Conspiracy-mongers, Trudeau-haters and Islamophobes aren’t at the pro‑oil movement’s fringe, they’re its beating heart

Province | by Paul Dechene

You know all those pro-pipeline/anti-carbon tax protests cropping up on the Prairies the last few months like dandelions?

Have you noticed how they seem, maybe, a little shot-through with the looney tunes?

Sure, the protests include a lot of people who are out of work and worried about drops in the global price of oil. It’s easy to sympathize with that.

But there’s also a lot of other … stuff.

“Climate change is a hoax.”

“The UN took control of the Canadian border.”

“Trudeau’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline is a complicated double-bluff to screw over Alberta. The guy should be hung [sic].”

“George Soros, something something.”

The standard line from the pro-pipeline/anti-carbon tax spokespeople — and many a stuffy pundit soon to be collecting a bailout-augmented cheque from a corporate media outlet — is that this is all coming from some bad eggs. Get enough people together, and a few representatives from the tinfoil hat brigade are bound to get past the bouncers.

Reassuring! But is it true? That it’s just a few bad eggs, I mean.

On March 15, for instance, hundreds of Saskatchewan students participated in a protest representing the other side of the carbon tax/pipeline/climate change debate — the side that accepts the science and demands immediate action to stave off catastrophe. They were part of the Global School Strike 4 Climate, which itself was part of the larger Fridays For Future movement started by teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg.

There were over 200 students gathered on the steps of the Saskatchewan legislature. It was a big, happy crowd. Nary a tinfoil hat to be seen.

Or wait… no… one member of the tinfoil hat brigade sneaked in: an apparent holdover from earlier Yellow Vest and pro-pipeline rallies. The interloper was a big guy with a shaggy grey moustache and a chip on his shoulder wading through a sea of cheerful elementary school kids.

Nothing intimidating about that.

He was carrying a sign. On one side it read, “GREENPEACE Co-founder GLOBAL WARMING IS HOAX SCAM.” Considering the subject of the Strike 4 Climate, that was, at least on topic.

The other side, on the other hand, read, “MCGA / Q / WWG1WGA.”

That will take some explaining.

The internet tells me that MCGA is “Make Canada Great Again”, while WWG1WGA stands for “Where We Go One We Go All.” The latter is the common sign-off of an infamous 4chan poster identified as “Q” (hence the giant “Q” on our moustachioed counter-protester’s sign).

Q is typically considered the main source of the QAnon family of conspiracy theories from which springs slanderous tales of George Soros’ influence, false allegations that prominent Democrats hired MS-13 to murder Seth Rich and — QAnon’s most successful lie so far — Pizzagate.

Bottom line: QAnon represents the worst of right-wing internet paranoia. Yet here was a big man spouting its propaganda at a rally of children.

It’s just a short little side-step from there to the wild and woolly world of World Government conspiracies. In that fantasy land, Canada ceded control of our borders to the United Nations when we signed on to the Global Compact for Migration, and now ISIS terrorists are flooding into the country.

None of it is true. The Compact for Migration just makes sure that migrants to our country are treated humanely and can, for instance, access basic services. And it’s non-binding, to boot. All the fear mongering is nonsense.

But show up to a Yellow Vest Canada rally and in amongst the “No Carbon Tax” signs you’ll spot things like “No UN immigration pact,” “Open borders breed CHAOS” and “Keep Canada Canadian.”

It’s almost as if maybe there’s a deeper connection between the pro-pipeline position and the anti-immigration, climate denial rhetoric.

That could have something to do with the fact that paranoid, nationalist conspiracy theories have been central to Canada’s Yellow Vest movement from the very beginning.

Yellow Vests Canada Exposed (@VestsCanada) is a Twitter feed run by an anonymous trio concerned about the Yellow Vest movement’s racist and violent message. YVCE has been tracking the Yellow Vest’s racist leanings since their protests emerged.

“The anti-immigration message is even more core than oil and gas. Oil and gas is a cover used to appeal to a broader base,” says YVCE’s “Liz” (not their real name) by direct message.

Liz points to the United We Roll convoy in February. The media narrative at the time was that it had largely purged its anti-immigrant, Yellow Vest elements.

“The day the convoy was over, the rhetoric on the convoy Facebook page shifted dramatically to mostly anti-immigrant narratives,” says Liz. “It’s primarily about immigration.

“It was always there — that’s how it began.”

Liz believes that while there were people who participated in the United We Roll convoy who were motivated by legitimate economic concerns, the anti-immigration messaging remained a central tenant of the convoy all the way through.

“The [convoy] GoFundMe referenced the UN Migration Compact, and key organizers within the convoy are heavily involved with Yellow Vest Canada [YVC],” says Liz. “At the rally in Ottawa, organizers referenced immigration. In pieces from the [Toronto Star’s Edmonton page], convoy participants are cited as being disappointed that the Yellow Vests are ‘running the show.’”

And, most infamously, noted white-supremacist media figure and former Rebel personality, Faith Goldy was welcomed to speak at the convoy gathering in Ottawa. On Twitter, Goldy reported “Lying SNAKES in the MSM are pretending ‘United We Roll Convoy For Canada’ is only about pipelines! Have received emails and calls from organizers desperately trying to get the word out: they’re protesting GLOBALISM & the UN IMMIGRATION PACT too!”

