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Down the rabbit hole - into a pipeline

John Bell

November 26, 2012

A few weeks ago Michael Harris at the iPolitics news web reported on the case of Jill Winzoski, freelance reporter for the Selkirk Record in rural Manitoba--whose story reveals how media and government collude to greenwash the tar sands. You probably missed it, so let me recap.
When Winzoski wrote hard-hitting articles about environmental issues, and particularly the Tory decision to shut down the internationally renowned Experimental Lake Area project, the local Tory MP James Bezan was not impressed. He complained to the editor and withdrew his constituency advertising from the Selkirk Record. The paper asked Winzoski to refrain from covering national politics, and she complied.
Six months passed. Then Winzoski signed an on-line petition opposing the pending “free trade” deal with China (FIPPA). Copies went to her local MP, Bezan, and to the PMO.
Soon she received an interesting email response from Bezan stating he shared her concerns about the deal, and about the impending sale of Canadian oil company Nexen to China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC). The email said: “I would like to note that I am strongly opposed to this deal, and I have raised my concerns directly with Cabinet as well as with the Prime Minister.”
Within hours she received a second Bezan email, repudiating the previous one as a clerical error, and espousing whole-hearted support for the deal: “Our Conservative government is committed to creating the right conditions for Canadian businesses to compete globally…Our government’s ambitious pro-trade plan is opening new doors for Canadian businesses in dynamic, high-growth markets like China…”
As a constituent, Winzoski wrote back for clarification, asking the real James Bezan to please stand up. The following day she was informed the Selkirk Record no longer required her services. I encourage you to check out the full story at There’s a lot to boggle the mind here.
First, there’s the whiplash-inducing change of direction between two email messages sent just hours apart by a Tory backbencher. It shows that the Prime Ministers office has its foot on the neck of every MP. If Bezan wants to get ahead–and he is said to be a rising star in Tory caucus–he had better learn to toe the party line. That second email is a cut-and-paste of official Tory talking points.
Second, there is the ease with which the newspaper threw Jill Winzoski under the bus, even when she was victimized for simply expressing an opinion as a citizen and one of Bezan’s constituents, a clear violation of her rights. Doing so not only reveals the lack of moral fibre of those who own and run the Selkirk Record, it shows an utter absence of journalistic instincts. “Local politician threatens crusading Record reporter” would have made a hell of a front page story. But I’m sure it never crossed their minds.
Third–and I hate to say it–Winzoski was just as willing to follow questionable orders from the head office as was Bezan. Journalism has become a miserable business, and freelancer Winzoski clearly knew how the game was played. She was willing–perhaps unhappily, but willing none the less–to stop rocking Bezan’s boat in hopes of gaining fulltime employment at the Selkirk Record.
What a tangled web. And like most of the snarls of falsehood, media manipulation and personal attack in Harper’s world, when you start to pull the threads you are led inexorably back to the Tar Sands.
Tar Sands
The media reports approvingly when Liberal leader wannabe Justin Trudeau embraced the Nexen deal, and with it unimpeded development of the Tar Sands. National Post columnist John Ivison calls him “brave” for saying that it would be economically stupid to leave billions of barrels of crude in the ground.
Chen Weidong, Chief Energy Researcher for CNOOC has a different way of looking at “under-developing” the Tar Sands. Chen wrote: “It’s the same situation as the leftover single women…It will the same for the oil sands, they will be outdated just like unmarried single women.” As far as I’m concerned Chen’s sexist analogy exposes the vacuity of his point of view. It is the same a saying a tree has no value unless it is sawed into 2 X 4s.
What did the media say about Chen’s insulting views? They reflect China’s growing and justifiable “frustration” at not being able to get their hands on Alberta syncrude. Peter Foster of the Financial Post even made the astounding logical leap that the “embarrassing political incorrectness” results from the delicacy of dealing with a “State Owned Enterprise.”
When Deloitte–“a leading financial advisory firm”–published a report that said the Tar Sands would necessarily be Canada’s “economic engine” for the next quarter century, it was played on every front page in the country. The universal message: Tar Sands development is not only good, it is essential. As for the environment, no problem. Deloitte’s bean counters say that the petro-industry hasn’t been good enough at communicating its environmental success stories. Opposition to the Tar Sands is based on “second hand knowledge that is inaccurate”.
In no mainstream report did I see anyone questioning Deloitte’s findings. No business writers complained that Tory monetary and economic policies undermine Canada’s industrial sector, destroy jobs and artificially favour the Tar Sands and the rest of the resource extraction industries. Nowhere did I see reporters balance the rosy picture of corporate profits with the rising social costs of pollution and global warming.
About the same time came a report by Keith Stewart at Greenpeace, documenting how Environment Minister Peter Kent had met with oil and gas industry lobbyists 48 times in the past 18 months, versus seven meetings with environmental organizations. Front page news? Not so much.
Oily money and petro-politics rules the PMO, the boardroom and the newsroom. Why does a press release from Greenpeace rate barely a mention, while one from the petro-industry and its financial backers gets splashed uncritically across the front page?
You know the answer.

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