PHOTOS: Neal (Bernard the Roughneck) Hancock’s first appearance on a well-known right-wing video blog in January 2015. (Screenshot) Below: Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney with his new friend Bernard, who was making a rare public appearance in mufti; Shannon Stubbs with her husband Shayne Saskiw and a friend; and Conservative Energy Critic John Barlow. Bottom: Mark Wells.

The “Bernard the Roughneck” campaign rolled out against the Trudeau Government in Ottawa a week ago has been in preparation for at least seven months, possibly longer.

However, while each of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, the Conservative Party of Canada, and Rebel Media appear to have been directly involved in aspects of the effort, and both Alberta’s Wildrose Party and the frontrunner for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party have played supporting roles, it cannot be determined who started the ball rolling or the degree of co-operation among the participants in this piece of political performance art.

What is verifiable is that the website domain names and were registered by someone on Feb. 19, 2016, and that the websites are now being used to redirect readers to the “Bernard the Roughneck” section of Rebel Media’s website.

Bernard himself has turned out to be Neal Hancock, 32, who at various times in the past few years has been a resident of Vancouver, where he lived with his parents after losing his oil patch job, Grande Prairie, where he worked as an oil industry roughneck, and Lennoxville, Que., where he studied communications, media and political science at Bishop’s University and appeared in at least one amateur thespian production.

According to Rebel Media, Mr. Hancock came to their attention when they “heard his passionate defence of Canada’s resource industry” at a Vancouver protest against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. Rebel Media’s first interview with Mr. Hancock was published on Jan. 30, 2015, according to the website, and he began making regular appearances dressed in his work coveralls on the far-right video blog founded by self-styled “Rebel Commandante” Ezra Levant shortly before the registration of the web domain names a year later.

A Feb. 20, 2016, Rebel interview with Mr. Hancock is still running under the now-slightly-embarrassing headline, “No, he’s NOT an actor: Bernard, the outspoken roughneck has a new message for anti-pipeline protesters.”

Mr. Hancock later turned up at National Energy Board hearings in Vancouver into the Kinder Morgan project wearing his work clothes and being interviewed by journalists.

Meanwhile, according to John Bayko, communications vice-president of the CAODC, which bills itself as “the leading advocate for the Canadian petroleum service industry,” Mr. Hancock came to the group’s attention about the same time he began to make regular appearances on Rebel Media. “Bernard dropped by our office here in Calgary and introduced himself just after our Oil Respect campaign started in February, 2016,” Mr. Bayko said in an email in response to my query.

It was when an online petition collected through the CAODC’s Oil Respect website was presented on Parliament Hill a week ago that Mr. Hancock’s Bernard the Roughneck persona really hit the big time.

Mainstream media reporters on the Hill took the bait hook, line and sinker when Mr. Hancock – again dressed in his blue boiler suit and red hardhat, streaks of dirt apparent on his face – dramatically declared: “I’m not a guy from Calgary in a suit. I’m not a guy who’s knowledgeable about public policy or the processes that go on in buildings like this. I’m a roughneck…”

This too has become slightly embarrassing in light of the revelation he studied political science not so long ago at university and really should have known a thing or two about public policy!

Upon examination, the Oil Respect petition itself appears to have been a politically partisan effort to make it appear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t support the oil patch because he hasn’t adopted the unsuccessful strategies of the previous Conservative government to get a pipeline built.

Among those appearing with Mr. Hancock in his Bernard persona were CAODC President Mark Scholz, Lakeland Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs, and Conservative Opposition Deputy Employment Critic John Barlow, the MP for Foothills.

Mr. Scholz, according to Alberta Oil Magazine, was at 17 a founding member of the Alberta Alliance Party, which became the Wildrose Party. He was chief of staff to Paul Hinman, the first leader of the Wildrose Party, in 2008, and was a member of the party’s executive council for five years. The Oil Respect campaign is said by the magazine to have been his brainchild.

Small petroleum companies like the drillers who are members of the CAODC have a long history in Alberta right-wing politics. They helped bankroll the nascent Wildrose Party in the mid-2000s, when they took issue with Progressive Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach’s efforts to implement a modest increase in royalty rates.

“The PCs always had support of the big players, but it was the medium and small sized firms that were critical in the creation and rise of Wildrose Party,” Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt told me recently. “There is a clear pattern of support in 2009-2014 in donors between PCs and WRPs.”

