Get the feeling Ed Stelmach is getting a little stressed out?
Recently vowing to punish Greenpeace activists "to the fullest extent of the law" and his solicitor general's musing about charging them as terrorists, Stelmach may be cracking under mounting pressure to show that he actually has some level of idea what he's doing.
Unable to hide his ineptitude with rude, outrageous comments like Ralph Klein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Stelmach appears to be finding it increasingly difficult to manage the PR nightmare the tar sands have become. Things have gotten so bad for him that he's attempting to show he's "tough on crime" (a common tactic by Con politicians to rile up support) by wanting to crack down on non-violent protesters.
Suggesting that these protesters put rig workers (getting sent home from work is dangerous for you, don't you know?) and rescue workers at risk (aren't rescue workers at risk every single time they do their job?) Stelmach is seemingly trying to borrow a tactic from Bush's playbook; label someone as the enemy and turn the mob on them.
The problem is that Stelmach doesn't have the charisma or the character to pull it off. "Steady Eddie" is a Con MLA elected in rural Alberta with at least 80% of the vote, because in rural Alberta people all seem to agree that the Cons will protect our money and any one else would just hand it over to Ottawa. He then was handed the crown by the Con party as a compromise because none of the different camps would budge from their own particular rocks.
Already, Stelmach has shown to have a hard time dealing with international customers for tar sands oil who, unlike many of his constituents, don't automatically believe him because of the party he belongs to. He seems to be losing Calgary, a pillar of Con power, and much of the buzz of late has been how "badly managed" the tar sand's image has be handled by private and public alike.
Now, for the record, the tar sands has earned its international reputation as a mordoresque cesspit puking out the cancerous essence of our collective doom. Cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan region have skyrocketed. The project is calculated to be emiting close to the equivalent of a volcanic eruption in toxic fumes every year. An area the size of the state of Florida has been transformed into a massive mine that is apparently visible from orbit. Wetlands, forests and fresh water are being poured into a massive pit to fuel the global market and fatten a couple wallets.
Stelmach's solution to the environmental woes caused by our artificial volcano totem god is convincing oil companies to develop "Carbon Capture technology", a theoretical technology (like warp drive) that will allow us to take carbon dioxide (and presumably other nasty greenhouse gases) and store them in the ground.
So we're going to drill holes into the ground, cracking the solid crystal bodies of the bedrock, and store a gas in this cracked bedrock, below the air, and it's going to stay there whilst we continue to blast away at the same bedrock trying to suckle up any remaining oil we can find.
Yeah, there's no flaw in that logic, right? =P
The underlying message here is that this Alberta Con government is quite content to keep the tar sands operating indefinitely, and the idea that in the future we are going to need to find something different to base our economy - really our entire society - on is not possible in their view. The reliance of the 28-year-long Con government on oil revenues to maintain everything and the rediculous acceptance of the electorate of this practice now means that every single person who lives in this province is in some manner reliant on the tar sands and the revenue generated by it for their day to day survival. Detaching Alberta from the sticky, black ooze is no easy task.
At least, it's no easy task if you're a Conservative in Alberta, and you've never actually been at risk of not being elected. Such a culture of entitlement is not exactly the breeding grounds for genius. If you're anyone else, you've probably already read about various proven technologies that are being utilized in Europe and the United States, you've probably done the math and realized that surpluses of 3+ billion dollars should have been enough to get such industries around those technologies at least underway, and you've probably had to be exceedingly creative to get your point heard, let-alone getting it across.
Which brings us back to our good friends at Greenpeace. These guys are working their asses off to point out what should be blatantly obvious: the tar sands project is causing far too much long-term damage for far too little short-term gain.
Let's put this in context; Stelmach gets up, drives to the legislature, goes to his various meetings where he's given recommendations on what to do by people he appointed to recommend what he wanted to hear, goes and sits in the house legislature with his 72 seat majority. The opposition, with a whopping 11 seats, does what it can to oppose, which basically amounts to attempting to incite public rage towards various government actions (usually medicare issues) because there's no way it can hope to really affect any vote in the legislature. So, comfortably in nest of a government elected by a mere 45% of the population, Stelmach's biggest concern is his lack of mobility due to the mass of politicians and businessmen hanging off his buttocks.
Let us compare this to what Greenpeace has had to do to get things done. First, they have to plan a way to sneak into a gated oil rig. These have six foot tall fences with barbed wire, and tons of surveillance systems in place. After finding a way around the securities of these mining fortresses, they chain themselves to dangerous equipment, and a few even scale a smokestack to hang a banner. I'd love to see any elected MLA climb up a smokestack. They do all this knowing full well what they will legally be charged with. They then use the publicity generated by the incident to send their message across the planet. Claiming to be working for the better future of the entire world tends to generate a warmer reception than just "buy our oil" which is the best Stelmach has seemed to be able to offer as a defense of our provincial project.
So coming out and suggesting how the courts should handle the case is really not helping Stelmach's position. Alberta is a global supplier of oil, and as a result the world is paying attention to what we do and how we do it. The world did not buy it when the junta in Myanmar claimed Buddhist monks were inciting revolution and began arresting them en-masse. Nobody believes Ahmadinejad won the election in Iran. Bush did not do a very good job convincing people about Saddam's WMDs. The global media monster has gotten really good at spotting the really stupid lies of really stupid governments. If Stelmach thinks that demonizing a group of activists using Ghandi-styled tactics to ensure the survival of the human species, amid an already massive international campaign against the project the activists are opposing, is going to survive global scrutiny then he clearly has the wisdom and expertise of an Alberta Conservative. Oh wait...