In late August 2019 at the Calgary Petroleum Club, representatives from Birchcliff Energy and Tourmaline Oil presented a remarkable piece of petro-propaganda to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. It was instantly retweeted by Jason Kenney, stating “Enough is enough. No more apologies. We are proud of Alberta and Canada’s oil and gas.” Join Team Advantage as we watch and analyze this crypto-fascist piece of media!
The ad in question is produced by Canadians for Canada’s Future, and is located here:
For more about this industry front group, check out their website:
Kate: Not only do we have to kiss the ring of oil and gas, but we have to like it.
Kate: Hello, everyone. My name is Kate Jacobson, and you are listening to the Alberta Advantage. Around the table today, we have Joel-
Joel: Hello, hello.
Kate: – Sean-
Kate: – and Tyler.
Tyler: Hi, everyone.
Kate: Today, we are going to be looking at a piece of oil-industry propaganda recently put out by a group called Canadians for Canada’s Future, which was released in late August and was shared by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pretty much immediately after it came out. This video is a really good and terrifying example of what we mean when we talk about living in a petro-state and living with constant propaganda from the oil and gas industry, and honestly, this video is incredibly fucking fascist, so we thought it would be worthwhile to break down the narratives and the imagery that exist in this video, because we believe that they are very much emblematic of a driving force in contemporary Albertan politics.
But before we get into any of that, I would be remiss if I did not remind you that the Alberta Advantage is supported exclusively by listeners like you on patreon.com/albertaadvantage. The folks bringing you this podcast are a loose team of about 12+ people. We work on the mic, and also behind the mic doing research, graphic design, all sorts of things. And we use the money that our patrons give us to buy the equipment that brings this podcast from our minds to your ears, and we also send out fun pins and tote bags and zines and all sorts of other good stuff to our listeners. And I would really encourage you, if you like this podcast, to help support it. We are patreon.com/albertaadvantage.
Now, onwards to the crypto-fascist petro propaganda that we’re here to talk about today.
Sean: One thing I should note, too, is that if you haven’t yet, I really strongly recommend listening to the mini-episode called “Extractive Populism: Wrapping Fossil Fuels in the Canadian Flag.” It’s Kate doing an interview with Professor Shane Gunster that talks about a lot of the same topics that we’re going to be touching on today, so if you want a little bit more background after listening to this episode, strongly recommend that you also listen to that one.
Joel: So this – just to give some context for where this is coming from, this was released, I think, on – so this came out in late August. Jesse Doenz is the group’s spokesperson and cofounder. His day job is being the controller and investor relations manager for Birchcliff Energy. The address for the website and the group listed is also the same address as Birchcliff Energy, and it was presented to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which we refer to fondly as CAPP, by Birchcliff Energy President and CEO A. Jeffery Tonken and Tourmaline Oil President and CEO Mike Rose at the Calgary Petroleum Club on August 26th.
Pretty much as soon as it was presented at the CAPP meeting, it got tweeted by Jason Kenney with his commentary on Twitter: “Enough is enough. No more apologies. We are proud of Alberta and Canada’s oil and gas.”
Kate: So how this episode is going to work is you are going to hear clips that we have pulled from this video, followed by your favorite folks from Team Advantage giving some commentary on it, so if you hear some crypto-fascist petro propaganda, I swear to God, it’s not us. We hate it, and we are showing it to you so we can talk about how much we hate it.
Video: Over the past decade, everyone from foreign-funded protesters to homegrown activists have attempted to landlock our resources while we’ve been busy reducing GHG emissions and maintaining the highest environmental and human rights standards for energy development in the world.
Joel: So the visuals accompanying that were, you know, a sunrise, protesters with signs and megaphones, news headlines reading, “Group takes responsibility for pipeline sabotage,” and another headline reading, “U.S. foundations funding Canadian anti-pipeline protests: fair or foul?” There’s also some footage of industrial facilities in the boreal forest, a worker with a clipboard, embroidered Canadian flag arm patches on overalls.
Kate: I really cannot get over the scoring for this video. It is so dramatic and sinister-
Sean: That cello. It just really goes hard right out the gate, huh? It just starts with the foreign-funded activists and just goes from there.
Tyler: Yeah, the thing that I found really sinister, too, is the way it’s worded, where it says, from foreign-funded protesters to homegrown activists, as if homegrown activists are just something completely beyond the pale and so far beyond even the concept of a foreign-funded activist.
Joel: Can you imagine an activist that was grown here at home?
Sean: The word “homegrown,” too, makes me think of, like, terrorists.
Sean: It’s, like, a terrorist word.
Sean: It’s extremely, like – the connotations of it are extremely sort of violent and radical.
Tyler: Lone-wolf activists.
Sean: Yeah, yeah, stuff like that.
Kate: Well, there absolutely is this criminalization of environmentalism that has been happening for a long time, primarily to Indigenous people and to Indigenous nations who have been defending land and defending water, but that is also being – more and more, as the climate crisis accelerates and as the contradictions of fossil capital accelerate, being extended to wider and wider groups of people and to environmentalism more generally.
Sean: And of course, this is playing off the whole Vivian Krause “U.S. foundations funding” conspiracy theory that has been Jason Kenney’s favorite propaganda tool, and just reinforcing that narrative over and over again.
Tyler: One thing, too, that you can’t tell from audio, but there’s a very distinct scene where it has a close-up of a Canadian flag patch, like, embroidered onto someone’s – presumably – work coveralls, and it’s very “our oil and gas workers are the troops” vibes, and I don’t think that’s an accident. That’s clearly on purpose.
Kate: No, it is the visual symbols of petro-nationalism. Like, that is absolutely what is going on. There is the implication that the oil and gas industry is synonymous with Canada, which is something that people who live in Canada have been ideologically trained throughout their entire lives to take pride in, and it is saying that the oil and gas industry is in some way emblematic of Canada.
And to be fair, I do actually think the oil and gas industry, what with its broken treaties and stolen land and stealing labor from people and just shipping a bunch of money out of the country to super-rich billionaires, is actually incredibly emblematic of Canada, which is basically a cover nation for rich people to do resource extraction, but not, maybe, in the way that this video meant.
