Globe and Mail Editorial: The oil-diamond analogy (ethicaloil.org) (August 1, 2011)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous impact and influence on Canada’s political and business elite as well as the rest of the country’s print, radio and television media.

Its rhetoric is crude, and its visuals derivative (of the artist Barbara Kruger), but EthicalOil.org’s campaign is an effective and overdue response to the grossly distorted slurs used by some environmental groups to attack the oil-sands industry in Alberta.

Former federal Conservative political staffer Alykhan Velshi is driving the campaign, which characterizes oil flowing from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran as “conflict oil” – a riff on conflict diamonds – that is used to prop up dictatorship, funds terrorism and results in persecution. In contrast, Canada’s “ethical oil” fuels democracy, funds peacekeeping and is an economic underpinning of a society that embraces tolerance, such as gay pride. As Mr. Velshi explains, “When people buy coffee, they want to buy fair-trade coffee. This is a similar sort of idea.”

It’s a necessary and direct response to the salvos of some environmental groups, epitomized by the recent “Rethink Alberta” campaign, an alarmist attack that implies Alberta is awash in toxic sludge and populated by poisoned aboriginals and dead ducks. It is grossly distorted, and while its target is ostensibly the oil-sands industry, it seeks to cripple the province’s tourism industry, an industry, ironically, with an enormous stake in the preservation of Alberta’s environment. “Rethink Alberta” has done untold damage to Alberta’s reputation.

Politicians both provincial and federal, and the oil-sands industry itself, have made the oil sands vulnerable to such attacks. They have not done enough to improve the industry’s environmental record, and no amount of effort on Mr. Velshi’s part can alter that fact. Nor have they been particularly effective in educating people in Canada and abroad about its enormous benefits. That’s where EthicalOil.org can help. There has been strong response to Mr. Velshi’s use of what one critic calls the “dark arts of spin and misdirection” on behalf of the oil sands, but EthicalOil.org’s ads should be viewed for what they are: a welcome effort to level the field.

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