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Bernard the Roughneck in his own words: Neal Bernard Hancock responds to his critics

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Neal Bernard Hancock

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Tout le monde political Alberta is wondering about "Bernard the Roughneck," the young man in hard hat and boiler suit who appeared on Parliament Hill last Wednesday with what appeared to be streaks of grime on his face to lash the Trudeau Government for, as he put it, listening to the wrong people about the future of Canada's oil patch.

Describing himself as "just an average roughneck," Bernard the Roughneck went on to state: "I'm not a guy from Calgary in a suit. I'm not a guy who's knowledgeable about public policy or the processes that go on in buildings like this. I'm a roughneck…" Mainstream media almost swooned.

Standing with Mark Scholz, media-savvy president of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, a man long associated with Alberta’s Wildrose Party and one of the brains behind the online Oil Respect campaign, and Conservative Lakeland MP Shannon Stubbs, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith's chief of staff from 2010 to 2012 who was about to present a petition demanding Justin Trudeau's Liberals support the oil industry more vigorously, Bernard the Roughneck complained that "people like me who work in the field feel like we don't have a voice."

"The only people who have a say in these issues are not the working class, the average Canadian," he stated on the Hill. "It's the special-interest groups, it's the university professors, it's the people who don’t have a dog in this race that are influencing this public policy."

Naturally, such statements were highly controversial, prompting a vigorous back-and-forth on social media between supporters and detractors of the views expressed by Bernard -- who turns out to be Neal Bernard Hancock, a graduate of Quebec's English-language Bishop's University, from which he has a degree in media and communications, as well as an oil patch worker.

So, how better to cast a little light on these questions than let Hancock speak for himself? Alberta Politics contacted Hancock by email and his answers to some of the questions raised in the social media debate are reproduced below. They have been lightly edited for length, style and clarity. Longer deletions are indicated by ellipses.

Here are Bernard the Roughneck's answers in his own words:

Commentary on social media has indicated you are a resident of Vancouver and that you have a couple of jobs in the Vancouver area. Is this correct?

Bernard: I was born and raised in Vancouver and my family lives there. Attended Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec. But whenever I've rigged, I've resided in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Work for me slowed down starting in October 2015 (we were one of the lucky ones to have lasted that long). By the time January rolled around, I couldn't justify continuing to stay in Grande Prairie so far away from family and friends so I came back to Vancouver. I found a job doing concrete cutting and coring, but I was only getting 30-35 hours a week at $20/hour, living with my parents out in Surrey. Not really practical or a way to get ahead. The only job I could really call a career has been in the oil patch.

Could you tell me the nature of your employment, which has been described only vaguely?

Bernard: I've worked on rigs on and off for years. Over a 10-year period I've worked for many different companies. I've worked on rod rigs, mobile singles, mobile doubles and skid doubles. … People say, "If he has worked for so long on the rigs, how come he is still a roughneck?" Because I usually work for nine months to a year and then I have money to travel, attend school, or I naively think that I could get ahead doing anything else. For me the patch had always been so booming, I could come up to GP and get work and save up for what I needed before leaving. It ain't like this any more. Which is why, right after the National Observer article, my derrick-hand messaged me telling me that our rig has work, and that all the roughnecks they were getting weren't great and I should come back. So I went back right before Labour Day and began rigging again. It's so good to be back.

A mainstream media report indicated that you said you had moved to Alberta to do oil patch work in order to pay off your student loans. What did you study, and at what institution?

Bernard: I attended Bishop's University. Fall 2002-April 2007. I matriculated with a BA in English -- Media and Communications studies, with a double minor in History and Political Studies. After this degree was complete was the first times I started rigging. Then in 2011 I returned to Lennoxville and decided I wanted to make my politics minor a major. This is still not quite complete, three credits from finish, but the course I need only gets offered once a year. Plus I ran out of money for school so I just started auditing classes … Finally in the summer 2014, I could no longer justify being a broke joke, my oil money had dried up even working part time jobs out there, and as well I had dreams of law school in the future and knew I'd need money for that and never wanted to take on student debt again. So I returned after three years away from the patch.

A Maclean's Magazine report about photographer Keith Biggins makes reference to his boyhood friend Neal Hancock. Is this you?

Bernard: Yes. Neal is my first name, Bernard is my middle name. Bernard sounds more earnest, it's more convenient to have a French name in Québec, and lots of people knew me as Bernard, so when I came back to GP in 2014, I went by Bernard as my professional name. …

How did you come to the attention of the CAODC?

I didn't come to their attention. They came to my attention because I really loved the non-partisan, fact-based approach that Mark Scholz and John Bayko (communications director) were advocating. I walked into their fancy office tower in my jean jacket and dirty jeans. … I just touched base, and we continued to do our own thing … but we envision the same outcome, which is responsible energy policy that meets the concerns of all Canadians, not just pundits, professors, politicians or eco radicals. … I gave up after the middle of February to May. I spent the summer off social media. Just sat at home with my parents depressed and hopeless. Then I heard about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain advisory panel to the NEB. There was next to no other supporters at these things, despite the fact that more than half of Canadians have stated they want these things built. … After that … the National Observer did an article. … Right after that came out, first my derrick-hand told me to come back rigging because my rig was going out, and then, right after, John Bayko called me and invited me out to Ottawa to present this petition. … I haven't taken one dime doing this. The CAODC paid for my flight and a hotel room but I took no honorarium or cash and never have. The "I'm with Bernard" T-shirts from The Rebel were sold with the agreement that some of the proceeds would go to Oil People Helping Oil People, a Brooks, Alberta, based charity. The "Bernard the Roughneck" mugs were also created as a fundraising tool for this charity. I don't understand why people find it so unbelievable that lots of roughnecks are articulate and well spoken; and that I do this for free because I care so much about how guys and gals in the oil patch need support from the government at the federal and provincial level. …

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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