Canadian Oil: Up Your Game!
I remember when Premier Ed Stelmach suddenly issued the Our Fair Share report. This announcement increased oil royalty rates by 20% and sent a shockwave throughout Alberta’s oil industry.
Banker’s Hall in downtown Calgary had dazed and confused oil executives pouring out the doors on their way home. They simply couldn’t understand why Stelmach would do such a thing. The shock was palpable in the days that followed. Online, on television and in partly overheard conversations on the street, people couldn’t contain their surprise. I was surprised that these industry types were so surprised. Had they not followed the ever escalating rhetoric in the media? Had they been unaware of the constant drumbeat of anti-development forces in the public sphere? Had they not heard of Stephen Dion, Al Gore and David Suzuki? Why don’t they...you know...get it?
One media personality theorized that high ranking oil folks are insulated from the pulse of mainstream culture. They sit around the Petroleum Club in their leather chairs while drinking scotch and making deals. They’re not engaged in the world outside their own experience and the reason they’re not engaged is because they don’t have to be. They can comfortably exist in their high society bubble.
Bubbles pop and Ed Stelmach popped a big one.
In the years that followed, the royalty structure basically went back to normal and Ed Stelmach was turfed, but some lessons that the oil industry should have learned...weren’t learned. Today we see the same sort of dynamic oppositional forces coming out against pipelines. The Northern Gateway project is the latest target for leftist fury and it looks like even though it’s been approved, it’ll probably never see the light of day.
It’s time for the energy industry in Canada to step it up a notch and put on the brass knuckles and start facing the fact that enemies are at the gates. Three lessons need to be taken to heart by those in the industry.
Lesson #1 - Your most vocal critics hate everything about you and everything you do.
Many in the oil industry seem to get caught up in managing projects and negotiating deals. They’re smart enough to understand that everyone wants a piece of the money pie and lot’s of people have vested interests that need to be addressed. What they fail to understand is the ideology of the confirmed leftist.
The confirmed leftist isn’t interested in compromise and negotiation. They aren’t interested in playing hardball in order to get more money out of a deal. They aren’t interested in reasonable compromise for the betterment of everyone.
They simply want to destroy you.
Have you seen The Dark Knight? It’s the 2008 Batman film featuring Heath Ledger as The Joker. Batman spends three-quarters of the movie trying to figure out what the Joker’s plan is. He struggles to piece things together, but he’s always one step behind. Finally, Alfred explains it to him. The Joker doesn’t have a plan.
“...some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” - Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight
Yes...enviro-zealots are bat-shit crazy. They are the Jokers of politics.
The chess playing Machiavellian characters that stand to cash in on gumming up the oilsands development are vastly outnumbered by the sad, true believing useful idiots of the environmental movement that are driving a lot of the publicity problems. Appealing to the reason of the former isn’t going to stop the zealotry of the latter.
Lesson #2 - Playing inside the eco-Marxist frame will only cause you to lose slower.
Rex Murphy did an excellent speech about avoiding the trap of listening to your critics. What he tapped into was an ancient cultural ideology known as The Evil Eye. The Evil Eye is the symbolic representation of ‘The Fear of Envy’ amongst groups of people. This fear of envy holds back success in a society, because those who aspire to something greater are afraid they will be punished by those who envy them.
What do I mean?
Dr. Jack Wheeler was an adventurer and activist conservative. He spent a lot of time exploring primitive cultures and recognized the threat of The Evil Eye as the largest impediment to a culture moving forward. Dr. Wheeler has done a lot of travelling to primitive places around the world and he’s interacted with tribes that have achieved little development. He noticed that these tribes often displayed the psychology of this ‘Evil Eye’ fear. One example he noted, occurred when a woman gave birth to her baby. She would leave her hut with her baby in her arms and cry and lament that the baby was ugly and unhealthy and not what she was hoping for. She’d wander around the camp disparaging her baby in front of everyone while they all awkwardly consoled her. Dr. Wheeler quickly realized that there was nothing wrong with the child.
So why did she do all this?
She did this in order to prevent others in the tribe from being envious towards her baby. If she talked her baby down and disparaged it in front of everyone, then the value of it is worthless in their eyes...and why kidnap or feel jealous of a worthless baby?
