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Six Facts Netflix’s Patriot Act Gets Wrong on Canadian Energy – Cody Battershill

Cody Battershill

Cody Battershill

Calgaryism, REMAX REALTOR® and Energy Advocate

I get it. Hasan Minhaj is a funny guy. You’d have to be pretty sour not to get a few laughs out of a typical Minhaj monologue.

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The California-born stand-up comic, famous for his edgy set at the 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner, normally breaks into a disarming, wide smile just before he moves in for the ultimate burn.

But to be honest, beyond the humour there are a half dozen reasons why a recent episode of Minhaj’s Netflix series Patriot Act gets a lot more wrong than it gets right. That makes it no laughing matter.

The episode is built around a Justin Trudeau interview, but the actual Minhaj agenda seems to be another Hollywood take-down of Canada’s oil sands. And as take-downs go, this one is relentless. Here are six facts where Minhaj and his piece earn a hard fail:

First up, Minhaj hints at the fact Canada is the rightful outdoor playground of American tourists.

“When we think of Canada,” he says up front, “we think of pristine wilderness, mountains, rivers, pastures…”

The idea that Canada is nothing more than a nature preserve ought to be a concern for anybody raising a family in our country. If he had added that our wilderness should be presided over by so many US-funded environmental activist groups, he might have given us a clearer view into his Canada-focused thoughts.

The second failure is the outdated, time-worn trope that says climate leadership should be Canada’s only mission.

“Canada sells itself as a leader on climate change, but also has the world’s third largest oil reserves – most of it in the Alberta tar sands…” (Note to Minhaj: Your research department forgot to tell you that “tar sands” is a pejorative word that indicates to most middle-ground readers that what follows that term will be nothing but anti-oil sands propaganda. You’re welcome.)

Then he adds: “Tar sands oil is pretty dirty… It’s gunky, it’s mixed in with sand, and refining it causes a ton of pollution.” Minhaj, who hails from Davis, CA, might want to familiarize himself with the CO2 attributes of crude oil from his home state, refiners of some of the dirtiest oil production on the planet.

Let me help: researchers for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard found there are 13 oil fields in California and blends originating in at least six other countries that generate a higher level of upstream greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than that of our Canadian oilsands blends. In fact, that same study found the “dirtiest oil in North America” is produced just outside Los Angeles, where the Placerita oil field generates about twice the level of upstream emissions as Canada’s oilsands[1].

Omitted in this segment were some other hard truths about our country that are important to share. Canada is fourth in the world on the clean tech index, we are ranked ninth for installed wind power capacity, third for hydro-electricity generation, we are also the worlds second largest exporter of electricity and we have one of the cleanest electrical grids on earth. Additionally the oil and gas industry is the largest contributor to environmental protection and clean tech spending in Canada and is leading the world in reducing production emissions.

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In third spot for Minhaj factual fails is this statement: “Canada’s tar sands are also really far North, which is why Canada has so many pipelines.”

So, Canada has so many pipelines because we’re “really far North?” (Note to Minhaj: I think you might want to replace your research department.) Actually, Canada’s pipeline capacity is a tiny fraction of America’s pipeline network. Yet America’s is growing at a fast pace while ours languishes with the cancellation of Northern Gateway and Energy East, and the slow progress of TMX and KXL as a result of various activist protests[2].

We can — and do — ship product by rail, although transmission by pipeline is far preferable from an environmental (including climate) standpoint. But US interests are working to “land-lock” (their words) our product within our borders. So, no Hasan, it’s not because we’re “really far North” that we need additional pipeline capacity. It’s because pipelines are the safest way to get product to market to power your homes, offices, institutions and transportation sector[3]. There is also no mention of all the tankers from other nations bringing oil to North America that Canadian pipelines could help displace.

Minhaj’s fourth hard fail is just plan disrespectful toward energy workers.

“The TMX is super-controversial,” says Minhaj. “The Conservatives say that the pipeline will create tens of thousands of jobs in Canada. They even have their own mascot. …OK so they want oil workers to be taken seriously, and they thought the best way to do that was to drop a male stripper down a chimney?”

Energy workers in Canada deserve better than this trashy personal jab. I know Canadians are supposed to be comically polite by nature, but even a non-Canadian might view that line as a serious cheap shot. There are hundreds of thousands of families across Canada who depend on our energy sector to put food on the table and they deserve respect.

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At number five worst fail is Minhaj’s criticism of Canada for its Paris climate goals…

“According to the Canadian government’s own report, even if Canada’s most aggressive emissions proposals were in place, they would still fail to meet (their) Paris (commitments),” he states.

How’s the US doing on Paris? America – along with India and China — were responsible for 85 percent of the global rise in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions over the past year[4]. Canada ranks far more favourably than the US, while Morocco and Gambia top the list of good performers[5].

And in 2017, the US signaled its pull-out of Paris by 2020 while Canada remains committed.

For my money, Canada’s doing OK. And when you combine that with the fact we’ve successfully cut CO2 emissions per barrel produced by 22 percent since 2012[6], we can afford a bit of pride on this front.

In number six spot for epic factual failures is Minhaj’s statement on Indigenous opposition to TMX:

“The problems with the pipeline,” says Minhaj, “aren’t just environmental. Trans Mountain, which would cross tribal land, is also opposed by many of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.”

Fact is, Trans Mountain has signed more than 48 Mutual Benefit Agreements with Indigenous groups in BC and Alberta[7], a large majority of whom are located in BC. Further, polling shows a steady increase in majority public support among Canadians for the pipeline[8]. And the Indian Resource Council, with 134 bands among its members, supports TMX[9], as do mayors, premiers and many other groups.

There are several other points Minhaj makes that fail to measure up to scrutiny, but space is limited. Let’s just say I enjoy a good laugh as much as anybody, but I also think comedians have a responsibility to get their facts straight – especially when the topic affects real families across Canada.

Here’s my standard offer: If Minhaj’s Patriot Act crew is ever interested in credible information on the topic, I’ll be happy to steer them in the right direction.

Help spread the good news story that is Canada’s energy industry by sharing this “Message From Canada” video with your friends and family!


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