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OMG! Energy industry faces 'existential threat' from Hollywood, 'ever-growing matrix of activists'

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Brad Wall

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Maybe Brad Wall should just calm down. I don't know, take a Valium or something? Pick up his phone messages.

Yesterday, Saskatchewan's still-popular-at-home Saskatchewan Party premier was enjoying the bright lights of Toronto, where he warned a well-heeled audience on Bay Street that if those darned Liberals in Ottawa try to impose a carbon tax, they'd better be ready for a constitutional challenge seeing as they'd be taxing two Saskatchewan Crown corporations and governments can't tax governments.

That's an interesting argument for an old free marketer like Wall, but any old port in a storm, as we used to say in the heady days when I still lived on tidewater, for the man who clearly wishes to be seen as the oil industry's palliest pal on the planet. 

I expect the Trudeau government's lawyers will have four words for him, or for the justices of the Supreme Court, anyway: Peace, Order and Good Government. (Hint: They're in the Constitution, and they mean something more than just a different take on Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.) But I guess we'll have to see about that in the fullness of time.

It's a weird strategy, though, for a guy with only one other item on his to-do list: get those pipelines built. Maybe if Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's approach works out, he hopes he'll be able to grab some of the credit and stake a claim for the efficacy of being disagreeable.

But it seems to me there'd be nothing like a long court case over the first thing to make the second thing as unlikely as possible to get approved in those parts of the country where a little bit of social licence is going to be required to get a pipe laid, even for Wall.

Last week, the increasingly disagreeable Mr. Congeniality of Confederation was in Calgary with the same message, plus more.

During his stopover in Cowtown, Wall told a sympathetic oil and gas crowd that their industry faces big trouble from Hollywood moguls, folks colloquially known as tree huggers, university-educated eggheads, self-righteous churchgoers, unco-operative pension fund managers, and "Grim Leapers."

The latter, by the way, would be author and environmentalist Naomi Klein and her husband, who are supporters of the Leap Manifesto that was controversially approved for discussion by delegates to the NDP's national convention in Edmonton last spring.

The former Cowtown, of course, is known nowadays as Oiltown. Wall took this particular message to a crowd at the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, which purports to represent "Canada's oil and gas entrepreneurs." They met in the Petroleum Club. Readers will get the idea of why this was a simpatico venue for Wall to talk about what he summarized as "an ever-growing matrix of activists."

He also expressed his usual opposition to carbon taxes -- Cough! Cough! -- seeing as one had been passed by Alberta's NDP government, the one that has a different strategy for getting pipelines to seawater than Wall's Harperite approach, just the day before.

Now is not the time for a carbon levy, Wall intoned. (Hint: Never is the time for a carbon tax as far as Wall and his enthusiastic supporters in the Saskatchewan Party of Alberta are concerned. And that’s OK. It's a position you can argue. But they really ought to argue it, instead of pretending they just want to tarry a little until the economy improves.)

Naturally, as premier of a whole province with a population about the same size as Calgary, Wall took the opportunity last week to invite small oil and gas companies to leave Alberta for Saskatchewan, where they won't have a provincial carbon tax to hate. This has sort of become a ritual with the Saskatchewan premier every time he comes to Alberta nowadays, and it ain't real neighbourly.

Anyway, anyone who takes up the offer should be warned that investment is down in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, and it's likely to remain higher in Alberta. The University of Calgary's Trevor Tombe did the warning, and he's an economist. Plus, they'll have a five per cent sales tax to hate in the flat province and nothing much to do on the weekend except carp about how they much miss the opera and the Stampede.

But never mind that just now. Because the biggest news in Wall's Calgary speechifying was that, wait for it, "today there continues an existential threat to this industry." That really got the MSM representatives scribbling in their steno pads and pounding their laptop keyboards.

"That might seem alarmist, or overly dramatic," Wall said accurately. "… Except that it's not,” he went on, rather less so.

"It's posed by some who just aren't comfortable that we have all this oil and what oil might mean," he explained, channeling George W. Bush's why-do-they-hate-us moment. (Possible answer: It's our freedom?) "And it's also posed by some who just want to shut it down completely."

According to the CBC's account of his well-publicized Calgary remarks, Wall said the fossil-fuel industry is losing the battle for public opinion and government policy. This much, at least, seems true, although it's hard to see how he is going to turn that around by blustering about existential threats to a trillion-dollar-plus industry.

Unsurprisingly, this prompted chortles of glee in environmental circles. "And sometimes Brad Wall tells you you're winning," exulted Edmonton-based Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema on his Facebook page. "Amazing work to everyone on the front lines and all those pushing to respect climate science, Indigenous rights, and move to a 100 per cent renewable energy future. #‎Winning."

Indeed, Hudema could thank Wall for that, although, like the Saskatchewan premier, the environmentalist may be overestimating the degree of the movement's success on this file for his own reasons.

Interestingly, there was none of this existential threat talk when Wall took his charm(less) offensive to Toronto.

As to Wall's motivation for his Calgary warning, perhaps he's pondering a run to be premier of Alberta now that Wildrose Leader Brian Jean seems to have shot himself in both feet and his party in all four. After all, surely it would be more fun to be in charge of a province that has two cities as big as the whole province you've got the keys to now!

Still, I thought a guy like Wall would have been opposed to governments "picking winners and losers" for special treatment, especially an industry he'd just officially designated to be a big loser.

Oh well, maybe Wall was so dazzled by bright lights he forgot to check in with the big bosses at CNRL, Suncor, Cenovus and Shell. They're all on side with Alberta's carbon-pricing plan and -- who knows? -- may be with Ottawa's too.

Maybe he should check his Blackberry for messages.

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

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