Sean: Yeah. I would push back on one thing, in that I think that – you said that Canadians have been trained their entire lives. I would say Albertans have been trained their entire lives. I think the rest of Canada, this is for them, because they haven’t been trained on this stuff yet. Like, the rest of Canada is, like – like, mindset until very recently is very much, like, well, this is Alberta’s problem-
Tyler: Dirty secret.
Sean: Like, they’re keeping all of their, like, the profits and stuff for themselves, and, like, as talked about in the petro-nationalism mini-ep, like, this is part of a concerted effort to extend that Alberta mindset to the rest of Canada so that all of Canada feels very protective and very – all this nationalist pride about the oil industry.
Joel: And I think what’s really interesting in this, like, right out of the gate in this first little, like, line or two of the ad, the energy industry or the fossil fuel industry, very responsible – just doing their best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Protesters – well, they’re all foreign funded, or they’re homegrown activists, or whatever. So immediately it’s like, “We’re the good guys; we’re responsible; we know how to do things. Those other folk are just rabble-rousers,” or whatever.
And that’s really interesting, especially if you consider Birchcliff Energy. They spilled 15,000 liters of crude oil in 2015. You can look that up on the Alberta Energy Regulator website. The reference number is 2015-01-26.
The RCMP, if you recall, dismantled a barricade on unceded territory last year. They were doing so for natural gas. The oil sands activity in northern Alberta has led to higher cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan. That doesn’t seem super responsible to me. It seems may be a bit irresponsible. You know, obviously they’re ignoring all these problems with the industry and depicting all the problems as purely with the protesters.
Kate: Yeah. And the thing is that business as usual with the oil sands is the problem. It’s not that the oil sands are going to get bad or we’re trying to prevent them from getting bad. It’s that things are currently bad. Hellberta is not something that awaits us. It is this life here and now.
Sean: And, like, the most egregious line, I think, is that we’ve been busy reducing greenhouse gas emissions. You’re an oil and gas industry – you literally cause greenhouse gas emissions. That’s your entire existence, is digging up the stuff that causes greenhouse gas emissions. It’s unbelievable.
Kate: Energy from the Albertan oil sands is some of the most energy-intensive oil and gas in the world. It costs more energy to get the oil out of the ground than is actually gained by burning it.
Tyler: As a father, I can speak very clearly to the complete sense of dread that I have daily, and I think people around the country and around the world feel that every day, that we’re seeing our planet kind of slowly dying, and that any time someone tries to do the right thing and stand up for the people in the future, that they’re subjected to ads like this that are basically just calling them scum.
Joel: I think it’s important to note, also, that CAPP – their projections for energy consumption and what’s going to happen to the climate, rely on IEA scenarios which assume 2.8 to 3.3 degrees of … [laughs] of temperature rise-
Tyler: Oh, good God.
Joel: – which is far above the threshold of 2 degrees, and obviously a half-degree beyond the, like, 1.5-degree Paris Agreement. And even 1.5 degrees means 0.4-m sea-level rise; single-digit-percentage species loss for insects, plants, and vertebrates, 3% declining crop yields, 90% declining coral reefs. So if that’s Paris, like, they’re imagining a, like, doubling of the intensity [laughs] of Paris.
Tyler: I hope humans are one of the vertebrates.
Sean: Yeah, that would solve a lot of problems.
Kate: And not even really doubling, because every time you go up-
Joel: Yeah, because it’s exponential.
Kate: – in terms of warming – yeah, there’s these multipliers. This is absolutely exponential.
Sean: Yeah, you have a lot of feedback loops that end up getting triggered by these things, and it just gets worse and worse.
Kate: It’s such a perfect encapsulation of capitalism, is these giant corporations making these projections about how they’re going to make money and just being like, “Oops-a-daisy, maybe the planet will be fried and no one will be able to be alive on it anymore. But if we didn’t do that, it would get in the way of me accumulating profit, and we can’t have that now, can we?” And just such a perfect encapsulation of how capitalism is fundamentally such an irrational and cruel system through which to organize our society.
Joel: Another important fact to remember when we’re listening to this ad is that fossil fuel subsidies to producers total $3.3 billion annually, which amounts to paying polluters $19 a ton to pollute.
Video: We’re working hard to keep this country running, and Canadians in jobs, even as our critics do everything in their power to keep our resources locked away. Today we say: Enough is enough.
Joel: Yeah, enough is enough. So the visuals there were footage of industrial facilities, someone screwing on a drill bit or whatever that is, workers with – a worker with an arc welder, a worker with a clipboard, and then some more Canadian arm patches on coveralls.
Tyler: So one thing I do want to know is – in the production of this video, was how many hours were spent poring over the stickers on all the workers’ helmets to make sure there was nothing untowards being shown on this video.
Sean: No union stickers. Only corporate stickers.
Tyler: Yeah. Yeah, no union would be, I think, low on their priority, you guys. I think there might be much worse stickers.
Sean: They, without a doubt, just gave them a helmet with pre-approved stickers already on it.
Tyler: Oh, for sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Someone rubbed some dirt on it.
Sean: Today we say, enough is enough? They’ve just been – it just implies that, like, they’ve been actually really nice to environmentalists and really, like, supportive, and, like, forgiving until now, and it’s now that they’re actually trying to fight back against their critics, when that’s just – the entire history of the oil sands has just been one giant temper tantrum the entire time.
Kate: I would really like to problematize the idea that the fossil fuel industry keeps this country running, and this is absolutely a key myth of Albertan petro-nationalism, which is the idea that the oil and gas industry is vital to the economy not only of Alberta, but of all of Canada. And the fact of the matter is, the total number of direct oil and gas jobs in Canada is 0.3% of the workforce. Now if you include energy, electricity, and indirect jobs from energy and construction, the total percentage of the workforce Canada-wide is 4.4% of total employment. That’s around 800,000 jobs, and yes, absolutely, that is nothing to sneeze at.
But it’s also worth noting that education jobs is over a million at about 7%. Healthcare and social assistance jobs are two and a half million with around 13% of the workforce, and that is a number that is probably going to increase and grow, because we have an aging population. Manufacturing is around 9%. Construction is almost 8%. Retail is more than direct oil and gas jobs in Canada.
