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Canadian journalists say Trudeau gov’t payouts are hurting mainstream media credibility

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5 minute read

From LifeSiteNews

By Clare Marie Merkowsky

“Canadian media does need to be saved, that is very true,” said Henley. “My message is simple. The government cannot save us. We have to save ourselves.”  

Legacy media journalists in Canada have pointed to government subsidies as one of the key reasons Canadians have lost trust in the industry.

On February 27, mainstream media journalists told the House of Commons heritage committee that ongoing media subsidies from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government have only damaged newsrooms’ credibility in the eyes of Canadians, according to information obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.   

“Legacy and new media lobbying for government money and accepting it does little to enhance confidence in their independence or reliability,” former Conservative MP and 1988 chair of the Commons communications committee John Gormley testified. 

“Does government funding pay for better journalism? Does it restore credibility and trust?” he questioned.  

“I don’t necessarily accept the supposition Canadian media is in trouble because it is underfunded by government,” he responded. “The government has nothing to do with this.” 

Similarly, Tara Henley, a Toronto author and host of the Lean Out podcast on current affairs, argued that the government subsidizes have led to a loss of integrity for mainstream media outlets.  

“Any funding from the government that flows to media at this point would hinder our attempts to rebuild trust,” she said. “There is evidence to suggest subsidies have created an environment in which segments of the public believe media has been bought off.” 

“Without trust we have no audience,” Henley stated. “Without an audience we have no revenue. Without revenue we have no path forward.” 

“Canadian media does need to be saved, that is very true,” said Henley. “My message is simple. The government cannot save us. We have to save ourselves.”  

Mainstream Canadian media had already received massive federal payouts, but they have nearly doubled after Trudeau announced increased subsidies for legacy media outlets ahead of the 2025 election. The subsidies are expected to cost taxpayers $129 million over the next five years. 

Many have accused the mainstream media of becoming nothing more than a propaganda mouthpiece for the Liberal government as their financial futures are seen as dependent upon continued public funding. 

Recent polling found that only one-third of Canadians consider mainstream media trustworthy and balanced.  

Similarly, a recent study by Canada’s Public Health Agency revealed that less than a third of Canadians displayed “high trust” in the federal government, with “large media organizations” as well as celebrities getting even lower scores. 

Large mainstream media outlets and “journalists” working for them scored a “high trust” rating of only 18%. That was followed by only 12% of people saying they trusted “ordinary people,” with celebrities receiving only an 8% “trust” rating. 

In direct opposition to Trudeau’s stance, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre has repeatedly announced that his government would not support state-funded media. 

In April, Poilievre labeled the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) a “biased propaganda arm of the Liberal Party and frankly negatively affects all media.”  

“For example, Canadian Press is negatively affected by the fact that you have to report favorably on the CBC if you want to keep your number one, taxpayer-funded client happy,” he said. 

“We need a neutral and free media, not a propaganda arm for the Liberal Party… When I am prime minister, we are going to have a free press where every day Canadians decide what they think rather than having Liberal propaganda jammed down their throats.” 

Poilievre added that if he becomes prime minister he will cut “corporate welfare,” including money to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which currently receives over a billion dollars a year in taxpayer funds.

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Addictions

Alberta and opioids III: You can’t always just stop

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Monty Ghosh at Highlevel Diner, May 30.                                                                            Photo: Paul Wells

This is the concluding installment in a series on drugs in Alberta. Previously:

i. “Worse Than I’ve Ever Seen,” June 4

ii. “Alberta’s System Builder,” June 7


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A matter of expectations

Street family

My tour guide for much of my visit to Edmonton was Dr. Monty Ghosh, a clinician who’s on faculty at the University of Calgary and the University of Edmonton. He seems to talk to everybody who works with substance users in Alberta, from his own patients to front-line clinicians to the Alberta government. His relations with the latter go up and down, but he urged me to talk to Marshall Smith, the chief of staff to premier Danielle Smith.