“The real trigger for the rise of the Wildrose party as a major player on the Alberta political stage was Ed Stelmach’s royalty review,” Dr. Bratt explained in the Calgary Herald in 2012. “Wildrose started to receive some heavy donations from individuals and corporations within the oil and gas sector.”

Ms. Stubbs, like Mr. Scholz, is a former chief of staff to a Wildrose Leader – in her case, Danielle Smith, whom she served from 2010 to 2012. She is married to former Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, a tax lawyer, who today is the principal in an Edmonton-based lobbying and strategic consulting firm.

Ms. Stubbs, the Conservatives’ deputy natural resources critic, used her Sept. 23 news release introducing Mr. Hancock, whom she described both as the initiator of the petition and as “an unemployed oil sands worker who resides in Alberta,” to attack the proposed national carbon tax using the Wildrose Party’s “tax on everything” talking point. According to information on the Oil Respect site, Mr. Scholz is the petition’s initiator.

Ms. Stubbs’s description of Mr. Hancock was controversial, since a statement he made on Facebook about the same time indicated he was employed. In its release, the CAODC described him as “an oil and gas worker struggling to find employment in the downturn.”

Before embarking on his career in politics, Mr. Barlow was a rural newspaper editor in the towns of High River and Okotoks, both a few kilometres south of Calgary. In the 2012 Alberta election he ran as a PC candidate in the Highwood Riding and was defeated by Ms. Smith.

In other words, any one of them should have known enough to make sure their chosen spokesperson wouldn’t be revealed as less – or more, depending on how you look at it – than he was billed to be.

Meanwhile, Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean and other Wildrose MLAs have kept up a stream of Tweets supporting Mr. Hancock’s efforts. Progressive Conservative Leadership candidate Jason Kenney did them one better, accusing those who have pointed to these inconsistencies in the CAODC-Wildrose-CPC-Rebel Media narrative about Bernard the Roughneck of mounting “personal attacks” against Mr. Hancock.

As for Mr. Hancock himself, he suggested in a Sept. 21 Facebook post that the campaign would likely soon turn to attacks on Alberta Premier Rachel Notley: “There is lots of stuff going on politically in the next 6 weeks that’s in the works and it’s got Notley in its crosshairs,” he stated.

Public Affairs Bureau director to exit his post

Mark Wells, the former Alberta Union of Provincial Employees communications manager appointed one year ago almost to the day as managing director of the government’s Public Affairs Bureau, quietly told his staff late yesterday he will soon be departing.

Mr. Wells, who has a young family and has been successfully pursuing a law degree on a part-time basis for several years, is extremely capable. I don’t imagine the NDP Government will be happy to see him go. With his law degree complete, he will now move on with the next steps in his legal career.

Mr. Wells’s appointment was harshly criticized last year by the Wildrose Party on the spurious grounds he had been an employee of a large public sector union, which is a bit like saying a Conservative government should never hire anyone who had worked as a corporate executive.

The departure of this important employee with roots in in rural Alberta creates a significant gap for the NDP at a key point in the life of its first government.

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    1. The numbers say it all: 15,000 oil wells drilled each year before the price collapse. Less than 5,000 drilled last year.

      77,000 orphaned wells spewing methane and/or screwing up the ground water along with radioactive drilling mud and toxic chemicals left on the land. Bernie’s former employers want the public to pay for this clean up. How much farm land is left to screw up with oil wells that cost more to fix than they produce?

      Notley lowers royalty, corporate, small business, and personal income tax rates to less than those charged by St. Ralph and it is still not good enough.

  1. It’s just more of the standard Klien PC playbook; it ain’t a lie till someone catches you at it. Albertans have been receiving a steady stream of falsehoods, prevarications, non-truths, fantasies, faulty logic, known as lies in any other normal vocabulary, from the PC’s for more than 30 years now.
    It was a winning formula under Klein and since most of them have no capacity to think coherently and problem solve they are desperately cranking out the (good) ol’ standard strategies.

  2. I finally held my nose and checked out the Rebel website. Pretty much as expected; the world through the warped lens of the far right. One surprise though. The editor refers to himself as the Rebel Commander. Surely that is a joke. Hey! No fair! Its my turn to be rebel commander! You be the Emperor this time.

  3. Nice job on this one, Dave. I love your use of plosives: “piece of political performance art.” Yet this sets the stage for those who pay less attention to right wing theatrics.