So why is it that these pipeline advocates can’t seem to stop themselves from veering into the land of disturbing conspiracy mongering?

Joshua Stein, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Calgary who’s been following the more toxic side of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, says the Yellow Vesters might be more like the Tea Party in the States — another group that promotes racism-tinged conspiracies, such as Obama’s birth certificate being fake.

“It is conventional to characterize contemporary ‘nationalist/populist’ movements in terms of either the economic issues (e.g. the pipeline) or socio-cultural issues (e.g. anti-immigrant views, ‘cultural anxiety’),” says Stein. “But the two are not exclusive; they’re both functions of the same social outlook. They hang together under a conspiratorial narrative about existing institutional power: that government power is corrupted by malicious, external influences.

“That view takes both economic issues and racist socio-cultural protectionism and runs them together against the existing government, the political face of the boogeyman,” he says by e-mail. “These can also result in attacks on other groups (including religious and ethnic minorities) seen as the tendrils of the malicious, anti-national agenda.”

Translation: the Yellow Vesters and their fellow travellers think the government is out to get them.

No wonder, then, that another of their favourite messages is a callback to Trudeau the Elder’s National Energy Program of the 1980s.

As far as the pro-pipeline protesters are concerned, the Carbon Tax is NEP2: Electric Boogaloo. It’s treated with the same level of distrust. And, by extension, anything associated with the Carbon Tax — like climate science — is lumped into the grand, diabolical conspiracy to rob the west of its resource wealth.

Meanwhile, immigration policy represents an economic assault of a different sort.

The oil-rich west has been a comfortable place for, to use Stephen Harper’s term, “Old Stock” Prairie folk. White dudes especially have done very well by the tarsands. Average household incomes in Alberta are consistently near the top in North America. When resource prices are high, unemployment craters throughout oil country.

Who needs a university education if you can get a high five-figure salary up at Fort Mac? Hell, who needs high school? There are jobs for everybody.

But when governments are seen taking climate policy seriously, it does not bode well for oil’s future. It says the good times have a limit. It presages the end of the old order.

Similarly, welcoming immigration policy — even one as minimally welcoming as a signature on a non-binding migration compact — also represents a potential shift in the make-up of Canada’s cultural mosaic. That’s why you’ll hear the Faith Goldys stoke fears of “real Canadians” being replaced by an influx of immigrants from Islamic nations.

It’s the tie that binds the carbon tax to immigration: both are seen as a threat to the current order. New immigration and climate-friendly policy both threaten to upend the predominantly white, dude-heavy hegemony that has reigned so happily in oil country. They say the Canada you find familiar is about to change … and you might not get to keep your first-class seats as we jet into the future.

That’s why you’ll see “Climate Change Is A Hoax” signs alongside “Protect Our Borders” signs at pro-pipeline rallies. Hell, sometimes you’ll see those slogans on the same damn sign. They’re all part of the same package of fear and paranoia.

And that’s why, no matter how hard Canada’s oil boosters try to distance themselves from the yellow-vested conspiracy-mongers, racists and science deniers, they’ll be marching together right to the bitter end. ❧


Where Moe Goes

Yes, the Sask. Party is responsible for its choices in allies

According to organizers of the March 15 Strike 4 Climate in Regina, invitations were sent to both the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP caucuses. Only two MLAs attended the rally — the NDP’s Carla Beck and Yens Pedersen.

The invites were sent out on short notice but the legislature wasn’t sitting that day, so you’d think it might not be too hard for Premier Scott Moe to put in a brief appearance to listen to some kids share concerns for their planet’s future.

But Moe was happy in February to speak before a gathering of pro-pipeline/anti-carbon tax protesters on the front steps of the legislature.

And Sask. Party MLAs Greg Ottenbreit and Lori Carr both made it out to explicitly Yellow Vest Brand™ rallies.

Why are the Sask. Party and other conservative movements comfortable being seen cozying up to movements with such so much radical baggage?

“As far as the Sask. Party and United Conservative Party ‘cozying up’ to Yellow Vest groups, I think getting the causal ordering of this is more difficult than punditry sometimes makes it appear,” says the University of Calgary’s Joshua Stein. “Are Yellow Vest groups already strongly inclined to support these parties, due to policy and demographic considerations? That’s certainly true to some extent; the policies and political rhetoric of the UCP are already closely aligned with the values of Yellow Vest protesters.”

“I suspect the answer is a banal one,” says Stein. “It’s partly convenience, partly genuine ideological agreement and partly political calculus.”

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say our politicians aren’t racist xenophobes. Let’s say they’re giving time to groups with anti-immigrant leanings or white supremacist ties strictly because they know the electoral calculus works in their favour.

Can we forgive them for that?

“It does not remotely absolve politicians of guilt for associating with, seeking the political support of, and creating political policies sympathetic to white supremacist groups,” says Stein.

“Whatever the motivations of the politicians may be, they should know better,” Stein says. “They should consider the consequences of their actions. Political alliances and associations matter.”

—Paul Dechene