The rise of Alberta’s unapologetic petro-patriots

Legions of Albertans are showing their allegiance to oil by wearing their hearts on their sleeves (and caps and T-shirts and hoodies). Is it a defensive posture?

Thousands of Albertans at a Canada Action rally for the oil and gas industry, which is deeply entwined with their collective identity (Photograph by Guillaume Nolet)

Merchandise bearing the petro-positive logo has existed for about six years, but around Alberta lately it has become remarkable for its near ubiquity. People sport it walking through Calgary’s downtown mall on casual Fridays, or waiting on transit platforms. It’s on the sides of office buildings and highway billboards. It’s the uniform for a Little League baseball team in Drayton Valley. It’s on the welcome sign to the Spirit River rural district. It was on a toddler’s onesie when the manager of an Alberta produce stand announced the birth of his newborn son to the Facebook world.

“We should be so proud of ourselves. We’re speaking up,” rally emcee Cody Battershill proclaimed. “We’re taking action to take back our economy and take back the conversation.”

Petro-patriotism has gathered strength in oil country, after five years of economic slump. Albertans have long intertwined their collective identity with their province’s key industry, but have never before worn it on their chests like this. Like any patriotic/nationalistic movement, it identifies external foes: environmentalists (some abetted by foreign funding!) and the Trudeau government that have delivered pipeline delays and environmental measures like the carbon tax and an oil tanker ban on the northwest B.C. coast. Newly elected Premier Jason Kenney has eagerly donned the mantle as the industry’s chief defender: his campaign pickup truck bore the bumper sticker, too.

The pride comes, of course, with dollops of defiance: as much of the world and Canada demand climate change solutions, the petro-patriots insist Canadian fossil fuels are already the world’s most responsibly produced and that the burden to act should shift elsewhere; some still deny there’s a human-caused problem at all. “Global warming is a made-up story,” Vit Jankovic, a retired pipeline technician, told Maclean’s at the rally. “I like to think of it as scientists playing their video games to see who can get more warming in.”

(Photograph by Guillaume Nolet)

Polls show a stubborn gap between how Albertans and other Canadians feel about climate change and energy. It’s tough to even bring up climate change with many Albertans without them feeling under attack. Petro-patriotism is their way of fighting back. Wearing the shirt in much of the province (or in Saskatchewan) is akin to wearing a band shirt at the band’s concert. Are the gatherings and unabashed pride an urgent message to fellow Canadians, or is it a form of conservative virtue signalling within a safe space? To those who suit up, at least they’re doing something.  MORE

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