    1. Thank you, Bobbie. I’m particularly prone to protracted plosive punditry. Seriously, though, this is an important story because we can begin to see the outline of how a small group of actors on rightward fringe of Alberta and Canadian politics work together to reinforce each others’ messages. The evidence is not quite there to prove that they all sat down together at some point to construct a narrative, but the known facts are evocative. What’s particularly important is the key role of Rebel Media in this, because is such an extremist and manipulative organization. It is troubling to imagine the role Rebel Media would play in Alberta in the event of a Wildrose government. Heaven forfend!

    1. Working on rigs requires you to work for 21 days straight then 4 or 5 days off. He works on a rig near Grand Prairie Alberta. Bernard is an independent spokesperson for the hard working people who provide the product that all you liberals hate but do not have an alternative for and can’t stop using. Get off your computer if you are against oil because without oil you would not have a computer!

  4. Ideological discussions aside, I still can’t find any policy if the NDP that has been successful at doing anything other than disrupting the status quo except of course when it comes to increasing money to unions. They are getting big business out of politics and putting unions in. Horse of a different colour, not exactly a solution.

    1. 1) Your entire fact-free comment is laden with ideology. also with outright falsehoods, which is not quite the same thing
      2) It has no bearing on the subject under discussion;
      3) Dim-witted troll is dim.

      1. Well, since you guys are discussing manufactured lies, I’m surprised you aren’t “objectively” looking at Notley’s list of manufactured lies e.g.: not knowing anything about ppa’s, saying that coal plant closures will reduce asthma visits to hospital and save money, saying that minimum wage won’t cause any job losses, saying they didn’t know a feedlot would close in part to Bill 6 despite massive protests against it. And the list goes on. I just find it ironic and hypocritical that you can’t see the lies on your own side. So instead of helping build social license for new pipelines, you criticize anyone trying to do that as a manufactured liar. Seems to me we can add another big fat lie to the NDP list: building social license. Your objectivity is surprisingly, well, not there.

        1. Your list contains only fabrications, distortions and errors in basic reasoning on YOUR part. To call these claims that you distort “NDP lies” is itself a vicious falsehood. “Massive protests” by opposition supporters against Bill 6, for example, is not predictive of the failure of any particular enterprise, let alone a feed lot which went out of business because cattle prices. Particulates from coal burning are well known to cause serious and widespread health problems, is another example. One more: it’s simply absurd to claim that what Joe the Plumber is doing is “building social license for a pipeline”. I’m surprised even Ezra Levant would have the brazen effrontery to make such a claim. Possibly, you invented it yourself, in which case, congratulations: your very own circle of hell is warm and ready.

          1. You’re delusional. I said about coal plants that closing them would save money on health care which is absolute b.s. Without fact and promoted by Phillips. Besides if the NDP really have a crap about health costs and lung disease they’d ban cigarettes as their first order of business. So this bs about asthma and coal in Alberta is a complete “smokescreen”. Ha ha. Even the Pembina institute has shown that Alberta air isn’t dangerous. What’s even more absurd is that the moronic NDP govt thinks they can keep this clean air in Alberta. Ha ha ha. NDP lies.
            Oh yeah, a freedom of access to information request showed that Notley was briefed on the ppa’s. Your blind allegiance, lack of objective assessment and your willingness to believe in conspiracy of the right wing make it easy for me to see how the commies came to power. Are you having a difficult time with reality? Notley sure is, she even said today that she believes she has the support of the majority of Albertans for the minimum wage hike and carbon tax. 31% approval rating says otherwise. Can you say delusional? I personally consider myself a centrist, but you left wing nut jobs are scary. Oh yeah, the latest NDP hypocrisy was in the news today too, they are so concerned about climate change that they bought every mla a new car that runs on gas! And while your picking apart Bernard for taking acting lessons, you fail to mention that your other left wing buddy was a dreams teacher.

  5. So do we know precisely who is paying this bozo’s expenses, as he seems to be getting from one side of the country to the other??Travel and accommodation is not cheap…….especially for an unemployed roughneck, who apparently saved nothing in his glory days of hauling in the big bucks!!! ????

  6. Berrnard from Quebec seems to remain a work in progress at this point. Somehow I don’t think it will fly with the people Wildrose is trying to appeal to, for some reason. Perhaps we can look forward to a more local, more anglicized version soon – Jack from Lacombe? Perhaps a gig for some other part time actor/political science student/oilfield worker. Hey, we could call him Jack of all trades, master of none.

