MINI-EP: Tom Ross on Kenney’s GND Freakout

Calgary-based 660 CityNews reporter Tom Ross asked Jason Kenney about the Green New Deal, spurring Kenney to have a bit of a meltdown. Tom joins Team Advantage to discuss what prompted him to ask the question, Kenney’s reaction, the state of journalism in Alberta, and what’s important when doing journalism today.

Follow Tom Ross on Twitter @Tommy_Slick and on Instagram @tommy.slick.

A transcript follows the break.

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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. My name is Kate Jacobson, and, today, we’re going to be talking about a very particular question about the Green New Deal. So, on April 24th, Jason Kenney was asked by Calgary-based 660 City News reporter Tom Ross about whether or not a proposal like the Green New Deal would be a good idea. A few days prior to this question, the price of oil had gone negative for the first time in history. Here’s a clip of that particular interaction.

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Tom Ross: With the oil and gas market taking such a hit, when do you start thinking about a full-on transition away from fossil fuels? And, when you’re talking to American representatives, for example, are you talking to anybody who advocates for a Green New Deal?

Jason Kenney: So, when you talk about the Green New Deal, listen — our focus is on getting people back to work in Alberta, not pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes. We are actually not trying to amplify, but to fight back against, the political agenda of the Green Left that has been trying to landlock Alberta energy. So we’re not going to cooperate with the folks that are trying to shut down Canada’s single largest subsector. You’re talking, here — I mean, that kind of question, in the middle of an economic crisis, from a Calgary-based media outlet, really, frankly, throws me for a loop. Sounds like you’re reporting for The Tyee or something. Here’s the reality — so, no. We’re not going to work with the small minority in Congress that wants to pursue the ideological fantasy of shutting down the modern industrial economy. We will continue to support technology that helps us to perform better on an environmental point of view and tell our tremendous story about our environmental, social, and governance performance, but, in that world, 20 years from now, when at least — at least! — 70,000,000 barrels of oil is being produced and consumed, we will be a major part of that supply. We will not abandon global energy markets to some of the world’s worst regimes.

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Kate: We are joined today by the reporter who asked Kenney the question, Tom Ross. Tom — thank you for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage.

Tom: Thanks a lot. It’s a real pleasure.

Kate: So, first of all, thank you for asking that question that day. It was really great to hear a question from the press that addressed the reality of the oil price downturn in Alberta, and, honestly, it was incredibly heartwarming to see Kenney stumble over himself when answering your question.

Tom: [laughs]

Kate: I wanted to ask: where have you heard about the Green New Deal, and why did you think it was relevant to your audience to ask Kenney about it?

Tom: Well, I’m thinking I heard about the Green New Deal pretty much since it got incepted by lots of the American representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders or Ed Markey. So, I’ve been following American politics for a long time — that’s kind of why it popped into my head — and, at that point, like you mentioned, the price of oil was pretty negative, so I always thought it was obvious why it’s relevant in Alberta. The same press conference, Kenney was talking about the appointment of an Alberta representative in Washington, DC, and that’s when it clicked in my head — what if they’re going to be talking to anybody with the Green New Deal, especially if it’s all about energy? But, in Alberta, we’ve got a reliance on one energy source, the money’s not looking good, so I had to ask him: “The oil prices are tumbling due to the pandemic, what are you thinking long-term here?” We’ve got people losing their jobs in Calgary, across the province, and I figure we’ve got to be thinking about the future rather than the past at this point. Now, this has been a topic I’ve always been really interested in, and it just seemed like the perfect timing — it was really prescient at that time, and the whole conference, as well, was about bailing out orphan wells, and my thinking was just, “Well, what if we didn’t have orphan wells to begin with and we didn’t have this huge environmental issue pressing on us?”

Kate: Have any of your peers in the legislative press gallery — or, I guess, the press more generally — asked about things like the Green New Deal or the need for decarbonization or economic transition?

Tom: I can’t think of anything Green-New-Deal-specific. There’s a little bit about renewable resources — I’ve asked Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage about energy transition several times — but the thing is, I’ve never gotten an answer like that, where they just fly off the handle in that kind of way. But, you know, in Calgary and lots of Alberta, there’s big-wig reporters here, and they’re the old guard — they’re only reporting on the older energy systems, they’re kind of toeing the line. And it’s easier to regurgitate the press releases that we get and not really challenge them on anything. I’m thinking it boils down to — for those that don’t ask the questions — they grew up, or are living in, Calgary or other parts of Alberta for most of their life, so — it’s a tough thing to say, but I think they’re sort of brainwashed in some ways, and it’s sacrilege for a lot of people to start going, “What about something different than oil?” So, it’s that issue. I think there’s too many reporters that don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers when it comes to this sort of topic, and I think that’s probably the main reason why we don’t hear a lot about this and why I was thinking, “Hey, maybe I should try something different here.”

Kate: So, the premier’s response was to attempt to shame, or brow-beat, you for asking this question in the first place. Kenney basically implies that a question about such a thing from a Calgary-based outlet is unreasonable or outrageous. Do you think Jason Kenney is trying to discourage you or others from asking further questions about things like the Green New Deal?

Tom: 100%, that’s totally what he’s trying to do. The funny thing in the comment is how he says it sounds like I’m working for The Tyee or something.

