay for the impacts of climate change.
As publicity stunts go, it certainly received the attention it was designed to create. As word spread that the municipality had sent a letter to Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. requesting that it pay its “fair share” of the town’s costs associated with fighting the impacts of climate change, you could almost see the steam rising from the other side of the Rockies.
Albertans were not amused.
We wouldn’t give the ploy much attention normally, considering the sheer ridiculousness and hypocrisy that surrounds it. Whistler survives on tourism. And those tourists use oil-related products not only to get to the resort community, but to enjoy themselves while there. Also, it’s not like one energy company in Calgary is responsible for all that ails the planet.
But we mention it because of its incendiary effect. You don’t kick a person when they’re down and you don’t send letters that effectively taunt someone you know is already angry.
And the anger in Alberta right now is real – something I don’t think the rest of the country fully comprehends.
The recent drop in the price of oil and the continued failure to build a new pipeline has produced a fresh wave of alienation in Wild Rose country. There are people talking in earnest about separation. One hopes that conversations broaching that subject die down soon, because most know that leaving Canada would come at a terrible economic and social cost to Alberta.
The sense of betrayal inside the province is understandable. Albertans feel they’re being held hostage – or at least their oil is. But some of the overheated rhetoric that is emanating from the province these days is also not helpful, and instead of eliciting the empathy and understanding people there are seeking, it is likely having the opposite effect. The rest of Canada is almost certainly tiring of the whole victim-complex thing that is on display right now.
Currently, the person fronting the Alberta anger machine is W. Brett Wilson, a successful Calgary entrepreneur and former Dragons' Den star. On any given day, Mr. Wilson can be found spouting off on Twitter about the horrible treatment the province is getting from the rest of the country. Environmental activists who have campaigned hard against the Alberta oil industry have, in particular, raised his ire.
In one highly lamentable tweet, Mr. Wilson said of them: “Bastards. Slimy bastards. Hang them for treason.” When someone suggested he shouldn’t joke about executing people over the pipeline dispute, Mr. Wilson doubled down: “I didn’t joke. I was serious about hanging foreign-funded protesters.”
Remarkably, his words were barely condemned inside Alberta. On the contrary, they got him loads of media attention as the anointed voice for those feeling frustrated about the province’s lot in life.
I couldn’t help thinking what the reaction inside Alberta would have been if some high-profile person suggested oil executives be hanged for killing the planet. The fury and nasty headlines that would have provoked. The sense of hurt would have been palpable.
But someone who lives in the province can say it about people who don’t happen to share their love of oil. I honestly thought he’d get called out for that but he wasn’t. And that’s a shame.
None of us knows for sure how this is all going to shake out. I still believe the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will go ahead. But something tells me it won’t stifle the intense sense of grievance inside Alberta. One pipeline won’t be enough. There’ll be cries anew to revive Energy East and Northern Gateway. I doubt there is any appetite for that among a majority of Canadians.
I hope responsible and reasonable people will try to turn down the heat in the dispute playing out in the country right now. Sending deliberately provocative missives intended to raise the ire of Albertans doesn’t help. Nor does talk of hanging people.