This sort of mentality writ large across an entire culture leads to a sick, defeatist cycle of ‘envy and fear of envy’ that leaves everything in a state of arrested development. This is the sort of doomed ideology that permeates the leftist mindset. One would think oil companies would be immune to such nonsense, but when they attempt to play the game within the rules decreed by their haters, they submit themselves to the same type of defeatist attitude and they end up making things worse. Apologizing for the oil industry and always trying to explain away the evil, using the terms of your critics, is counter-productive.
Your opponents aren’t to be placated with compromise and capitulation. They’re to be crushed and steamrolled in the name of building civilization.
Lesson #3 - Get involved in the cultural spaces of society...or else.
Part of the reason everyone was so shocked that Ed Stelmach raised royalty rates was that they were out of touch with what was happening in mainstream culture. A lot of money and effort was spent training people to hate big oil companies. Advertisements ran on television, news stories were being told without input from oil industry spokespeople, art was being created that portrayed oil as evil, and the internet was spamming people with anti-oilsands propaganda. This all created a snowball effect in which Ed Stelmach decided to respond with anti-oil policy. He may not have done this, if he wasn’t surrounded by a team of people who were hearing these commotions on a daily basis. They were political opportunists who felt they could score points by siding with the enviro-zealots.
Stelmach’s biggest fault was listening to his entourage, who in turn were listening to the haters. If he had held the line the way Ralph Klein had and simply stated that he didn’t give a “tinker’s damn” about royalty changes, we’d all be better off. The new Stelmach entourage felt the need to respond to the times and gouge the oil industry.
The blame lies not with Stelmach or the entourage or the haters...the blame lies with the oil industry. If you’re going to get attacked and you do nothing to defend yourself, then the consequences are on you. Big oil in Alberta should’ve cared more and got more involved in other spheres of public life. When your company starts making billions you need to expand your empire. It’s not just about digging out oil anymore. The Evil Eye will come for you and you better be ready. Alberta’s oil industry was not ready...it was actively unready and smirking about it. Then Stelmach happened.
So what is to be done?
My answer comes in the form of a little known 1972 manifesto known as The Powell Memorandum.
“We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” - Lewis Powell (The Powell Memorandum)
Lewis Powell delivered his manifesto to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shortly before he was appointed to the Supreme Court. The document made the rounds in business circles and influenced how businesses operated in the United States. He implored corporate America to become more involved in the culture of the nation and act as a bulwark against the rising tide of socialism. His recipe for action included; starting right-wing think tanks, funding scholarships, vetting textbooks and becoming more involved with education, starting radio stations, publishing novels, advertising campaigns, lobbying efforts, political financing, and public relations.
Throughout the 1970’s, this conservative cultural movement began to grow and culminated with the Reagan revolution in 1980. By the time Fox News was launched in the United States in 1996, there was no doubt that the promotion and progression of conservatism had succeeded in changing the course of American culture.
In 2003, on the eve of the merger between the PC and Canadian Alliance parties, a well received book called, Rescuing Canada's Right was published. In the book, the two authors advocated for a Canadian version of The Powell Memorandum. They must have made a good case, because most of what they advocated has arrived on the Canadian scene. As a result, Canada is a far more “conservative friendly” society today than it was ten years ago.
Now is the time for the oil industry to follow suit. No more sitting on the sidelines. No more humble smiling while taking obnoxious abuse from hypocrites funded by railway billionaires. No more feeble green-schtick designed to show that you’re bad, but not THAT bad. No more ineffective nice-guy CAPP press releases that nobody reads.
If you want to effect change, then put on the brass knuckles and get out the cheque books. Start doing the stuff that American capitalists did in the 70’s and that Canadian conservatives did ten years ago. Broaden the approach by instituting Koch brother-style empire building. Tackle cultural success the same way you go after oil in the ground and you’ll be able to secure more of the latter due to the former. It’s going to take more than a pre-show movie theatre infomercial showing smiling dudes in hard hats working happily in a forest where oil activity was once done or something. If you still don’t realize this, then don’t be surprized if the inability to build the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines is only the beginning of your troubles.