Kate: [laughs]

Tom: And that’s hilarious because, in his mind, The Tyee is this horrific outlet that nobody would ever want to work for, but to me, I’m like, “Hey, that’s kind of a compliment.” So it seems like he’s bullying a bit. The funny thing about how he says, in essence, “How dare you ask this question —” the irony is that it’s like Greta Thunberg asking “How dare you” in the face of energy representatives, as well, but it’s for the opposite reason. It seems like he’s trying to discourage people from challenging the narrative. We know a lot of his money comes from that sector — he needs to be behind. Lots of money for media, unfortunately, is generated through oil and gas, through advertising and all that, so it’s something we rely on in the business. And it relates to his McCarthy-ite tactics. He’s implying a sort of evil communist by asking this. And I’m kind of a communist anyways, but, you know —

Kate: [laughs]

Tom: — he thinks that’s a bad thing, that’s the problem.

Kate: For sure. Well, you’re in good company, then. [laughs]

Tom: I figured I would be. [laughs]

Kate: Have you experienced any professional repercussions after asking this question, things like access to government sources, negative feedback from your employer, from your peers in the journalism industry? What has the response been?

Tom: You know, it’s actually been the opposite. I haven’t experienced any repercussions at all. The video got a ton of traction on Twitter (I gained 3500 followers because of it), reporters reached out to me, and they said it was a good question and they kind of criticized Kenney for asking such a thing. Jason Markusoff had a great thread about how it seems like Kenney wants us to be these petro-patriotic type of people, especially in Calgary. So that has been really good. Even my news director complained to Kenney’s press sec, Christine Myatt; he called her up and he was like, “This is unacceptable, to accuse a reporter of this kind of thing —”

Kate: Wow.

Tom: — but she was pretty much nonplussed. She didn’t really say anything about it. She didn’t say “We’re going to apologize,” or “We’re going to follow up on this;” she just kind of blew him off. She was just like, “Eh, okay. Fine. Whatever,” and that was the end of the conversation. So there was nothing in that sense, there was any repercussions. My boss was behind me, all my coworkers were behind me, and — apart from the normal trolls on Twitter — I didn’t hear anything that negative; it’s been mostly positive. And no government issues, either — I think that’s the biggest thing, because I don’t think that the government is that foolish to start banning access, to start blacklisting me because I asked that question. So, that’s been okay. I connect with UCP people quite often, for other stories and other ministries — haven’t had any issues. And I know they know what happened here, so we’re on the same page. But I think it’s going to be longer-term, how it affects things going forward. I haven’t had the chance to ask Kenney any more questions at recent pressers. That’s mostly just because of the nature of the situation now — all of our press conferences are on the phone, so you have to queue up on the phone and get questions that way. You’ve got to be real quick on the draw to get in there. So I just haven’t had a chance to ask him any more questions, but in that sense, even if I did, I don’t think he would do anything negative towards me other than maybe roll his eyes a bit. But I’m ready for that. I try to pick my spots with it, as well. That was the main thing with this whole question, too — it just seemed like the right time to do it, and I was like, “I’ve got to ask this question at this perfect moment,” and it just seemed to generate that kind of reaction. I don’t think it’s going to have any repercussions, but I don’t really care — I’m just focused on getting the current right story out there, the truth out there, and, if it ends up hurting me in the sense that the UCP doesn’t respect me, well, fine. I don’t care.

Kate: I’m glad to hear that there hasn’t been any professional repercussions for you, and I wanted to ask if you have any advice for aspiring reporters or journalists that are listening. What would you tell them?

Tom: I would say to not be okay with the status quo, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinions. The journalism game has changed a lot, recently. I’ve only been doing this for seven, eight years — since I graduated college — but it’s not all that “get both sides” kind of crap. There’s sometimes where one side is objectively wrong, and you need to report it that way. And, if you get too concerned about things like access — like your question there about if I’ve had any repercussions — if you get too concerned with that kind of thing, then you’re just going to end up being a stenographer like Rick Bell or something like that. I’m fortunate that my boss is okay with my pretty outwardly-leftist social media presence — it’s not the same everywhere, in all outlets, but just be comfortable with yourself. You’re going to get into this game, you’re going to be an individual person, so be an individual. You don’t need to be an opinion writer, you don’t need to be one of those people for the Herald or the Sun, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind. You’ve got to demand a bit better from the system; you’ve got to think about the future a little bit. And one thing that British journalist Robert Fisk told me one time — he said, very simply, to me, “Just keep reading. Just read. Pick up a book. It doesn’t have to be about politics or history — preferably something non-fiction, something that helps you learn a bit about the world — and that will help you in your game going forward.” Because the sad thing is how history seems to repeat itself through all of this, right? And if you go in with a bit of background knowledge, then you’re going to have that leg up over some of these people, because these politicians, they can run circles around you. One of the big differences, I think, around Jason Kenney versus somebody like Donald Trump is: Jason Kenney is, unfortunately, a pretty smart guy, and he knows how to work the game a little bit because he’s been in politics for so long, so you need to get ahead of him. You need to read, you need to learn, you need to seek out different sources — don’t just think about the same echo chamber that we have in this province when it comes to Postmedia or something like that. Think of things outside of that spectrum. There’s more than “Oil is good and renewables are a commie scheme.” We need to think a little bit outside the box in this whole thing.

Kate: Absolutely, and I think the message to read is certainly one that we here on The Alberta Advantage can get behind. Thank you so much for joining us today on our podcast. If our listeners want to follow you and your work, where should they look?

Tom: You can follow me on Twitter — it’s @tommy_slick. I also like to plug my Instagram because I do a little bit of photojournalism — it’s just tommy.slick —

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Tom: — and yeah, that’s the best way. If you want to reach out to me or find something about me, that’s where you want to go.

Kate: Awesome. Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage.

Tom: Thank you so much.

Kate: The Alberta Advantage is supported by listeners like you. Independent listener-supported media like this podcast is possible only thanks to the generous support of our listeners. If you think what we do is important, please head over to patreon.com/albertaadvantage and support our work with a monthly donation.

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