And I think it’s really worth asking the question: Why is an industry that employs so little of the workforce holding our collective futures ransom? And the answer to it – if I may – is that it happens to make a very small group of rich people a hell of a lot of money.
Joel: Thinking about this a little bit, it’s easy to see why the fossil fuel industry is positioning itself as, like, this, like, vital – “We’re the beating heart of Canada.” They’re doing it because in a sane society, if you had an industry that was massively polluting that was contributing to a global ecological crisis and possibly the, like, collapse of any kind of global civilization, you’d say, “Oh, we should probably phase that out pretty quick, because it doesn’t seem really worth it to fry the planet.” So there are very normal reasons why they have to, like – they have to present themselves in this very torqued manner.
Tyler: Yeah, and one thing I think that’s interesting in this video as well, you get tons of shots of blue-collar workers, right? You know – welding, putting on drill bits, whatever the hell.
Joel: But no corporate boardroom, for some reason.
Tyler: Yeah. For some reason, they’re not showing any of the executives, like, on the top floor of the Bow or, you know, at their multimillion-dollar homes playing with their golden retrievers.
Sean: On their lake house with their Jet Ski, yeah.
Tyler: Yeah. And it’s pretty obvious why, right? Like, they want to create this dichotomy, which is, like, you can be with the workers, or you can be with the evil protesters that are trying to take their jobs, whereas the right way to think of it is, the oil and gas workers are workers, and we have to protect all the workers of the world against the small number of oil and gas executives making billions and billions of dollars.
Sean: We’re going to see this over and over again in this video, but one of the main themes here – and one of the main themes of the oil industry’s propaganda in general – is just trying to construct this alternate reality where if we didn’t have the oil and gas industry in Canada, we would all just die. We would – like, the entire country would collapse – especially Alberta, would just implode upon itself. There would be nothing left. It would all just be, like, scorched earth. When that’s not the case, as we’ve just seen.
We, like, went over all those numbers. They’re a very small percentage of the workforce. We give them billions of dollars a year to keep doing what they’re doing, so, like, they’re a massive drain on our, like – like, our economy. They’re not, like, contributing to it. We’re literally paying them to keep doing what they’re doing. But, like, they need to, in order to continue existing without all of us, you know, doing some French-style justice to them, is to ensure that we all think that they are vital. As long as we think that they’re vital, then we’re going to treat them like they’re vital, and they’ve effectively warped reality to suit their needs.
Kate: I also think it’s worth noting that the way blue-collar workers are portrayed in this video is not representative of the people that actually make up the workforce in the oil sands. Yes, oil sands workers are workers, but they are also overwhelmingly white men, and there are a lot of women shown in this video working as blue-collar workers; there are Indigenous people shown in this video working as blue-collar workers.
And while, yes, absolutely, there are women and there are Indigenous people who work in the oil sands, they are a very small fraction of the workplace. They do not receive a lot of the benefits that workers who work in the tar sands receive, and they often face extremely, extremely high levels of sexual violence.
Joel: I do have to agree, however, with the “enough is enough” sentiment: enough of getting subsidies to fry the planet; enough delaying meaningful climate action; enough pulling this shit out of the ground when we’re in an acute climate crisis and we need to be building renewables as fast as we can; pinning themselves as patient and responsible but fed up with, like, the shenanigans of protesters – wow, you know what? I’m kind of fed up with the fact that you knew about climate change in 1977 but didn’t do anything about it and have dragged your feet for as long as possible to keep pumping stuff out of the ground.
Kate: And now we have to live with the consequences of it, and 1977 was, like, literally 17 years before I was born. We could’ve just – we could have literally, like, solved this problem, and I could’ve just been born into a world that was good. It’s something I think about all of the time.
Sean: That’s so depressing.
Tyler: It’s like, which generation gets to be the one that was, like, “Oh, tell me about when we pumped oil out of the ground still, Pop-Pop”? Like, it’s – it could have been our generation.
Kate: I’d also like to point out that the reason there is not enough infrastructure in this country to transport oil is that the Calgary oil patch pitched a collective fit over Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program in 1980, and they literally prevented any kind of national strategy for the next 40 years, and now they are dealing with the consequences of it.
Sean: Yeah, one of the, I think, truly funniest undercurrents of this entire thing is that the oil industry has spent such an extremely long time being like, “Fuck you, fuck you,” to the rest of Canada, and is now like, “Guys, we’re all in this together. We all need to pitch in and save this oil patch that we all love. And should we nationalize it so that we all actually get the benefits for it?”
Tyler: Fuck no.
Joel: No. Just put a lot of Canadian flags on it.
Sean: Yes. We just all have to just pretend that we are all benefiting from it, and that’s good enough.
Video: For too long, we’ve been taken for granted by all too many people who vigorously condemn what we do, while relishing in the fruits of our labor every day of their lives.
Joel: So the visuals for that were obviously you had the soaring music; there was a plane taking off; there was a motorboat doing donuts in water; there was a protester shouting into a megaphone; there was a gas pump being placed into a vehicle; and then a blonde woman with sunglasses sipping a latte while she filled her car with gas. There was a natural gas stove igniting, a thermostat temperature up button being pushed a bunch of times, hands catching hot water in a shower in slow motion, and then people on laptops and phones, and then a car driving.
Kate: This is by far the most dangerous and borderline fascist part of this ad. In fact, borderline fascist is an incredibly generous way of describing it. It is literally saying to fossil fuel-aligned workers, or to workers who believe that their work and their livelihood is in some way aligned with the fossil fuel industry, that their hard work is being preyed upon by parasites, and that is such a classic of fascist ideology, and it is incredibly, incredibly dangerous.
Tyler: Yeah. There’s another really classic trope here, too, that they kind of allude to with the imagery more than what they’re saying, but it’s that, look at all these – look at the fruits of our labor that oil and gas brings to you: lattes, cars, warm water.
Sean: Oh, no, I think that was, like, latte-sipping liberals are not – yeah.
Tyler: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s like, you get to be a latte-sipping liberal because you get to wake up and have a warm shower and drive to a Starbucks and, you know, sip out of a plastic straw, which we don’t even – they don’t even like anymore, and this idea that, “You’re such a fool. You want to change things, but yet everything you touch is made of plastic from oil and gas.”
