If you ever want an Albertan mad at you, mention something about the oil sands they don't like.
Last week, many in the province were setting their hair on fire over a visit by movie-star activist Jane Fonda and later comments by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about Alberta's energy future.
I get the animus Ms. Fonda's visit incited. Albertans are tired of jet-setting do-gooders flying in from their L.A. manses, or whichever homes in whichever countries they might be coming from, to do passovers of the oil sands and proclaim how awful it all is.
Before Ms. Fonda, it was the actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Before Mr. DiCaprio, it was the singer Neil Young. Before Mr. Young, it was the director James Cameron. The script is always the same: Meet with environmental activists and First Nations leaders and decry the violation of the Earth they have witnessed.
"It's like someone took my skin and peeled it off my body over a large surface," Ms. Fonda told reporters, describing the sight she took in.
"It made my body ache to watch it."
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The oil sands make an easy target. The aerial shots are ugly. In a perfect world, they wouldn't exist; it would all be boreal forest. Flyovers would be organized to see marauding herds of caribou instead of eerie images of molasses-like pits of bitumen. In that same utopia, our cars and planes would not be powered by fossil fuels, either. Sadly, we're not there yet.
I'm not sure what those who invite celebrities to Alberta are hoping to achieve. Ms. Fonda arrived at the invitation of Greenpeace. Her prime purpose was to slam Alberta and Ottawa for sanctioning the tragedy unfolding in the province. ("The lesson is we shouldn't be fooled by good-looking Liberals," she said.)
There is never any time for countering views.
NDP Premier Rachel Notley offered to have staff go over her government's climate-action plan, which is historic. But Ms. Fonda was too busy. Anything that disrupts the prevailing narrative isn't welcome. Better to push the same tired script used by her celebrity predecessors.
Ms. Fonda was once a Hollywood powerhouse. Not any more. In this case, I don't think it would matter, anyway. The level of influence celebrities have on policy making is overhyped, and with good reason – the celebrities often make no sense.
Hanoi Jane, as she was once called for her ill-advised trip to North Vietnam in 1972, believes the answer to our climate problem is to halt all oil-sands expansion immediately. Naturally, she doesn't address what should be done about the thousands of people that strategy would throw out of work.
But that's not her worry.
Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, has a much better understanding of the role the oil sands play in the national economy. He appreciates that they must continue to exist while the country pursues other avenues to fight climate change. But he knows, too, that exploiting bitumen deposits is not a forever thing.
His remark at a town-hall meeting last week that the oil sands will need to be phased out one day (likely decades from now) as the province and country transition to a low-carbon economy should not have sparked the outrage and condemnation in Alberta that it did.
The fact is, the Prime Minister is right. There is increasing pressure on all countries to reduce their emission footprints and evolve to a low-carbon future.
It is something wise governments need to be thinking about now, instead of adopting blinkered reliance on one industry in the way Alberta does today with oil. The latest downturn in crude prices should have been all the evidence the province needed of what happens when there is outsized trust on a single resource, the value of which you can't predict.
The fact is, Ms. Notley has said essentially the same thing that Justin Trudeau did, but in a different way. She has talked about the need for the province to wean itself off an industry of which the economic vagaries become more fraught by the year.
Albertans have every right to be annoyed by the Jane Fondas of the world, who really don't have a clue about what they are talking. But there is inherent wisdom and truth in what Justin Trudeau has to say.
Change is coming one day, whether the province wants it or not.