  7. Crazy, There is all the intrigue of an Alistair Mclean spy thriller involved in this cloak and dagger right wing conspiracy plot. Surely It’s such a backroom ploy to weaken the government that it would peak even CSIS interest? Connections and liaisons that would make the plot from Mission Impossible boring.
    (This is TIC!).
    There are connections and yes Bernard has an miniscule acting background, in addition to a non completed Poli-sci education. The fact is that he IS an actual Roughneck and his current job IS actually affected by both the downturn in oil prices, as well as government legislation and anti-oil activism. His suggesting he doesn’t know as much about politics likely is a stretch given his course of study. But his message is one that is real and the reality is, unless you are in Alberta, the severity of the situation is seemingly not understood back east as much.

    If he had gone in a suit, he would have been dismissed, so using a work outfit prop as a way to identify his and others situation generated needed attention.
    What is the difference in credibility to him as a roughneck going to Ottawa that way, or Tzeporah Berman the lifelong activist protester suggesting she can be unbiased as an Oilsands advisor? Both have approached getting their message out in ways that attract the media attention and open themselves to ridicule. Berman is referred to as a Wacko, while Bernard is referred to as a Stooge. Seems about equal.

    To suggest a coordinated backroom right wing conspiracy about advocating for the lifeline industry that supports a vast number of Albertans is ridiculous. People with common causes generally do share the same connections. And to negate or diminish Bernard’s right to say anything violates the concept of the right to free speech in Canada. We can take him at his word on his work background and fighting for a cause, just as much as we can take Kevin Davediuk word that his background with the AUPE doesn’t make him biased to that side while negotiating for the NDP government. It seems the common tactic and yes it happens on both right and left, is to take someone who we disagree with and polarize, demean, and label them to the point where it goes beyond decent societal behavior.
    Specifically in this case the high road has not been taken and there is contentment to condemn people and their background for speaking out. Is it any wonder why there are so many who don’t want to engage in the political process or get involved. At a time when there is a push for women, minorities, youth and anyone to get involved, it is exactly this type of treatment that turns people away. While entitled to your opinions that is exactly what they are, and a piece like this does nothing to encourage dialogue or participation in the process. It is more like a high school group of popular kids gathered around mocking and making fun of the kid that looks or acts different. Unless we rise above this, it seems there will be no decent progress forward, but firm entrenchment on both side and we and our future generations suffer the consequences of that.

    1. I guess the big issue for me, having been steeped both in Alberta conservatism and having come of age during the age of Margaret Thatcher and her disciples, is that the message from both these players seems to have changed purely for convenience sake. For most of the last 30-odd years, the message from these types was some variation of ‘pull yourself up with your own bootstraps’ and ‘government stay out of my business’. But now that both the oil patch and Alberta conservatives are facing tough times, it’s some variation of ‘Ottawa is not helping enough’ and ‘we all need to pull together for the good of the country. You’ll forgive me for being cynical about a crowd that pilloried anyone else who had tried to advance these messages in order to help others in the past.

  8. It’s interesting to read about all of the connections and timelines.

    Re: Neal Hancock’s Facebook statement: “There is lots of stuff going on politically in the next 6 weeks that’s in the works and it’s got Notley in its crosshairs.”

    Okay, what’s happening in about six weeks for the PC/WR operatives to latch onto? I can only think of the court case on the power purchase agreements, beginning November 4th. Perhaps they sense the NDP government will win and the ruling will not be in favour of the power companies. It’s not exactly related to the meme of the “roughneck fighting for jobs for the oil and gas industry”, but what else could they be anticipating for their next theater/rage/propaganda roll out?

  9. Good work Dave. Once again I am inspired to contribute financially to your high quality alt-media journalism.

    Can someone comment as to why anyone even is bothering to listen to this guy? In his own words – “I’m not a guy who’s knowledgeable about public policy or the processes that go on in buildings like this.”…..Ah yah. That is exactly why your opinion is just so much noise.
    If I said, “I’m just some braggadocious blow hard that has lost as much of my daddy’s money as I have made”,
    would you vote for me?

  10. Wow David what a load of BS, Why cant socialists accept that there are actually freedom loving independent people out there like Bernard. And yes we support Rebel Media, Ezra, Wildrose, and we support anyone who will stand up for our freedoms.

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