Sean: Yeah. “Oh – oh, so you want to live in the society that we’ve explicitly engineered so that everyone depends on the energy resource that we create? Well, guess what? You depend on the energy resource that we create.”
Tyler: “You fool.”
Sean: It’s so – it’s so horrifying. And, like, the worst part about all of it is, is that, you know what? The workers are having their labor stolen by a parasite, and it’s called their bosses – not the nebulous, vaguely Semitic hordes that are sucking their lifeblood.
Joel: I want to get to the fascist part of this, which is – to me, is the line, “relishing in the fruits of our labor.” So this really draws from a kind of ideology known as producerism. I’m drawing a lot from Chip Berlet, who wrote a book called “Right-Wing Populism in America.” So producerism usually sets up an idea of makers versus takers, or producers versus parasites. So, you know, it sets up, like, “Some people in society do things and are productive, and others, they just use the stuff, and they’re parasites.” And obviously, I think it’s not difficult to see how that easily lends itself to, like, fascist narratives.
Going on about producerism, though, it describes a worldview in which people in the middle class feel like they are being squeezed from above by crippling taxes, government bureaucracies, and financial elites; while simultaneously being pushed around, robbed, shoved aside, by an underclass of lazy, sinful, and subversive freeloaders. The idea is that unproductive parasites above and below are bleeding the productive middle class dry.
Kate: And this is a way that fascism reconciles one of the key contradictions within its own ideology, which is that, how is it that our enemies are so weak and degenerate and subhuman, but at the same time they are powerful – they spawn international conspiracies; they control the fate and the destiny of entire nation states?
And producerism is a way of reconciling that contradiction, because you have parasitic elites that are on the top of society, and these are parasites that manipulate society, and this is where you get kind of anger at things like internationalists or socialists or Jews. And then you also have an underclass that you feel like is a parasite on your labor, and these are things like the undeserving poor. This is a narrative that is often directed towards black people, communities of color, Indigenous people, as well as the kind of people who are seen to be degenerate as part of your society.
So it’s a very clever way of reconciling this issue, and it’s also worth noting that these are not, like, completely firm lines that are drawn in the sand. This is, like, an ideology that exists in the real world, so it’s very fluid. People move between groups. There are unclear lines dividing them. Somehow everyone is an international elite that is funded by U.S. foundations, but they’re also homegrown protesters who are just being duped by an international conspiracy and don’t know any better.
And you really see, when you do climate justice work in Alberta, the way that both of these narratives will be applied to you simultaneously. Like, somehow I am simultaneously, like, a dumb climate skank who is an agent of George Soros, and I am both things at the same time.
Tyler: Anyone who’s listening to this, especially if you’re in Alberta, this is something you have overheard, like, this week. Like, this – maybe not as explicit as this, but this type of thinking is so common, and just drilled into the fabric of the existence of living here, to most people.
Sean: Yeah. And, like, this attitude that there is this, like, lazy underclass that’s sucking away the resources of society, this is an extremely common ideological point that conservative governments love to make. I mean, it’s the same strategy that’s used to strip people of social benefits – that, like, your taxes are going to keep these lazy people without jobs from starving to death.
Kate: Think about the way conservatives talk about migrants. Like, that is the exact type of rhetoric that is being applied to migrants and refugees by right-wing narratives in this country right now.
Tyler: Or one of the most common things you hear in Alberta, which is, you know, “We’re doing all this hard work, we’re paying all these taxes, and look at Québec – they have free daycare. How unfair is this? These bastards. They’re not pulling the oil up. We’re pulling the oil up, and we don’t even have free daycare!”
Sean: Yeah. I know. Maybe we should think about that.
Kate: And this is also something that is not unfamiliar or unknown to us here in Alberta. So Ralph Klein, when he was the premier of this province, he identified the Liberal federal government in Ottawa as a kind of elite enemy that was causing all these problems in Alberta, but he also was fine targeting what he called “creeps and bums” in Alberta, or he would call LGBTQ people, First Nations, Indigenous leaders, labor leaders, “special-interest groups.”
So very much that same type of dynamic taking place already within Alberta, and to me that demonstrates one of the most dangerous things about this, is that, like, yes, it sucks when these things are applied to specific people; yes, it is bad that Jason Kenney is going out of his way to, like, make Tzeporah Berman and David Suzuki’s lives hell; but these are also very nebulous, fluid, changing ideological constructs that can be applied to many different groups of people, depending on the political climate and depending on which way the winds blow.
Sean: And the result of it is just to try to scare people. It’s to try to convince people that you are under attack – that there’s attackers from outside that are coming in, and even worse, there’s attackers from inside, and maybe even your own neighbors or your family members that are un-Albertan.
And the result of that, then, is that you’re scared, and then any sort of crackdowns or actions that the government takes against these things, or any sorts of handouts or favorable policy they give towards the oil companies, feels more justified, because we need to do these things because we’re under attack, because we’re facing this crisis.
Joel: It is a very paranoid way of thinking, and I think not only does it draw from Ralph Klein, but I think it draws from, like, the whole history of Cold War scaremongering, and it also draws from, like, the weird social credit conspiracy theory stuff that we have a history of in Alberta here.
Video: We’re tired of our natural resources being sold to American customers at bargain prices, and it sickens us to see our strong and free nation buying oil from countries that violate every value Canadians hold dear.
Kate: What the fuck?
Tyler: The language is just getting so gross.
Sean: I am sickened.
Tyler: This makes me want to puke.
Joel: Okay, the imagery was a shot of a worker at a plant; a technical on-screen readout of, like, drilling information; a guy looking at a gas readout go up as he fills up – like, the number is kind of escalating on the readout; office workers in a +15 walkway. A +15 is just sort of like an aboveground walkway in-
Tyler: An aboveground tunnel.
Joel: – in downtown Calgary, so nobody has to actually, like, schlep it on the actual streets.
Sean: Like those hamster tubes that connect.
Kate: We try not to have public space here in Calgary.
Joel: Yeah, it’s corporate hamster – corporate hamster tubes is a perfect way to describe it.
There was a Canadian flag in the snowy Rockies, coinciding with the vocals saying “strong and free nation.” And then there was footage of an oil tanker.