On my first night in Edmonton Ghosh walked me around a neighbourhood that included the George Spady Society  supervised-consumption site, the Hope Mission’s Herb Jamieson Centre, and the Royal Alexandra Hospital, which has a supervised-consumption service on its premises.

A lot of people use the services these places provide. Other people don’t. Shelters in particular are tricky: they’re usually for single people who arrive alone. “The Hope, the Herb, the Navigation Centre, offering the world,” one Edmonton Police Service officer told me. “But all these places have one thing in common: rules.” If you have a spouse or a pet, you want to keep your drug supply or you want to stay close to your “street family” — the community spirit in neighbourhoods like this is striking, and might be surprising to people who prefer to stay away — a shelter’s probably not for you.

Several of the places we visited weren’t ready to welcome us when we showed up unannounced. To say the least, they’re busy. That was the case at Radius Community Health and Healing, an institutional building in a more residential part of the neighbourhood. Radius is a drop-in clinic and, as we’ll see, quite a bit more.

On a sunny weekday afternoon, more than a dozen people stood, sat or lay on the building’s front steps and truncated lawn. One lay on his back, shirtless, not moving visibly. Ghosh asked the man whether he was all right, asked again, finally nudged him. The man stirred, looked around. Ghosh apologized mildly for bothering him, then checked in on two other people who also weren’t moving. They turned out to be all right too.

Francesco Mosaico, Radius’s medical director, was on his way home for the day when we arrived, but we made plans to talk the next day. When I returned, I met Mosaico and Radius’s executive director, Tricia Smith, in her office.

I think it’s important to hear them out, because when drug use becomes the object of political debate, it’s natural to talk as though policy decisions are the main thing keeping people from getting well. This can lead to a lot of blame on one hand, and to excessive optimism on the other. In fact the biggest thing that keeps people from getting well is often the entire sum of their lives until now, compounded by the influence of drugs that are more potent than anything earlier generations had to deal with.


The most complex patients

Radius offers primary care to people “experiencing multiple barriers,” Smith said. That can include homelessness, addiction, severe mental health problems, criminal records. The centre’s team includes 12 family physicians and three psychiatrists. They currently see about 3,000 patients.

Radius has Western Canada’s only non-profit dental clinic. The centre runs a respite program for people who are not sick enough to be in acute care but are too sick to be managing independently on their own. It has a program for pregnant women experiencing homelessness. It runs on a harm-reduction model, so they don’t need to be drug-free to go into the program. It has an interdisciplinary Assertive Community Treatment team to help people with mental-health and substance problems find and stay in market apartments, with frequent assistance. There’s a supervised consumption site in the basement.

“In fact,” Smith said, “we actually have an exemption from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta to filter out and keep the most complex patients. The least complex, we refer elsewhere.” I couldn’t get care in Radius if I tried; they’d politely refer me elsewhere. They’re for the people who need the most help.

After my visit, Smith wrote to me to add another program to the list: Kindred House, which for more than 25 yearss has supported women and Trans women sex workers. “The women we see are from age 18 to 50, predominantly Indigenous, have intergenerational trauma, past/current trauma, substance use issues, often houseless or couch surfing,” Smith wrote.

Smith has been at Radius for three and a half years. While I was there, I asked her how work at Radius is going. “It’s going fabulously, honestly,” she said. She arrived early in the COVID pandemic, after eight years in Alberta government departments — which in turn followed 20 years as a Canadian Forces army nurse, including in combat zones. “I’m in the right place,” she said of Radius. “It felt like coming home.”

How come? “The staff, the team, the work, the dedication. It just feels like family. I missed that. Being in the military was a big thing. This work that this group does is just really amazing. The team is amazing and it’s hard, but it’s good work.”

And how’s the workload evolving? “Unfortunately, for this population, the struggles are only increasing, and the number of individuals that are experiencing those challenges is not getting less,” she said. “The workload isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting more difficult.”

