Categories: Commentary

Oil’s deep state

“Why have democratic governments failed to act to reduce carbon emissions despite dire warnings and compelling evidence of a profound and growing threat of global warming.” – Kevin Taft

The above quote is the thesis of Kevin Taft’s book entitled Oil’s Deep State :How the petroleum industry undermines democracy and stops action on global warming – in Alberta, and in Ottawa. Kevin Taft is a former MLA and leader of the Alberta Liberal Party from 2001 until 2012.

I’ve always had a deep respect for Taft as an intelligent, well thought out academic and politician, despite the fact that I don’t always share his political perspectives. Oil’s Deep State presents an important and thorough perspective of how the fossil fuel industry has taken over the political agenda.

I have always held that given the big decisions, any government will usually come up with the same answers to the big questions, even if they handle them based on different philosophies. Nothing could be clearer than how the current NDP government has shifted from being anti-pipeline, anti-oilsands while in opposition, to now embracing Alberta’s energy-based economy. Most Albertans were shocked in May 2015, when on election night, newly minted Premier Rachel Notley stated: “I’m going to be reaching out to industry and they can count on us to work collectively with them.”

Six months later she stood on the stage embraced by four of the energy industry’s key players announcing her plan to make Alberta a leader in addressing the challenge of climate change. But what has happened since then? Emissions from our oil and gas industry have actually increased.

The politics of necessity! Here we have an NDP government actively fighting their NDP colleagues in British Columbia over their resistance to the Trans Mountain Pipeline and bemoaning Quebec for cheering over the demise of Energy East.

Taft’s book traces the history of the oil and gas industry in Alberta from Turner Valley in 1914 to Leduc in 1947 and on to the Athabasca Oil Sands in 1967 and on to the present. At the same time he parallels these developments with our political history right from the early days of R.B. Bennett and James Lougheed, through premiers Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Stelmach, Redford, Prentice and now Notley.

Lougheed and Getty were hard nosed negotiators, standing up for the true owners of Alberta’s mineral rights – you and I. Hard times hit the energy industry after Lougheed stepped down and Getty started to run deficits, leading the way to Ralph Klein slaying the deficit but at the same time giving in to industry. Not only did Klein “get government out of the business of business” but with several of his key cabinet ministers from the oil and gas industry he turned energy regulation over to the fossil fuel industry, slicing royalties and taxes. This was the beginning of the end of government control and the beginning of Oil’s Deep State. Ed Stelmach attempted to bring in a new royalty regime only to be stonewalled by the Calgary establishment, which led to the rise of the Wildrose Party.

Oil’s Deep State is a fascinating book documenting the history of how the fossil fuel industry took over our democratic institutions. Who is going to write the next chapter in this saga?

Ken Allred is a former St. Albert Alderman and MLA.

Ken Allred :