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UPDATE: Sun columnist Monte Solberg gets his facts wrong

Monte Solberg was the Reform – Canadian Alliance – then Conservative MP for Medicine Hat, Alberta from 1993 to 2008. He is now a columnist with the Calgary Sun and a consultant with Fleishman Hillard Canada, part of one of the world’s largest public relations agencies.

1- In his latest column, Solberg writes, “After much advance publicity, a tiny crowd gathered on Parliament Hill last Monday to protest against the oil sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline. …Brent Patterson, of the Council of Canadians, was there too and told reporters that Canadians were concerned about the ‘tar sands’ and the impact they were having.”

While Solberg tries to minimize our numbers, we had close to 1000 people on Parliament Hill, 200 who crossed the police fence knowing they faced a criminal charge for doing so, and, according to the RCMP, 117 people were arrested that day. That is not a ‘tiny crowd’. And to be specific about the quote Solberg mentions, numerous Postmedia News newspapers and websites across the country reported, “‘There’s so much concern across the country around the tarsands, the destruction of water, the impacts on first nations people and the amount of climate emissions released,’ Patterson said. ‘There’s concern that the Harper government isn’t listening and actively promoting the expansion of the tarsands. This [protest] brings the message directly to Parliament Hill.’”

2- “I don’t doubt for a moment Patterson is correct. I suspect many Canadians are concerned and want oil companies and the government to continue to get better at addressing environmental issues.” Solberg cites a number of examples of how things are supposedly getting better, “For instance, the federal government recently established a new water monitoring regime to keep an eye on the Athabasca River.”

Well, it’s nice that Solberg almost agrees with us on one point. In terms of his latter claim though, Greenpeace climate campaigner Mike Hudema may have said it best when he commented, “This baby step falls far short (of meeting the federal government’s responsibilities). While this looks to be a good first step forward, the fact remains that the federal government needs to do more than just monitor the devastation in the tarsands – it needs to protect people and the environment by stopping the continued contamination of water, and they need to do it now.”

3- “But if Patterson was a bit more, umm, forthright, he would acknowledge those advances and he would also acknowledge that Canadian concern extends to jobs and the economy. …After all, if he and the other protesters got their way, 132,000 oil sands workers would immediately lose their jobs and $16 billion a year in government revenues would dry up.”

All of the organizations involved in Monday’s protest obviously acknowledge the importance of jobs – and that’s why they support a transition strategy to a renewable energy future – and not a next-day shut down of the tar sands. The Council of Canadians has also been clear about its support for a ‘just transition strategy’ to assist these workers to find well-paying, unionized employment outside of the tar sands. Solberg ignores the fact that the president of the union that represents tar sands workers joined Maude Barlow in climbing the fence at Monday’s protest. Solberg’s claim that “132,000 oil sands workers would immediately lose their jobs” is foolish hyperbole. And he totally ignores the reality that beyond a paycheque, workers also need clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe and a non-toxic community for their families.

4- “If the Council of Canadians has invented that new non-polluting and affordable source of energy, then for the love of Gaia where is it?”

It would appear that news of wind and solar power may not have reached Solberg yet. To assist Solberg, we encourage him to read our report (co-authored with the Canadian Labour Congress) titled ‘Green, Decent and Public’. The report focuses on the opportunities for creating green jobs by improving energy efficiency and rapidly expanding electricity produced from renewable resources. Public and community ownership of renewable power is offered as an alternative path to further market liberalization in the electricity sector that has distinct advantages. These advantages include retaining economic revenues, maximizing social benefits, prioritizing conservation and ensuring energy security. The report can be read at http://canadians.org/energy/documents/climatejustice/green-decent-public-exec.pdf.

5- “If not, we’ll be buying oil from places like Saudi Arabia. You know that place where they recently beheaded a man for, believe it or not, sorcery. The Council of Canadians will however be pleased to know that his beheading left only a very tiny carbon footprint. …As a guy who spends much of my spare time staring at trees and admiring ducks, Patterson is on notice that he’ll have to take a back seat to me when it comes to being sanctimonious about the environment.”

Solberg ignores the fact that while Canada exports its tar sands bitumen to the United States, we import 58 percent of the oil we now consume. In fact, we are already buying 7.8 percent of our oil from Saudi Arabia (the country that recently beheaded a man for sorcery). Perhaps Solberg should spend less time staring at trees and admiring ducks (though these are worthy pursuits) and spend more time learning the facts.

Solberg’s column can be read at http://torontosun.com/2011/09/30/canucks-want-to-save-planet–and-oil-sands.