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“Especially in the last couple years, I don’t think things have ever been worse for the vulnerable population,” Mosaico, Radius’s medical director, added. The same housing crunch that has made homes less affordable for everyone has put thousands of the most vulnerable on the street. Results: more frequent frostbite or burns from lamps lit to keep from freezing. Body lice. Trauma from watching friends die. And to Mosaico’s astonishment, frequent shigella outbreaks.

“Shigella’s a bacteria that causes torrential bloody diarrhea. It can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics. But if you’re homeless and you don’t have a place to take care of yourself… 70 percent of the cases have had to be hospitalized in the last two years…. I mean, they’re talking about potentially calling it an endemic disease, and it’s a disease of destitution. You see it in refugee camps in developing countries, not in the capital of Alberta, you know?”

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Ten thousand times deadlier

Radius also works closely with the Alberta government to integrate its services with the “recovery-oriented system of care” that I told you about last week. There are two Radius staffers working at the Integrated Care Centre the police set up to replace the old, passive holding cells for overnight detention. There are two more at the Navigation Centre, which steers people toward social and government services. If there’s an Alberta model, they’re part of it. So I was fascinated by the response when I asked my hosts the basic question that sent me to Alberta: Why are so many people dying?

“I think it’s the nature of the drugs,” Mosaico said. “You know, people used to overdose and die. But I’ve been here 17 years. I think in the first 10 or 11 years it wasn’t very common to hear about overdoses by opioids. Every once in a while you’d hear about it, but it wasn’t a daily thing. Whereas now with fentanyl and carfentanil, it’s really dangerous.”

Carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine, 100 times more than fentanyl. The Edmonton Police won’t return stolen cars they recover until they’ve scrubbed them thoroughly, because even trace amounts of these drugs are too dangerous. “We’re finding clients who use methamphetamines and swear up and down they’re not taking opioids,” Mosaico said. “And then we do urine tests and it’s there. We think their dealers are lacing methamphetamine with fentanyl because it increases the addiction.”

The other big thing on his mind, Mosaico said, is that any program to guide users into recovery will bump up against the fact that different people have often lived starkly different lives.


93% 4+

“I don’t know if you’re familiar with Adverse Childhood Experiences — the ACEs study,” Mosaico said. I was, barely, but I needed a refresher.

The original study began in 1985 in San Diego, under Vincent Felitti, who ran an obesity clinic, and Rob Anda from the Centres for Disease Control. (If you want to learn more about the study, this article and this speech on Youtube are good places to start.)

“They surveyed 17,000 people,” Mosaico said. “They found, you know, if people had developmental trauma — so, trauma between the ages of 0 and 18 — and there are 10 different forms of trauma that the study bore out as being detrimental. Things like physical, emotional, sexual abuse; physical, emotional neglect; substance use in the family; untreated mental illness in the family; separation from biological parents; maternal figure being treated violently; and a household member going to jail.

“If those things occurred, you would just tally up the number of types of trauma and you’d get a score out of 10. What they found was, if you scored four or greater, that there seem to be adverse health effects in adulthood. And it wasn’t just the presence of addictions or mental illness. It was lung disease, heart disease, liver disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, obesity.” This is almost folk wisdom today, but at the time, Felitti and Anda were amazed at the strength of the correlations between childhood trauma and adult physical and mental health.

The original test has been widely replicated, and it usually finds that the proportion of people in a sample who’ve had four or more adverse childhood experiences is about 12%. So something like every eighth person you meet had a really difficult childhood, and while you can’t predict for individuals from statistical trends, there’s a good chance they’re still living with the fallout.

The team at Radius surveyed a large sample of the population under their care. The prevalence of high-risk ACE scores was about 93 percent, compared to 12 in the general population,” Mosaico said.

“Harvard has a center on the developing child, which has pulled together a lot of the science that explains the neurobiological link between the adverse trauma and the adverse health effects. They talk about limitations in the development of executive function, of decision-making, emotional regulation. Impulse control is underdeveloped, neuroanatomically in the brain. And instead what over-develops is the fight-or-flight response.