Tyler: Yeah. You know, the thing that really makes me mad about this is the idea of, like, it’s being sold to American customers at bargain prices. And if you do a little bit of research – and James Wilt is a past guest – written about this a lot, and very well – that that is not what’s happening. In fact, like, oftentimes, selling oil and gas to America, one of the main reasons it’s done a lot still is because that is still the place where we can get the best prices for the majority of it, and so this whole concept that keeps getting brought up, especially about the idea of landlocking it – like, we can’t get it out to the ports; we’ve got to ship it to Asia – the thing that when people say that they don’t seem to realize is that the demand for Canadian oil in Asia is not nearly as big as people seem to think it is colloquially.
Kate: You want to know the real reason why no one wants Canadian oil? Because Canadian oil fucking sucks ass. It is a terrible product on the continuum of oil products.
Sean: Yeah, and this is just another one of those reality-warping type of things, where it’s like, “Oh, there’s someone out there who wants to buy our oil.” There’s no one out there who wants to buy our oil. We’re lucky when the U.S. buys our oil, because the only reason they’re buying a bunch of it now is because of all the Venezuelan sanctions, which are contributing to a massive humanitarian crisis, so, like, the only reason we’re even able to sell oil right now is because they’re like, well, you know, we need to punish this ostensibly socialist country, so fine, we’ll buy some of this crappy Canadian oil for a bit.
Joel: I think another thing that’s going on is that a lot of this selling oil to America is, like, oil companies based in Canada selling them to their U.S.-based companies. Like, it’s an oil company selling oil to itself so it can process it somewhere else.
Kate: It’s vertical integration.
Sean: If they don’t want to be doing business exactly how they want to be doing business and how they’ve been doing it for 30 to 40 years, then, like, what is the alternative here? They never talk about what, like, the future is going to look like.
Kate: I mean, we’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but ostensibly, the reason that the oil industry wants the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline built is so we can ship oil to Asia, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of oil that will be shipped to that pipeline if it is ever built – which it fucking won’t be – is going to be taken in tankers down the coast of America, through the Panama Canal, and to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico that are owned by the same companies that do business in Alberta’s tar sands.
Tyler: It’s also very ironic, I think, that they talk about, like, “We’re having to buy oil from Saudi Arabia, and we know how evil they are,” and then, like, what was it? There was a speech that Kenney gave where he called Russians jailing Greenpeace protesters “instructive.” Like, you can’t script this stuff. It just comes out naturally as such bullshit.
Kate: The entire oil sands are premised upon massive violations of human rights. The entirety of Alberta is treaty territory – Treaty 6, 7, and 8 – and every single one of those treaties say settlers can only use parts of the land that go the depth of a plow. Oil in Alberta is not the fucking depth of a plow.
Like, the entire industry is premised upon this incredible injustice and this incredible violation of human rights that continues to create ongoing colonial violence in Alberta. Like, the idea that our oil is somehow ethical is only true if you don’t consider the Indigenous people that currently live in Canada to be people.
Tyler: How many people who watch this ad and say “fuck yeah” are going to tell their pension funds or personal investing gurus not to invest in the Saudi Aramco IPO when that comes out, you know, later this year?
Sean: Oh, yeah. No, it’s … ugh.
Tyler: Yeah. No one – the thing is, no one gives a shit about this stuff. It’s, again, just all surface-level cover to promote our industry. That’s all it is.
Kate: And one of the things I would like to point out is that up until Trump ripped up NAFTA, Canada was stuck with this energy proportionality clause, which meant that Canada literally had to offer a majority of its oil and gas to the United States, even if Canadians were literally freezing in the dark, and of course, nobody wanted to mess with this free market of selling all of our oil to America until, you know, shale oil and fracking started happening again and the U.S. started producing so much that they became this net exporter of oil instead of being a net importer of oil, which is what this entire economic arrangement was premised on. So, literally, capitalism did this. Neoliberalism did this. The free market did this. Opening, like, trade borders – that’s what did this.
Sean: Yeah. Just, like, the whole “there’s not enough pipelines” problem, this is something that is resulting from, explicitly, the actions of the oil companies in pursuit of the highest profit margins over the last few years. Like, the reason we’re in a situation where the U.S. doesn’t want to buy any of our oil and we can’t sell any of it because the U.S. is the only people that we sell oil to is because of how these companies chose to do business and because of policies that they actively fought for. Like, this is the bed that they’ve made for themselves, and now they’re just throwing a tantrum because they don’t want to sleep in it.
Video: It’s time for us to tell our story – a story we can all be proud of, a story that positively impacts millions of lives across our beautiful country: the truth. Global energy needs are increasing every year. The world needs Canadian energy.
Kate: So during this clip, what we’re seeing is a smiling female worker who’s wearing coveralls and a hard hat. We’re seeing rig workers on a worksite. We’re seeing kids wearing baseball hats at a stadium. We’re seeing a worker who appears to be Indigenous in front of equipment on site. It’s worth noting that this plays when the words “we should all be proud of” is saying, so a really heavy-handed bit of social engineering going on there. There are some office workers downtown. There’s a stream in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by forest. There’s a beautiful waterfall; a crowded street; all these, like, skyscrapers being built and traffic and the Calgary downtown at nighttime and pumpjacks in a field.
Tyler: No one wants our dumb-ass energy.
Sean: Yeah, no one wants our dumb-ass oil. It sucks.
Tyler: It’s too fucking expensive. This is the funny thing that, again, never gets discussed, because it is an inconvenient truth for people in the industry, is that our oil is incredibly expensive to produce. When we see companies – like, every single year there’s a major company that sells, and there was two this year – Devon and Shell both sold all their Canadian assets, both to CNRL – or both mostly to CNRL, I believe. There’s a reason that these companies are leaving the second-biggest, or third-biggest, deposit of oil in the world. It’s that they are projecting, in the future, taking a look at where they think the price of oil is going to go and all coming to the same conclusion that if the price of oil goes to where we think it’s going to go, we can’t make any money.
