Sep 092018

Third, this is not about creating long-term jobs, because pipelines take only a few people to operate and the oil industry is replacing people with technology everywhere it can. Neither is it about economic development: shipping raw material for processing in other countries is the model for colonies, not for fully developed economies.

So why is Rachel Notley throwing the country into political crisis?

The easy answer is that it improves her chances in next year’s election, but that glosses over this much deeper reality: Rachel Notley may be in office but the oil industry is in power. Wherever its interests are concerned the oil industry runs Alberta. To a lesser but significant degree the same thing applies in Ottawa.

Here is what I mean. Governments are made of many parts and in a healthy democracy these parts counterbalance one another. Opposition parties counterbalance governing parties; the courts counterbalance legislatures; regulators counterbalance industries, and so on.

Not so in Alberta, at least not when the interests of the oil industry are at stake. For decades the industry has spent millions of dollars targeting political parties on both sides of the legislature; civil servants; universities; think tanks; regulators; non-profit groups; the media; and more. The industry has formed a state within the state that I call “oil’s deep state.”

The 2016 conviction of Bruce Carson on charges of illegal lobbying relating to the oil industry exposed how oil’s deep state operates. Carson had been a close adviser to prime minister Stephen Harper. Material seized by police and presented in court showed the oil industry’s sweeping strategies and remarkably close relations with political leaders, top federal and provincial civil servants, and universities. In her verdict, the judge found it was “especially egregious” that the public “had no knowledge of what was transpiring behind the scene with ministers, deputy ministers, and other very senior officials in government, both federal and provincial” as the oil industry worked to shape national energy policy to meet its private commercial interest.

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