Climate Drewhaha: financing a documentary with a point of view is advocacy, not defending free speech

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PHOTOS: Wildrose Energy Critic Drew Barnes, at right, on the steps of the Alberta Legislature one cold day in 2016. Below: Wetaskiwin-Camrose NDP MLA Bruce Hinkley (Camrose Canadian photo), Calgary Currie MLA Brian Malkinson, and National Post commentator and documentary maker John Robson (screenshot).

Is Wildrose Energy Critic Drew Barnes actually surprised he’s drawing fire for putting some of his own money into a documentary that questions the belief widespread among scientists, though not necessarily the Opposition party’s base, that humans are causing global climate change?

Apparently so.

Now, this may not have surprised you, but I confess it surprised me. After all, I always thought Mr. Barnes was one of the smart ones in the Opposition party’s caucus in the Alberta Legislature.

The shots – and, judging from the recipient’s reaction, the even-more-stinging social media mockery – started coming Mr. Barnes’s way last week after word leaked out he was putting some of his own money into a crowd-funding effort for the documentary project by John Robson, a National Post contributor whose personal website describes him as an “invited professor” at the University of Ottawa.

As an aside, if you’ve never heard the term “invited professor,” neither have I. Perhaps it’s the same thing as a visiting professor. Or maybe it means adjunct professor. Whatever, Dr. Robson has a PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin, which is a very good school. His doctorate is in American history, however, which in case you hadn’t noticed is not a science. Dr. Robson appears to be attached to U of O’s History Department, so what do you want to bet the course he teaches isn’t in climate science?

The story about Mr. Barnes seems to have come to light when a sharp-eyed someone in the NDP Caucus office noticed Dr. Robson on social media thanking Mr. Barnes, who is also the Wildrose MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, for his donation.

The NDP caucus put out a statement quoting Wetaksiwin-Camrose MLA Bruce Hinkley to the effect that if the Wildrose Energy Critic doesn’t want us to think he’s a climate-change denier, he really ought not to help bankroll movies that will try to dismiss climate science as “pseudoscientific scaremongering.”

“We’ve seen a disturbing pattern of climate change denial from Mr. Barnes, who has promoted dozens of social media posts denying climate change and calling climate science a fraud,” Mr. Hinkley said. “Albertans want their MLAs to focus on jobs and supporting a strong energy industry. In promoting these theories, Mr. Barnes hurts the reputation of our energy industry and does nothing to make life better for the people we were elected to represent.”

The subsequent Twitter battle seems to have caught the eye of a reporter for a Calgary talk radio station and the argument quickly escalated into a full-scale brouhaha – or, perhaps I should say, Drewhaha.

Calgary-Currie NDP MLA Brian Malkinson gave an interview to News Talk 77 in which he pointed out that Alberta recently had two pipelines approved by the federal government “because we took action on climate change because we believe it’s real.” He went on: “Mr. Barnes by supporting this movie puts that at risk.”

At that point, if Mr. Barnes could have throttled Dr. Robson, I imagine he would have. And if Mr. Barnes’s party leader, Brian Jean, could have throttled him (metaphorically speaking, of course), I imagine he would have too.

Mr. Barnes’s reaction in media and on social media was anguished – and highly defensive. He insisted he’s not a climate change denier – he just wants to support free speech. “I’m a believer that Albertans are entitled to as much information as possible about the things that affect our lives,” he told News Talk 77.

He accused the NDP of being afraid to “have a conversation on climate change” – which seems odd, seeing as they were having a conversation on climate change right then, and with him!

On Twitter, he went further, acting like another delicate little right-wing snowflake and accusing the NDP of “bullying” him because they “don’t want transparent conversation about best policy.”

Mr. Barnes need not worry. No one is trying to bully him into shutting up. On the contrary, I imagine the NDP was delighted at his contribution to this conversation and hopes he has more to say about it. Absolutely no one – least of all his opponents – questions his right to free speech!

Mr. Jean, as noted, is probably less enthusiastic for the same reasons as the NDP is pleased – because whatever Mr. Barnes’s motives were, his action tends to make the right-wing Opposition look and sound like climate-change deniers who actually do hurt Alberta’s chances of getting pipelines built. But then, Mr. Jean isn’t known to be a particular fan of Mr. Barnes anyway, or vice-versa.

Meanwhile, unless he wants us to believe he’s supporting Dr. Robson’s project for its artistic merits, the only plausible explanations for Mr. Barnes’s support of the project are that he supports its point of view, or he thinks if enough people are persuaded climate science is bogus it will help the Alberta right’s electoral chances.

In other words, pretty much what the NDP is saying.

Sorry, but there’s no escaping that financing a documentary with a point of view is engaging in advocacy, not defending free speech.

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Categories Alberta Politics