History repeats itself, Karl Marx famously observed, first as tragedy, second as farce.
Well, not always. Alberta's notorious energy war room, fortunately, seems to have skipped the tragedy phase and moved directly to farce.
With the war room staff's unintentionally hilarious decision last week to launch a petition attacking a Netflix cartoon movie called Bigfoot Family on the grounds it "peddles lies about the energy sector," we can safely assume the farce is about to go global.
It's fun but not very difficult to imagine what the international media will make of the war room's screechy website headline about the cartoon: "TELL THE TRUTH NETFLIX!"
The war room huffs on its petition form that the popular kids' movie "even shows oil being extracted by blowing up a valley using glowing red bombs that look like something out of an action movie." (Never mind that once upon a time there was an actual plan to use 100 nuclear bombs to extract oil from bitumen in, of all places … Alberta!)
As of Saturday night, only about 2,000 folks with time on their hands and nothing better to read had signed the war room's petition, not a good result for an outfit that has a budget of almost $30 million a year. Hopefully, none of their personal information will end up in the hands of UCP fundraisers.
We already know the war room's efforts have passed the Beaverton test on the northern side of the world's longest semi-closed border. "Alberta's war room counters 'Bigfoot Family' with $50-million production of 'Peter the Pipeline,'" the Canadian news satire site joked.
"With a little help from Larry the Lobbyist and Oily McGrath, a woodland duck covered in tar, Peter the Pipeline sets out on an adventure of a lifetime full of helping strangers liberate themselves from environmental regulations and opposing carbon taxes," the Beaverton quipped on.
If you count the efforts of the almost totally secret "Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns," Alberta's war room efforts have already gone international.
Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan's bizarre decision last year to pay a PhD historian employed in the United Kingdom as a home-school teacher $27,847 to write a 133-page screed claiming there's a conspiracy by a "transnational progressive movement" including environmental journalists to overthrow modern western industrial capitalism has already attracted critical news coverage abroad.
"The party controlling Alberta's provincial government in Canada paid thousands of dollars to slander environment journalists as part of a multi-million dollar investigation going after environmentalists," New York-based Vice Magazine reported.
That in turn was picked up by the highly respectable USA Today newspaper, which headlined its piece, *"Biden takes aim at fossil fuels, while Alberta, Canada, takes aim at journalists."
This wasn't what we expected when Jason Kenney vowed at the founding convention of the United Conservative Party in 2018 that he would establish a "fully staffed rapid response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world-class energy industry."
Indeed, there was a certain amount of hand-wringing once Kenney was elected and had set up the multi-million-dollar operation, officially christening it Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. There was a not-unreasonable assumption the outfit would soon be bigfooting around the province bullying the government's enemies.
Instead it has turned out to be an unrelenting gong show.
Tom Olsen, Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach's former communications guy and an unsuccessful UPC candidate in 2019, was put in charge.
Up to then, the former Calgary Herald journalist was best known for his defence in 2009 of the use of a photo of an English beach in a government of Alberta advertising campaign branding the province as a great place to visit and do business.
"There's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta," Olsen insisted. "That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do." Former NDP leader Brian Mason called this the "most lame spin ever." The photo was later quietly removed.
Since the beginning, the story of the war room has been a series of pratfalls, including a logo that turned out to be another company's trademarked symbol, replaced by a new logo that was also someone else's intellectual property, plus an effort to smear The New York Times for a story about how financial institutions were discouraging investment in Alberta's oilsands by accusing the newspaper of antisemitism.
One wonders what the war room will do when it learns about Tin Star, the British TV crime series about a London cop transplanted to the Canadian Rockies who ends up doing battle with an evil oil company that dominates the company town where he's chief of police?
Brace yourself, Acorn TV, for cranky emails from a small number of riled-up Albertans who have never seen the show about your portrayal of our fossil fuel industry.
Please don't be mean and remind them that the series was filmed in Alberta with the encouragement of the local government. It's all about lives and livelihoods, ya know.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: nWave Pictures
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