And the last point I want to make on this is that BNP Paribas – that’s the eighth-largest bank in the world – and I’d like to read just a really quick quote here. This is from the head of their global sustainability research unit. He says, “Our analysis leads to a very stark conclusion for the oil industry: for the same capital outlay today, wind and solar energy will already produce much more useful energy for EVs than will oil purchased on the spot market.” He also goes on to say, “These are stunning numbers, and they suggest that the economics of renewables in tandem with EVs are set to become irresistible over the next decade.” And they predict that oil is going to need to fall to $10 per barrel to stay competitive in the long term, and good luck making money on that in Canada.
So this is the other thing that’s really interesting, is the companies in their boardrooms are talking about future scenarios that are very bad for the industry: price needing to drop, like I said, to $10 to remain competitive. But the people who work in the companies – in the offices, on the worksites – are being told that – they’re seeing predictions of 40-year increases in oil demand. So what that’s doing is setting up everyone to have the perfect appetite for these types of ads, to say, “You dumbasses who are protesting don’t understand. It doesn’t matter what you do; oil is going to be purchased until you are dead and in the ground.” And that’s just not the case, because the companies who have the most to lose have figured this out and made their predictions, and they’re bad.
Kate: I’d also like to point out that oil companies don’t care about Alberta, they don’t care about the people living here, and they don’t care about their workers. They could not give a flying fuck about any of those things and any of those people. The moment – the moment – the tar sands stop being profitable, people will leave us high and dry. These companies will just fucking pack up and leave. They are not publicly owned; they are not community owned; they have no obligations to us; they have no responsibilities to us.
They have responsibilities to their shareholders to make profit, and that is what they are going to do. We just happen to live in the place where they want to employ people, because the oil is in the fucking ground here. There is no social contract between corporations and people who work for them.
Joel: This really should be more of an issue that people are thinking about, in particular given the history of, like, natural resource extraction in Canada and how workers get left behind. Think of the cod fisheries. Think of the lumber industry in BC.
Joel: The wheat, yeah. You know, there’s any number of resources that have been, like, big employers historically, and then something happens to the price or to the technology for it and it just disappears. Without any kind of proactive plan for dealing with it, Calgary risks becoming another Detroit.
Kate: As I’ve said, Canada is a resource extraction firm masquerading as a country.
Sean: This is, again, and I really want to emphasize this, like, another example of this reality warping – trying to build this, like, false reality that we all pretend that we live within. Because, yeah, the oil industry is on the back foot. They’re desperate. They’re facing down a future where they’re not profitable and not relevant anymore.
They’re terrified, so they need to start basically strong-arming all of Canada into getting more subsidies, getting more corporate tax breaks. They’re getting more leeway to do whatever they can to make a profit, because right now they’re facing down a future where they do not exist, and they’re doing everything they can to stop that from happening, and everything they can to convince Canadians that is not actually the case – that they are not only going to be around for a long time – later in this ad we’re going to see this laid out extremely explicitly – but that they are needed for us to be around for a very long time.
Video: It needs the most responsibly sourced and safely delivered energy in the world. It drives our economy as much as it drives your car. We create jobs and build schools, playgrounds, and hospitals.
Sean: This is actually the part that makes me the most mad. It makes me feel like I’m going insane, like, hearing this. My brain is just like klaxons firing, how pissed off I am.
Joel: So the visuals for this were very good. You had pipeline construction going on in a forest, a worker with a hard hat and coveralls inspecting a plant with a penlight, a worker cleaning a drill bit off, a male worker with coveralls and goggles and a hard hat greeting and hugging his kids and his wife next to him because they just – because they came to the worksite to just give him a big hug.
Sean: “Oh, I didn’t expect you.”
Joel: There was a shot of downtown Toronto with the CN Tower and then shots of, like, a worker grinding a piece of machinery or something with sparks flying, with a piece of pipe or something; schoolchildren with backpacks running down a hallway joyfully; kids in a playground; nurses and a doctor moving a patient down a hall in a hospital bed.
Kate: So the premise of this section is that jobs and schools and playgrounds and hospitals and all of the things which truly enrich our lives and make our lives what they are and make our communities what they are are the results of the oil and gas industry, and what is so frustrating about this is not just the fact that that is not fucking true, but the fact that these are all things which are brutally sacrificed to ensure that oil companies don’t have to pay taxes and continue to rake in profits for their shareholders and executives. Here in Alberta, public-sector workers are facing pay cuts, and they are facing cuts to the services themselves. We are looking at, in some professions, 9% pay cuts to public-sector workers. Also, oil and gas companies don’t have to pay their fucking taxes.
Sean: Yeah, this is all coming at the same time as a massive corporate tax cut.
Tyler: Yeah, and it’s so funny, too – you can listen to a past episode where we talk about tax havens – that they are beating themselves up about, like, we – and the language is insane. They say, “We create jobs and build schools and playgrounds and hospitals.” They create them? So while they’re saying this, right-
Sean: [whispering] Workers build schools, playgrounds, and hospitals.
Tyler: [laughs] Yeah. So as we know, our taxes go towards building and paying for those things, and the just insane irony here is, all that oil and gas companies and major companies around the world try to do is pay as little tax as humanly possible – move as much of it to a tax shelter as they possibly can, and put politicians in power who will give them the biggest possible tax cut – which they’ve achieved in doing both of those things – and the balls that it takes to say something like that in this ad – just, like, the clenched fists in the studio right now.
Kate: Our healthcare infrastructure is crumbling.
Sean: Because of them.
Kate: Our schools are crumbling. Teachers are underpaid and they are overworked. You know how many healthcare workers in Alberta hospitals right now are shortstaffed? It is un-fucking-believable, the state of our society because of these people and because they hoard wealth.
Sean: They’re fucking vampires. And yet they have the gall to turn around and make some bullshit like this, where they’re like, “Well, actually, if you didn’t have us, you’d all be in the Stone Age still.”
Tyler: As if all the other places on earth that are able to pay for public services-
Sean: Other provinces.
Tyler: – that don’t have oil and gas …?
Kate: More and more, I think that capital is dead labor. That vampire, like, only lives by sucking living labor.
Joel: Damn, that goes hard. Did you write that? This section is just stunning because it presents, like, oil and gas companies as, like, basically having built for and paid for civilization itself.
Sean: As the state. As, like, our god kings.
Video: We support communities, charities, and families. We fuel the arts, technology, renewables, and virtually every other industry.
