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Oil Sands Propaganda

A new series of posters touting the ethical nature of the oil sands guides our public debate toward the gutter

Aug 3, 2011

by Michael Ganley

By Michael Ganley

The problem with Alykhan Velshi’s posters touting the ethical nature of the oil sands isn’t their naked appeal to emotions, nor their utter simplification of the world into good and bad, nor even the logical fallacy that underlies them (this is better than that, ergo it’s ethical). No, the problem is that they’re propaganda, pure and simple, and if we rely on propaganda to inform our debates and our public policy, we’re in trouble.

Velshi, the former communications manager for federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenny, has taken over the ethicaloil.org website from Ezra Levant and is running with it. He has made it his mission to counter the misinformation that is coming out of oil-sands opponents with misinformation of his own.

But must we fight propaganda with propaganda?

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What we are doing in northern Alberta is not ethical. It is not in any way morally correct or honourable. It is a commercial enterprise with the goal of increasing shareholder value. It may be necessary. It may be reasonable in the circumstances. It may even be less unethical than other options such as Libya or Iran, and that discussion is, in some modest way, useful to have. But we should not pat ourselves on the back for being better than the world’s dictators and strongmen. We should aim higher.

After all, if you accept the idea that the oil sands are ethical because we use the tax revenues generated by companies operating there to further our public policies, then shouldn’t you extend that argument to other industries as well? Is the sale of tobacco ethical because we use the taxes to pay for, say, health care? Likewise, isn’t Quebec’s asbestos industry – which targets parts of the world where safety standards are lax – also ethical, if the logic of Levant and Velshi holds?

The normally-sober Globe and Mail hailed Velshi’s efforts as a `welcome effort to level the field.’

But Velshi adds nothing to the discussion. In fact, he takes away from it with his appeal to our basest instincts. In his world, the game is fair as long as we’re all playing in the same gutter.

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