How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

How Alberta’s oil industry co-opted Canada

Former Alberta Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft will discuss his new book in Courtenay on Sept. 13, telling the story of how the collision between climate change and the oil industry subverted the democratic process in Canada


Former Alberta Liberal Party leaders and author Kevin Taft will talk about his latest book, “Oil’s Deep State,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 at the Lower Native Sons Hall in Courtenay. The event will be moderated by Campbell River filmmaker and journalist Damien Gillis.

Most Canadians believe — or want to believe — in a direct connection between casting their ballot in provincial and federal elections and the democratic process. We like to think that checking a box every four years or so determines our nation’s policies and our future.

But as Kevin Taft’s new book, “Oil’s Deep State’” reveals this isn’t necessarily so.

There are darker and deeper forces at work that, left unchecked, can have a greater influence over our political, civil service and regulatory institutions at all levels of government.

Taft writes from the perspective of an insider. He was the Alberta Liberal Party leader from 2001 to 2012, and formed the official opposition from 2004 to 2008.

His book tells the story of the collision between global warming and Canada’s oil industry and how democracy got squeezed in the middle.

And more specifically, Taft details how the Alberta NDP party, which was elected in 2015 on promises of challenging the oil industry’s dominance in the province, became the oil sands biggest promoter.

The flip-flop by Alberta’s NDP occured, Taft says, because of the “deep state” created by the powerful oil and gas industry.

Damien Gillis, a Campbell River documentary filmmaker, who will introduce Taft during his book tour stop in Courtenay on Sept. 13, says that a “deep state” occurs when political parties, government agencies, arm’s length regulators and university researchers lose their independence.

Gillis, who also co-founded the Common Sense Canadian with former Social Credit party cabinet minister Rafe Mair, says that Taft’s book charts Alberta politics from premiers Peter Lougheed through Ralph Klein, and exposes how the oil industry has co-opted Alberta’s public institutions into believing its economy is dependent on oil field royalties.

According to Taft, here’s what happened: The world became aware in the 1980s of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming and other climate changes. The oil industry feared its collapse and began a fierce lobbying campaign to save themselves.

Their efforts convinced the Stephen Harper government to pull out of the Kyoto Accord on climate change, and federal scientists were silenced, not unlike how US President Trump is now reshaping that country’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal Liberals and the Alberta NDP joined the oil sands bandwagon. The Alberta energy regulator was an ex oil executive and millions of tax dollars flowed to universities to rebut fossil fuels impact on climate change and create the notion that the province’s economy depended on a healthy oil industry.

In the end, the Canadian oil industry gained virtual oversight of the political mindset in Alberta and in the federal government.

And yet, Taft says, Alberta gets more revenue from gaming and liquor than oil sands revenue.

“Alberta’s oil industry is not indispensable to its or Canada’s economy,” Gillis says. “Just as BC is not dependent on forestry stumpage fees or fishing tonnage fees.”

But the public does have tools to combat a deep state when it forms, according to Gillis.

“Even when when big oil had everything lined up — a Harper majority, BC Liberals, Alberta conservatives — the public has power through the constitution, the courts, grassroots movements and First Nations support,” Gillis said.

Following Taft’s presentation in Courtenay, Gillis will moderate a question and answer period with the author.