There are few terms in the Canadian vernacular that irk me more than “ethical oil”. Since Ezra Levant’s 2010 book “Ethical Oil” hit the scene, it’s become the favourite language for government newspeak, and the media. Worst of all, its given tar sands proponents and the Conservative Government fodder for their debunked argument that tarsands oil is good for us.
Levant’s book looks at the ethical cost of our addiction to oil, and argues that Alberta tar sands oil is more ethically responsible than oil imported from despotic regimes in the Sudan, Russia, and Mexico, where human rights issues are of concern.
Though neither Harper nor our new Minister of Environmental Destruction have read the book, the term was exactly what the Conservatives needed to bolster the much-maligned tar sands. Prior to the echochamber that ensued after the publication of Levant’s book, tar sands oil was often characterized as “dirty” and “controversial” - much to the ire of the government.
Levant may well have learned the art of spin early in his career while spending the summer in an internship arranged by the libertarian and clean energy/climate change enemy Charles G. Koch Foundation, or through his work with the Fraser Institute. Levant himself coined the term “ethical oil” in 2009 after being involved in a panel on tar sands oil. The spin doctor finished the 90-minute debate having not managed to convince his audience of the merits of the toxic oil. Without admitting defeat, Levant quickly realized that he was going to have to find a different way to spin the dirty oil apart from economic arguments which just weren’t resonating with people.