Joel: Some great visuals there. You had kids with baseball hats in uniforms. It was, in fact, the Okotoks Dawgs.
Sean: No, the Okotoks Dawgs are good. It’s just sad that they’re being used in this way.
Kate: Honestly – I’m going to be honest. As a really big Okotoks Dawgs fan – as a person whose favorite summer activity is going to Seaman Stadium in Okotoks and seeing the fine young men of the Okotoks Dawgs play baseball – this cuts a little bit. This one hurts a little bit.
Joel: There was also a ballet dancer practicing in a ballet hall; an MRI machine scanning a patient lying down; a fisherman on a boat pulling in a net; a farmer fixing a tractor, chatting with we assume is his son.
Sean: The fisherman is, like, damn, there’s nothing in this net, because all the fish in the ocean have died because of global warming. Damn.
So this one really also infuriated me, because oil companies donate to, in quotes, “communities, charities, and families,” for a number of reasons, none of which are out of the kindness of their loving hearts. I mean, the first is that of course by donating to these things, plastering your name all over things like the Okotoks Dawgs stadium or, like, the zoo, or, like, that science center, is that it’s a branding exercise. You get to associate your brand, your oil company brand, with these positive experiences and positive aspects of the community, which ensures a more permissive social license when you turn around and just turn the upper half of Alberta into just, like, a post-apocalyptic videogame.
And then relatedly, this kind of community support works as a kind of, like, soft blackmail to counter-criticism and ensure favorable policy and legislation. So, like, someone could say, how can you criticize Suncor when they donate so much to the Calgary Zoo? Or, you know, if one of these companies has to pay too much in taxes and ends up moving out of the province, then we’ll lose funding for our local stadium or our community center or all these things that we need and rely on to have, like, this active, beating community that we all get to participate and share in. It’s horrifying. It’s a way to make themselves seem permanent, to make themselves seem indispensable, for our society.
Joel: Yeah, so it’s obviously PR, and it’s also a giant tax break, right?
Sean: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Joel: Like, they get to write off their expenses for these charitable donations, which I’m sure is a major perk of doing them.
Tyler: And not only are they giving to charities, they’re giving to foundations and think tanks and PR shops that’s sole purpose is to keep getting conservative governments elected and keep the train rolling, baby.
Kate: All of this is about naturalizing the way our world currently is so that people look around at the way our world is and what its consequences are, and you know what? They might not like them, but people truly believe that there is no other way, that this is the way the world has to exist, and that is incredibly, incredibly ideologically powerful – this idea that the world we live in just exists. It just sprang out of nothing.
And the fact of the matter is that this world doesn’t just exist. It was created, and it was created by specific people in specific times to serve specific purposes. Namely, it was created by the rich to facilitate capital accumulation through things like the disposition of Indigenous people from their land, stealing labor from workers, stealing from our public services by giant corporate tax breaks, et cetera, et cetera. This world was made, and it can be unmade.
Sean: Yeah. This is just classic hegemony building. This is an attempt to be, like, this is normal, this is natural, this is the way it should be, and you just have to live with it. And something I do want to mention is that the whole tactic of, like, “Oh, we support communities, charities, and families,” is, like, maybe we could just support those directly if we took all of the subsidies we’re giving to you and just use those to build all these things so you don’t just take them, turn around, dump this money into, like, community centers or whatever, and then get to write all that off on taxes so that you pay even less taxes. It’s sick. It’s completely top-to-bottom disgusting.
Video: We are here to stay. We will continue to employ millions; feed families; fund infrastructure; pay doctors and teachers; and fill restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels. Canada needs us. The world needs us.
Joel: So some more visuals there. You had a worker grinding at something with sparks flying-
Sean: There’s a lot of that.
Joel: – and a welding mask on, a worker welding, a backyard barbecue family, a child running with a toy plane, a smiling woman downtown, a smiling male office worker downtown, a smiling woman on Calgary’s Peace Bridge. And then you had kids with hockey gear and helmets on, smiling at the camera for a group shot. You had five multiracial kids, arm in arm, giggling, at a coastline. You had-
Tyler: Classic Alberta activity.
Joel: – a female worker with coveralls, sunglasses, and a hard hat, petting her dog.
Tyler: The thing that I find really interesting about this ad is – so whenever there is any protesters or anyone that shows, like, images of what tar sand mining operations look like, everyone’s like, “That’s disgusting. That’s not fair. Like, we’re proud. We have these clean, amazing job sites, and it’s actually very beautiful if you actually came to visit us.” Not a single picture in this ad of any oil actually being produced. No tar sands. No, like, pumps running steam down to the ground to extract oil. Nothing. Because they know it’s fucking shitty.
Kate: Imagine this ad, but instead of the visuals we have described to you, it’s just, like, dead birds in a tailing pond and the giant sulfur pyramid that exists outside Fort McMurray and the man camps and the giant open-pit mining. Like, the oil sands are-
Sean: Shots of bleached coral.
Kate: Like, the oil sands are fucking disgusting. They are awful-looking, and, like, oil sands workers will tell you this to your face if you ask. They will say, like, “Yeah, we didn’t even have fucking bathrooms on our worksite. We had to shit in a trench. Every morning I would wake up and I would stand outside in minus-20 degrees for, like, 45 minutes waiting for the bus while, like, dead birds are littered around me.”
Sean: Jesus Christ.
Tyler: They’re just dropping from the sky on top of my head.
Sean: Well, the best part about all this is the “we are here to stay,” which is, as we’ve covered earlier in this episode, absolutely not true. You are not here to stay. You are actively dying, and you’re trying to convince us all as hard as you can that that is not the case. Oh, God, that – it’s just – they’re just lying to you. They’re just lying to you and hoping that you buy it because it feeds into a narrative that you’re already primed to accept.
Joel: What I find really amazing about the lines in this are, like, “We will continue to employ millions; feed families; fund infrastructure; pay doctors and teachers; fill restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels.” Like, they’re taking responsibility [laughing] for, like-
Kate: Our society.
Joel: Yeah, when did they actually, like, directly pay a doctor or, like, a teacher or, like, do they just send all their employees to a restaurant every day or, like, “You’re getting ordered to the movies today, and you’d better enjoy it.” Like …
Tyler: Like, “Movie day.”
