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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Sort the Wheat from the Chaff in the High-Stakes Game of Canadian Voter Approval

The next few months should see a marked increase in the amount of media coverage and advertising attacking opponents of pipeline and tanker projects, according to leaked documents obtained by our colleagues at Greenpeace.  “Promote. Respond. Pressure,” reads the 3-part strategy of U.S. public relations firm Edelman, whose leaked strategy for increasing Canadians’ acceptance of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline includes the creation of fake grassroots groups in support of the pipeline and a variety of tactics to divert the resources of opponents from the issues.

Edelman’s point person on the file is D.C.-based Michael Krempasky, whose past works include promoting the U.S. “Tea Party”, Walmart and the Koch brothers’ interests in general. Other team members include some of the brains behind climate change denial propaganda. It is not surprising that the techniques to watch for will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the above campaigns:

1) Astroturfing:  Jargon for the creation of fake grassroots support groups, this technique has been employed in countless campaigns in Canada and the U.S.  Look for groups with names like, “Canadians for Job Security” or “Families for the Future”; names seeking to evoke immediate identification with shared Canadian values.  If the message sounds oddly supportive of the petrostate, check to see who funds the group and when they were started.  Real grassroots groups usually tell you this on their websites.

2) Third party endorsements:  Sadly, they’re going to try to use university professors, again (borrowed tactic from the tobacco lobby). When tobacco propaganda was at its zenith, it was almost impossible to tell who was on the payroll—that only came out later.  New voices entering the public debate, especially to criticize the work of civil society organizations speaking out against tarsands development, should be carefully scrutinized to see if that person has a credible history of research and publication on the subject.

3) Diversion tactics: The most effective, in terms of wasting scarce charitable resources, are lawsuits and complaints to regulatory authorities such as Revenue Canada. Since the federal government is currently all tooled up for extra auditing of charities, I would expect a few complaints to be filed.  Lawsuits such as the one recently filed by Kinder Morgan against activists on Burnaby Mountain are also often effective in suppressing criticism and wearing down the opposition.

It is no co-incidence that this campaign is set to roll out in advance of the Canadian federal election next year. With the dollar plummeting along with the price of oil, there will be a concerted effort to convince Canadian voters that the petrostate is not the cause of the problem, but our salvation. Come what may, consider the source and follow the money.