“So you’re dealing with a population that, because of their experiences, isn’t the same as the general population . And then that’s compounded by the fact that a high percentage of those clients who have high ACE scores also have traumatic brain injuries from living rough on the street. They also have adult trauma that compounds the childhood trauma. They have [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder], which impairs executive function even further.

“I hear these success stories and I think they’re wonderful, when you hear about people who have a difficult life and then they straighten up. And then, you know, they go back to their jobs and their families and they become leaders in their communities. But this is a population which is over-represented in every aspect of society, negatively as it were. In the prisons and child family welfare services. In the health system, you know, prevalence of HIV, tuberculosis, Hepatitis C, STIs, all that.

“And you look at them and you think, even if they managed to wait, you know, six months to get into an addiction recovery bed, after waiting for weeks to get into detox and they go through the program, what do they go back to? Most of them had to drop out of school. They have criminal records, which makes it hard to get a job. They’re disconnected and estranged from their families. They haven’t learned social skills.

“I had a client who lived in dumpsters for two and a half years. The fact that he just stayed housed — on income support — for the rest of his life was a huge win, right? It was important for his dignity, his quality of life. It’s just a matter of adjusting your expectations of what might actually be realistic.”

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Dr. Larson writes

The idea for these stories goes back to February, when it first became clear to me that 2023 would be Alberta’s worst year for overdose fatalities. I asked the communications team at the University of Calgary for names of people to talk to. Many weeks went by, because sometimes it’s ridiculous how hard it is to extract myself from Ottawa routine. After I published the second article in this series, the one where Marshall Smith showed me all the stuff Alberta is building, I received an email from Dr. Bonnie R. Larson, who’s on faculty at the University of Calgary. She thought I should have talked to her, and she thought I was too credulous in reporting the Alberta government’s side. I asked if I could publish part of her email. Here it is.

What cannot be taken for granted is Mr. Smith’s view that his goals are different, somehow nobler, than those of us on the front line.  Smith paints a picture that front line providers’ priorities are at odds with his own.  His perspective is at once undemocratic, insulting, and arrogant, belittling those who are doing the hard work of keeping people alive every day.  

I will not have Smith speak for me in his suggestion that front liners lack system knowledge and that is why we support harm reduction. This ignores the excellent evidence supporting harm reduction interventions at the population level.  Smith seems to think he knows from whence I “enter this conversation”.  If so, why does he not engage me and my expert colleagues?  Where I “enter this conversation” is at 20 years of working with the affected community and 13 years of post-secondary education.  The only reason I am what Smith likes to dismiss as a “radical harm reduction activist”, is because the UCP, immediately upon taking office, set out to destroy harm reduction in Alberta.  Nobody would have ever needed to fight this soul-destroying battle in the first place if Smith hadn’t put Alberta squarely on its current path of destruction. Yes, we should hope for a better tomorrow but that doesn’t excuse ignoring the past and present.  

I would ask you to think about several additional factors that your analysis appears to ignore, including who actually benefits, in power and wealth, from Smiths’ system of so-called care?  DId you consider the other ways that the UCP policy direction is moving the entire publicly-funded system steadily towards profit?  Gunn (McCullough Centre) was a wonderful non-profit facility that helped many of my patients find their way to recovery from substance use disorders. While I agree that people should not have to pay for treatment, the question remains:  in whose pockets do those tax dollars ultimately land?

You report that Smith indicates that they are “monitoring” the entire system.  Where is the data from that monitoring?  They have had five years now to show some outcomes, but who am I, just a lowly street doctor, to ask for population data?  What I do know is that if deaths begin to decline, it is because so many are already gone.  You should ask to see the data about which Smith so proudly boasts.    

Smith’s entire premise that he is fixing the ‘addiction crisis’ is a fallacy.  Addictions are not increasing.  Deaths by drug poisonings are, however, and Smith’s circus is only making that worse.  Allow me to spell it out for you:  harm reduction addresses the drug poisoning crisis that is, no question, taking a horrific toll in Alberta and nationally.  Smith’s ROSC, in contrast, addresses a figmentary addictions crisis.    

