Bill Whitelaw

Bill Whitelaw, CEO of JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.

Whitelaw decries rest of Canada shouting at Alberta about pipelines etc., builds online platform to shout back

The irony would be delicious if it wasn’t so bitter. Once again, denizens of the Calgary Bubble are demonstrating that they don’t understand energy politics outside Alberta, that they think conversing with the rest of Canada about oil and gas means explaining energy facts to folks in British Columbia or Ontario or Quebec and having them agree.

Bill WhitelawOil and gas insider Bill Whitelaw, CEO of influential JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, has posted a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bemoaning the sorry state of public debate around energy issues and declaring that his company is “stepping up” to create a “digital platform” where “the hydro community will connect to the solar community; the nuclear folks to the petroleum people. We will discuss. We will debate. We will collaborate. And we will disagree.”

This is such a hare-brained idea I hardly know where to begin.

One, does the world really need one more digital platform? There are endless social media communities on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc.

I’ve watched other digital platforms – such as Pink Petro started by Katie Menhert to connect women professionals in energy – flounder because they don’t offer enough value for people to join and remain engaged.

Two, is there a desperate need for the nuclear folks to talk to the petroleum people? What possible greater good will come from nuclear physicists chatting online with oil and gas engineers?

The more pressing issue is for the Alberta-based oil and gas industry – denizens of the Calgary Bubble – to talk to the 60 to 70 per cent of Canadians in the political middle. These are the folks who need to be engaged.

Particularly if they live in British Columbia or Ontario or Quebec, where industry hopes to be building more pipelines and where the majority of Canadians live.

Three, consider this egregious argument from Whitelaw:

In the oil and gas sector, we get that we have been part of the dialogue problem. We haven’t done a particularly good job talking to Canada. Oh, we shovel numbers and equations at Canadians that they know mean something, but it all somehow gets lost in translation. Put another way, we haven’t helped ordinary folks make meaning around the ways energy intersects and transects their lives.

The communications problem to be solved is that Canadians are too dumb to understand energy issues?

Bill Whitelaw

The Calgary Petroleum Club, de facto headquarters of the Calgary Bubble.

Perhaps the Canadian Assoc. of Petroleum Producers should use shorter words and speak more slowly?

Whitelaw’s attitude, a prominent feature of the Calgary Bubble, is condescending and insulting to Canadians.

Canadians understand energy just fine. Abacus Data has polled Canadians several times about energy and a whopping majority want government policy to facilitate the Energy Transition in return for pipeline approvals. Full stop.

Four, let’s get to the nub of the problem, again courtesy of Whitelaw:

Look what’s happening in British Columbia. It’s shameful. A decision with the force of democracy behind it has been made—on a project that was thoroughly debated and is intensively regulated. And yet there are those who think they can undo it simply by disagreeing with the decision…Most Canadians also want a stop to the shouting and political backbiting around energy matters; an end to the activists who torture facts and figures until they scream false confessions. They want a stop to the pseudo-science that generates misleading headlines from a befuddled media…

Isn’t that a lovely strategy for winning the hearts and minds of British Columbians?

Whitelaw is, of course, referring to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, scheduled to begin construction this Sept.

Bill Whitelaw

Publisher Markham Hislop, far right, Dr. Gordon Cornwall, master of ceremonies. Photo: Green Party of Canada.

Allow me to give you another perspective on that debate. On May ,2 the Green Party of Canada hosted a public debate at the Vancouver Public Library: The Kinder Morgan Pipeline Debate – Economic Boon or $7.4B Boondoggle?

Dr. Gordon Cornwall – who proudly notes he was arrested in 2014 at a Burnaby Mountain protest over Trans Mountain Expansion – argued the boondoggle side, I argued economic boon.

Here’s an paraphrased excerpt from the master of ceremonies’ remarks:

We asked Kinder Morgan to participate in this debate. They refused. We asked CAPP to participate. They refused. We couldn’t find a single person in Vancouver to defend the pipeline and the Alberta oil sands until we found Markham.

I’m sorry, but the pipeline proponents and Big Oil’s lobbying group “refused” to defend a $7.4 billion project that will support hundreds of billions of dollars of oil sands plant and thousands of jobs in northern Alberta?

Bill Whitelaw

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Someone couldn’t clear a couple of hours from their busy schedule to talk to 100 or 150 folks in the heart of anti-pipeline country?

Whitelaw actually provides an insight into the CAPP and Kinder Morgan refusals: “…as a sector, we have focused on talking to elected officials, often convinced we need to do that because your ears are being bent by special interests who don’t get how important energy, in this case petroleum, is to the way we live as Canadians.”

Canadian politicians, but not Canadians. And the Calgary Bubble wonders why it gets so much pushback on its message.

Readers will be pleased to know that many debate attendees – Green Party members all – approached me after the event or later on social media to say that my pro-oil sands/TMX argument was much more persuasive and they were rethinking their opposition.

My anecdote illustrates a better way to engage Canadians about energy, I think.

British Columbians – and I suspect the same is true in Ontario and Quebec – are willing to discuss the Energy Transition and the role oil and gas will play as Canada and the rest of the planet decarbonize their economies over many decades.

What British Columbians have no patience for is more lectures from the Calgary Bubble. I can say this with confidence because, unlike Whitelaw, I regularly engage with BC residents on Facebook and Twitter, and in coffee shops of the lower mainland.

And I can tell you this, as well: describing BC pipeline opposition as “shameful” and belittling opponents with derogatory language with never lead to engagement, never persuade Alberta’s neighbours to support Trans Mountain Expansion.

Bill Whitelaw

Kai Nagata. Photo: Dogwood Initiative.

Time for a new strategy.

This fall, I am planning a series of five public debates in the lower mainland with anti-pipeline campaigner Kai Nagata of Dogwood Initiative . The debates may very well attract noisy – and perhaps violent – protestors.

But talking to Canadians outside the Calgary Bubble, giving them a pro-pipeline argument without the arrogance that underlies the Whitelaw approach to energy debate, has at least an outside chance of persuading middle-ground fellow citizens that Alberta has a moral and legal right to transport oil sands crude by pipeline to offshore markets as long as demand for the product exists.

So, let’s call this what it is: a cheap marketing ploy by Whitelaw to appeal to his Calgary Bubble readers ahead of the Global Petroleum Show, which starts next week in – wait for it – Calgary.

The rest of Canada is not listening.

Bill Whitelaw