Abacus Data question from October poll: “I support more oil moving through pipelines as long as the country is also moving towards cleaner forms of energy.”

Good hockey teams can get away with undisciplined play for awhile, but it always comes back to haunt them – usually sooner rather than later

Alberta is playing a dangerous game. Oil and gas sector boosters have ratcheted up their rhetoric to shocking levels that risk eroding support for pipelines in other provinces at the very time the industry is producing more oil than it can ship to market.

We get it, Alberta’s mad as hell. Albertans are worried about their jobs, worried about paying their bills, worried about an economic future for their kids.

Thousands of people are turning out for rallies to “defend the industry,” to “send a message” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Here’s the problem: a recent Abacus Data poll shows that 15 per cent of Canadians love oil and 13 per cent hate oil, and the rest occupy a middle ground that supports the long-term shift to electricity and a low-carbon economy while still providing short to medium-term support for oil and pipelines.

As Abacus chair Bruce Anderson often says, Canadians are a pragmatic people who prefer sensible, centrist solutions to our nation’s problems.

In the past I’ve called this Canada’s “energy consensus” and pointed out that when politicians operate outside that consensus they lose voter support.

BC Premier John Horgan illustrates the point. Back in the spring, during the high-decibel dust up over BC’s proposed regulation to restrict bitumen shipments through the province, pipeline opponents really cranked up the public rhetoric.

For instance, former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson opined that Trans Mountain Expansion would be defeated and “I don’t think the resistance on the west coast is going to fade – I think it will only intensify,” he added. “Escalation looks likely.”

BC public support for the project promptly rose. Why? Most likely because pipeline foes went too far, their rhetoric was too bellicose, their position too extreme and outside the political norms.

Now, Alberta leaders are doing the same thing.

Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party, is doubling down on his promise to use Alberta government resources to defend the industry against public attacks and to fund litigation against anti-pipeline groups like the David Suzuki.

Brett Wilson.

Boosters like energy financier and former Dragson’s Den star Brett Wilson are lighting up social media with calls for a boycott of “anti-Alberta” companies supposedly funding “attacks” on Alberta’s industry:

“Each entity has launched or funded campaigns in support of eco-terrorism – attacking Canada’s energy industries with gusto and blind faith in the foreign funded causes whose only task is to isolate Canada while growing the US energy sector. Facts prove this,” Wilson writes on Facebok.

Wilson isn’t alone. Plenty of other industry shills are competing to see who can employ the most extreme, most obnoxious language against pipeline opponents.

And that tactic is almost certainly going to backfire, just as it did in British Columbia for Alberta’s adversaries.

“As much as some pro-pipeline advocates want to hear politicians going to battle with opponents, voters would probably prefer that their politicians reduce rather than increase the drama,” says Anderson.

Kenney is clearly getting different advice. And taking it, judging by his increasingly strident attacks on anti-pipeline First Nations, environmental activists, and other provinces that don’t genuflect to Alberta’s demands.

With Alberta already in unofficial campaign mode prior to the anticipated May election, Kenney’s over-the-top combativeness is no surprise: anger sells. Donald Trump and Doug Ford have hammered home that point.

But industry boosters like Wilson – buttressed by shills like Calgary realtor Cody Battershill and Fort McMurray’s Robbie Picard – are playing with fire.

Canadians support solutions to Alberta’s legitimate issues. They do not support nasty, mean-spirited campaigns against mythical “eco-terrorists” or companies that legally contribute to environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs).

They also don’t support Alberta’s outrageous sense of entitlement.

Repeat after me: the Alberta oil and gas industry is not entitled to build pipelines or expand oil sands production unopposed. Canada is not a petrostate like Saudi Arabia where opposing the official industry leads to unpleasant consequences.

Furthermore, if industry wants the support of other Canadians, it should put in the necessary work to earn that support. Industry trade groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association (CEPA) do little to engage with Canadians in provinces like BC where Alberta needs support for its energy infrastructure ambitions.

Think about it like this: NHL coaches often say that their teams must play with passion, play “desperate hockey,” but still remain “disciplined” to avoid dangerous penalities. The best teams find that knife edge balance between emotion and self-control.

Well, the political rhetoric of Jason Kenney and Alberta industry boosters like Brett Wilson is now seriously undisciplined. Emotion rules and the promises to retaliate against Alberta’s enemies are escalating to dangerous levels.

As any coach will tell you, good teams can get away with undisciplined play for awhile but it always comes back to haunt them sooner rather than later.

Does Alberta want to win or is it just looking for a bench-clearing brawl? Maybe it’s time to sit the goons.