One last tip. Medications used for opioid agonist treatment are not harm reduction, they are treatment.  Nobody here is against treatment or recovery.  But Marshall Smith is against harm reduction.  Why can’t we just have the full spectrum of care???  Polarization is created by politicians to benefit politicians.   

I don’t endorse everything Dr. Larson writes here. The data, or a lot of it, seems to me to be publicly available on the province’s impressive dashboard website. Use the tabs at the top of the page to navigate. And indeed, the story the dashboard tells is alarming, which, as I explained in this series’ first instalment, is why I flew west. But Larson’s years of front-line work has earned her, at the very least, a right of rebuttal.


Synthesis

On my last day in Edmonton, I met Monty Ghosh at Highlevel Diner, at the outer edge of the hip Strathcona neighbourhood on the south of the North Saskatchewan River. Highlevel is famous for its cinnamon buns, which, if I’m going to be honest, are noteworthy mostly for being large.

If the Alberta government and its most vociferous critics are thesis and antithesis, Ghosh tries to provide synthesis. He helped design the National Overdose Response Service, or NORS, which provides some of the emergency-response capability supervised consumption sites offer to people who aren’t near such a site or can’t use it for other reasons. He’s been critical of the Alberta government, but both sides keep lines of communication open.

I asked him about diverted safe supply — the idea that pharmaceutical opioids used in safe-supply programs in BC, principally hydromorphone tablets, are being sold or distributed away from their intended use. “I know it happens,” Ghosh said. “We sometimes get clients from British Columbia who come to Alberta to try to escape BC, because they’re looking for a fresh start. They’re looking for support and they’ll tell me themselves that they’ve diverted their safe supply.”

But what are the quantities? Trivial so far, Ghosh maintains. “Have I seen hydromorphone come into our province? Not at all, not yet.” This is the same thing I heard from Warren Driechel, the Edmonton deputy police chief.

Why do people divert their prescribed safe supply anyway? The answer Ghosh gave me was the answer I heard from everyone I asked. “They never used it. It just was not effective. The potency of the hydromorphone that they’re getting was nowhere near touching the fentanyl that they were using. It wasn’t dealing with the cravings, it wasn’t dealing with withdrawals, they felt it was useless. So what did they do? They sold it. They’re incredibly poor, they cannot afford their substance-use concerns and so therefore they supplement with revenue from hydromorphone.”

Before I flew to Edmonton, when Ghosh and I were trying to gauge on the phone what each of us thought of this infernal crisis, he figured out that I was interested in the differences between government policy in British Columbia and Alberta. “I’m not sure you want to hear this,” he said, “but I think it’s going to be bad everywhere.” I said that’s what I think too. Perhaps I surprised him.

I don’t know what happens next. Maybe things just stop getting worse everywhere on their own, for big complex reasons that resist easy analysis. Overdose deaths were lower last year in the United States, the capital of this hellscape, than the year before.

If not… well, we shall see. I wonder what happens in year six or seven of the effort the Alberta government is building. Is there resentment among people in ordinary hospitals and correctional facilities, who don’t have access to bespoke programs and personal attention? Does the ROSC system become bureaucratized after the first generation of administrators moves on?

Or does it start to win converts? David Eby, the NDP premier of British Columbia, has started putting distance between himself and his public-health advisors on legalization and safe supply. A new appointment in BC is being closely watched in Edmonton.

Or, conversely, does the Alberta recovery effort bump up against the limits imposed by the substances involved and by human nature? Reported recovery rates from addiction vary widely, depending in part on how you measure them. This paper puts the rate at less than 30%. If you even manage to double it, that still leaves a large cohort who aren’t getting better. Would their neighbours see them as people who “failed recovery” or “blew their chance?”

I won’t claim to know. I do hope that in the year ahead, more Canadians check their assumptions and stow their cheap certainties. Especially those who aspire to positions of leadership.

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Energy

Energy notes from the edge: Coal trains vs high speed rail

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Author Terry Etam is a columnist with the BOE Report

They are accusing you of murdering people by producing fuel the world requires for survival. It’s silly; they (the NDP) have things precisely backwards – they are confused by the role of hydrocarbons in our life. So you need to address that first and foremost, because they are writing policy based on such faulty reasoning.