Kate: The idea that, like, you’re sending your, like, kid to elementary school and all their teachers get a paycheck just directly from Suncor. Honestly, and you know what? God forbid, in Jason Kenney’s Alberta.
Sean: Oh, yeah. That’s how it would work.
Tyler: Suncor Elementary School.
Sean: Well, they’re also lying again, because we went over the numbers. They don’t employ millions. They don’t even employ one million. They don’t fund infrastructure. That’s the problem, is they don’t fund their own infrastructure. We have to either build it for them-
Tyler: Or buy a pipeline.
Sean: – or, yeah, it … [sighs] I – I need to calm down. [laughs]
Kate: Yeah, literally, Kinder Morgan was going to not build the pipeline, because it was so unpopular that they lost the social license to build it and they didn’t want to deal with it. And you know what? Maybe they did the fucking math and realized they didn’t really need to twin a 65-year-old leaky pipeline to the coast of British Columbia that badly. And the Government of Canada stepped in to purchase it for them. Jesus Christ.
Joel: There’s almost something spooky about these kind of, like, state functions that the fossil fuel industry is, like, claiming as its own, though.
Tyler: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Joel: And I think it’s-
Joel: Yeah. You know, you hear about industry capture, where, like, an environmental – like, a government regulator will get captured by industry, but this is almost a kind of inversion of that, where, like, the functions of the state itself are, like, being – or, claims are being made upon it by industry as, like, oh, you know, the government doesn’t do things. It’s us, the industry, that actually, like, performs a service.
Tyler: Sick. Really sick.
Video: We are Canadian energy, and we are proud.
Kate: I would actually just love to start out this section by saying that I want to die.
Tyler: Yeah, I pray for death.
Joel: I don’t necessarily pray for my own death, but I’m going to leave it there.
Joel: It’s so cheesy. It really reminds me of, like, the super-patriotic, like, ads you’ll see, like, on network television for the Olympics or something.
Or, sorry, I should describe the visuals for the last little bit. Workers from all of the previous scenes assemble in a montage, and the camera zooms out. The Canadian flag is superimposed over their faces.
Sean: Come in, guys. All of my favorite workers come in for the huge montage.
Kate: And then, like, “O Canada” starts playing. Uhh …
Tyler: And just the most saccharine, slowed-down – ugh, it’s just disgusting.
Sean: Yeah, so they say, “Canada needs us; the world needs us.” You’re literally destroying the planet. You’re the worst thing on the planet. You’re burning it all for profit. We need you like we need a hole in the goddamn head.
Kate: One of the last things I really want to drill down about this ad is that this type of stuff is common: this rhetoric is common; this imagery is common; these arguments are common. This is just the latest, maybe most slickly designed version of what is an incredibly popular sentiment in Alberta. There are a lot of people here who really believe this stuff, and it is super tempting to dismiss it as astroturfing, because there is huge buy-in from very powerful, very right-wing, very rich actors, but it is a very deep form of astroturfing, and there are a lot of people in this province right now who really, truly believe the underlying assumptions of this video.
And the other thing I think is really important to emphasize here is that this is an incredibly dense piece of ideology. Like, this was a two-minute-and-20-second video, and look at how long this podcast is. Like, it is so dense that it took us all quite a lot of work to actually unpack the ideological formation that was going on here, so you can only imagine what this type of propaganda is doing to the general population of Alberta, who is primed to accept these type of arguments and who is not going to be sitting down and thinking about it for hours and deeply interrogating what it means and where these narratives come from. So this type of propaganda really, really does work.
And to end out this episode of the Alberta Advantage, I thought we would all go around the table and say what our just favorite parts of this piece of crypto-fascist petro propaganda was. Joel, do you want to start us off?
Joel: Absolutely. My favorite part was towards the beginning. It’s when the voiceover is saying, like, “For too long, we’ve been taken for granted,” and then there’s just, like, a scene of, like, a motorboat doing donuts in the water. It was just very funny to me, because it’s, like, an incredibly, like, wasteful activity, and, like, people in Alberta generally don’t own boats, and so I was just like, what is this?
Tyler: I really love to think of an oil and gas executive just riding around on his Sea-Doo, watching this commercial on his phone as he’s driving, hitting a humpback whale, and, like, getting his head stuck in his blowhole.
Sean: And dying instantly.
Tyler: And dying instantly.
Sean: [laughs] I think my favorite part was a tie between the “we’re here to stay,” which, as we discussed, is hilarious, because they’re not, and the “tired of our natural resources being sold to American customers at bargain prices,” when, like, those are the only people who are buying our stupid oil, you dipshits. And that’s the way you like it. You’re just complaining now because they don’t want it anymore.
I guess my favorite parts are the parts that make me the most mad, because they’re just lying to us, so that’s where I’m at right now.
Tyler: I don’t like to pick the mad parts. I like to pick the parts that are going to drill into my brain, and instead of imagining, like, what my grandfather’s face looked like, I’m going to remember that oil and gas companies fill restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels. That’s going to be, like, the last thing I think about before I die.
Tyler: When I go to see the “Joker” in IMAX, I’m going to be thinking, like, thank you, Suncor. Thank you for this opportunity.
Sean: Yeah. Without Suncor, no one would go to movies, and they would just die. Hollywood would be over, so think about that next time you criticize the oil industry.
Kate: So I think my favorite part of this is the bit where the latte – the literal latte- sipping liberal is filling up her car while the voiceover talks about how people are “relishing in the fruits of our labor every day of their lives,” because as an urban, cosmopolitan intellectual, I feel that I really relate with the latte-sipping liberal of this video.
Tyler: Mm-hmm. Of course.
Kate: Thank you for tuning into this episode of the Alberta Advantage. Stay safe out there, Hellberta. Take care, and goodbye.
Kate: The Alberta Advantage is part of a loose affiliation of left-wing podcasts hosted by the bilingual journalism collective Ricochet, who you can find at ricochet.media.
Our podcast is primarily supported through Patreon by listeners like you. We use the money for equipment and other semiserious pursuits, and as a thank you, we send out fun packages with grain-elevator-theme stickers and weird tote bags a couple times a year. You can support us at patreon.com/albertaadvantage.
Thanks so much for listening, and take care out there. [end]