They are NOT asking you to produce your product better. They are saying you are killing the planet and its people and making a fortune while doing so.

Ah, you couldn’t make this stuff up, as we find ourselves saying on a daily basis.

Here’s a look at two ambitious infrastructure projects involving rail construction, separated by a few years and also by about everything else two projects could be separated on. One of the train stories dates way back to 2019; let me take you back to that era for all the readers less than five years old (not quite but close; last week I met a delightful family, a mother and two young daughters that are fascinated by pump jacks, love taking pictures of them, and are planning to launch an apparel line adorned by nodding donkeys. I’ll take five.) 2019 was the zenith of anti-hydrocarbon frenzy. It remains alive in small pockets of guilt-ridden billionaire inheritors and various political types that don’t understand energy and don’t want to learn, but 2019 was something else; hundreds of thousands of brainwashed children taking to the streets behind a strange Swedish kid that was treated like a messiah by confused adults. Canada’s prime minister jauntily joined one of her protests, standing proudly in front of signs explaining in emotional gobbledygook that the hydrocarbons that were keeping the sign-holders alive now and for the foreseeable future had to be eradicated immediately via some demand or magic or else the world will simply explode into flames a few decades hence.

Anyway, it was all surreal in one sense, but back to the railways: a few interesting milestones were hit around then that, when viewed alongside the climate hysteria of the era, prove without a doubt just how challenging it will be to transition to a new energy system.

But before getting to the 2019 story, we’ll check in on one that began long before then and continues to this day. It hails from sunny California, spiritual leader of the Movement To Use Extreme Wealth To Do Wacko Things. In 2008, voters approved a high-speed rail connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco, to be completed by 2020, at a cost of some $33 billion. Big numbers, both on the timescale and in the $ department. That’s reality these days though; nothing is easy or cheap, part of which is the price of going green. US energy transition advocates have reliably pointed out that high speed rail was a necessity all over the US, and the world for that matter. Nature website ran an article stating “…the role of high-speed railways in fostering a transition towards sustainable energy sources has gained prominence… these findings highlight the environmentally friendly attributes of high-speed railways and underscore the pressing need for effective policy measures to facilitate a global transition towards renewable energy, both in China and worldwide.”

A few interesting tidbits emerge out of this scenario. The first and most peculiar is that a scientific article on the scientific website Nature would assert that high-speed rail is important in “fostering a transition towards sustainable energy sources” – the statement has no logical basis, it flows from nothing, and is incoherent. HSR is wonderful, and makes efficient use of time, and possibly could replace air travel in some circumstances, and, as the paper rightly asks, HSR may well contribute to ‘nationwide energy savings and emissions reductions’. But none of these virtues foster a transition towards sustainable energy sources and to state it does is an oddly dumb non sequitur to feature as the anchor statement for an academic paper.

But anyways, whatever, the paper analyzes China’s experiences with HSR, which brings up a far more interesting point about the energy transition that is in the realm of That Which Must Not Be Discussed: the fact that in the west, major infrastructure projects are incredibly difficult to construct, whether green or not, and that initial cost estimates often turn out to be laughably low.

California did indeed set out to build an HSR in 2008, to be completed (as you may recall) some twelve years hence. But, as this California news website notes, “the blueprint is fraying”, which is some beautiful understatement. In 2020, the year the project was to be completed, Governor Newsom unveiled an updated plan, that California would settle for building a 171 mile initial segment – about a third of the distance of the original – at a cost of $35 billion, a number that exceeds the initial estimate for the entire 500 mile line. And the in-service date for the shortened version is now penciled in as 2030. As for an end date for the entire project, they haven’t a clue, don’t even bother taking a guess at it, but they have bravely provided an updated budget of, brace yourself, $128 billion. That’s almost four times the original estimate.

And even that number is scoffed at by engineers that have worked on HSRs. Bill Ibbs, a retired UC Berkeley engineer, says he is concerned about the lack of attention to engineering risks – that proponents don’t even address significant engineering challenges in the latest cost estimate, such as challenges likely to arise in the 38 miles of mountain tunnels required. (Per the article linked above: “Democratic leaders have declined or did not respond to requests for interviews.” Who saw that coming.)

That is what we are in store for in the western world. Keep this example in mind the next time you hear about net-zero 2050 visions based on almost any large scale infrastructure construction. You would have to be the world’s most naïve person to believe initial cost and time estimates.

Now, on the other hand, countries such as China have indeed made great progress though, as we’ll see in a second, the choice of China as an example is fairly ironic. The Nature academic paper notes that hundreds of Chinese cities already operate HSR networks. China has stunned the world with the pace at which it has developed infrastructure over the past 40 years; however, it is an authoritarian state that sweeps aside the sort of issues that bog down western democracies like a bear sweeps aside a hiker.

And if we’re going to marvel at the speed at which China has constructed these HSRs, then we should look at this one too. In 2019, China opened a brand new, 1,813 mile railroad, completed on schedule at a cost of $28 billion. It took 4 years to construct, and faced multiple significant challenges such as “crossing both the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers twice” and includes 770 bridges and 229 tunnels totalling 469 kilometres or 291 miles, some 8 times as many tunnel miles as California. This new rail line is dedicated to carrying… coal. It was created for no other reason. It was built entirely to handle coal.

That’s how they do it folks. An authoritarian state that removes any obstacles instantly, all to build a supply line for a fuel that the west is cleansing itself from as fast as it can. China realizes what it takes to build things. The West does not. Further, while China is the largest installer of renewable energy, it is fairly transparent about its appetite for any fuel. That’s how the world works, folks, except for some…

“How do you sleep at night?” Or… how to win a debate with extremist loons – hand them a microphone.

An NDP committee that hates things dragged a bunch of “Big Oil” (or “Big Canadian Oil”, anyway) CEOs onto the carpet to, literally, blame them for forest fires and floods. Their argument went about where you’d think it would, when your philosophical underpinnings are of that grade: Not only do you mooks create a lot of bad weather, but you line your pockets by doing so, gleefully so, and thus we want to know just how you can sleep at night.

The CEOs responded decently enough in their polished way, but I think it’s important when addressing an interrogation of that sort to firmly call out the lay of the land.

Rich Kruger, CEO of Suncor, said “I could praise the transformational virtues of hydrocarbons over the past century, convey the world’s dependence on oil and gas for decades to come, recite economic contributions to Canada’s prosperity and, yes, discuss the concerning effects of climate change and GHG emissions… however, today, I plan to dispel a series to myths. And paint a picture of opportunity.” The myths: oil & gas prosperity comes at the expense of the planet; Canadian companies are resisting the energy transition/decarbonization; and that Canada can demonstrate global leadership by restricting its oil & gas sector.

He’s not wrong, but there’s a significant subtlety that gets swept under the rug here, one that can cause grave danger to a lot of people.

First, y’all need to understand the battlefield. Kruger is right; it is to generate headlines, but consider the headlines carefully when selecting which myths to bust. They (the NDP) are literally accusing the hydrocarbon industry of murder – not with a gun, but via creating the emissions that cause weather disasters that kill people. They and their fellow warriors have created a lazy but sellable chain of causality there.

Mythbusting is important, but first, it is critical to take aim at the cornerstones of their argument, and not capitulate on those. In other words:

  • If someone accuses you of killing a bunch of people, might I suggest that saying “Yeah, well, we pay a lot of taxes…” is a losing strategy?
  • If someone accuses you of killing a bunch of people, might I suggest that saying “Don’t worry, I’m taking measures to mitigate how many people I kill.” is also a losing strategy?
  • Absolutely speak of emissions reduction improvements and any efforts made towards an energy transition – but don’t ignore the emotional point they use, when it undercuts everything else you say.

They are accusing you of murdering people by producing fuel the world requires for survival. It’s silly; they (the NDP) have things precisely backwards – they are confused by the role of hydrocarbons in our life. So you need to address that first and foremost, because they are writing policy based on such faulty reasoning.

They are NOT asking you to produce your product better. They are saying you are killing the planet and its people and making a fortune while doing so.

Their army of lawyers, with literally nothing better to do (hello, Sierra Club/Environmental Defense/EcoJustice/ad infinitum) are running circles around your lawyers. You are facing an army of extremely well-funded legal guerillas. You need to recognize their weapons. You are fighting against rifles with a diorama of your decarbonization efforts.

Here is the answer that addresses the inanity of the question in a simple and fool-proof way, which will do the trick, because they will have no answer: Hydrocarbon production enables life as we know it. Without hydrocarbon production, most of the earth’s 8 billion people will not survive a year. Hydrocarbon production feeds those people in a way that nothing else can. Hydrocarbon production keeps countless people from freezing to death, every year, like nothing else at present can. Hydrocarbon production provides the building blocks for our modern medical system, our transportation system, and almost any other thing within arm’s length.

Hydrocarbon production enables life, and it will do so for decades until a suitable replacement arrives on the scene that can not just match, but beat hydrocarbons for energy density, reliability, and cost. That will most likely happen some day. But to attempt to strangle today’s fuel system without a replacement is a clearer path to willfully causing human death than is the production of the fuel that keeps us alive.

There are multiple excellent pathways a hydrocarbon company can go down to show the public they are validly concerned about the environment, such as eliminating spills, eliminating pollution of all sorts, or respecting and revitalizing natural habitats.

But when you tell them how eagerly you are ‘decarbonizing’, you forfeit the match. Your product is carbon. That is literally the murder weapon they place in your hands.

The impact on humanity from more carbon in the air, whatever the consequences may be, pales in comparison – by an astounding degree – to what the impact on humanity would be if oil and gas production were to cease.

Mr. Kruger touched on the most important part, but then skipped right over it: the “transformational virtues of hydrocarbons over the past century”, as a phrase, skips right over the entire arc of the human benefits brought through the industrial revolution, treating them as secondary aspect that needs to take a back seat to convincing the world that Canadian companies really are trying to decarbonize.

And let’s be clear about that whole idea: anyone that places decarbonization as the number one priority should drop whatever they’re doing to get out and make nuclear energy happen here, there, and everywhere, because that’s the only game in town as far as a global, achievable solution goes. I don’t have a problem with that. I love cheap, clean energy, available reliably and in abundance. And almost every global citizen would agree with those four, but more importantly would prefer all four, of those characteristics. People don’t love oil & gas. They love what it can do. Want to replace them? Then it has to be better in every functional way.

While the fate of oil/gas on the global stage will be determined by billions who know how much they need it, the emotional messaging of the NDP et al nevertheless has the power to shape legislation, for example to sneakily introduce climate reporting requirements into financial statements and thereby open the door to countless lawsuits – lawsuits which the industry will be forced to defend. And those singular-function activist-lawyers will eat you alive if you are sitting at the table agreeing about the need to rapidly decarbonize.

The messaging should be that humanity requires oil and gas and will for decades, and that role of industry is to do this as cleanly and efficiently as possible. That might sound like a subtle distinction compared to a pledge to decarbonize asap, but it’s not – it’s the difference between a bullet missing you by an inch and not.

The reason you need to think this way is because hydrocarbons will remain standing for a very long time as a fundamental source of energy, as is witnessed by the sheer global force of increasing consumption of every type of energy (see: New Zealand completely backtracking on an oil & gas exploration ban once it dawned on them that existing fields deplete – coming soon to governments everywhere)… But Western energy leaders may get seriously wounded by the sheer legal might of the enemies faced at such panels, and by the minions they inspire, as bombastically comical as it might appear on the surface.

Terry Etam is a columnist with the BOE Report, a leading energy industry newsletter based in Calgary.  He is the author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity.  You can watch his Policy on the Frontier session from May 5, 2022 here.

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