They specialize in organizing anti-oilsands street protests and producing slick anti-pipeline YouTube ads.
Mitchell was also the director of training and leadership at the Broadbent Institute. Last year he organized a boot camp teaching people how to campaign for a moratorium on fracking.
And Mitchell is a registered lobbyist in Ottawa. As of yesterday, his lobbying disclosure form lists among his goals “asking that the Conservative federal MPs in BC pressure cabinet to stop the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.” He’s been an eco-activist since his days as Jack Layton’s assistant on Toronto city council.
Fighting against oil and gas is his job. But it’s also his personal passion. His Twitter feed is full of personal jabs, demonizing “Big Oil” and anyone who deals with them. He’s a practitioner of the activist tactic of “denormalization” – demonizing an industry until it is no longer considered socially acceptable.
Mitchell has an impressive resume. But it got more impressive this week. Alberta’s NDP Premier, Rachel Notley, appointed Graham Mitchell to be the chief of staff to Alberta’s minister of energy.
A Toronto anti-oilsands activist – still registered as an anti-oil lobbyist – is now running Alberta’s energy department.
There are twelve ministers in the Alberta cabinet, including Notley herself, each with a chief of staff. And ten of those chiefs are, like Mitchell, NDP activists from other provinces, many of whom will commute each week to Alberta from Vancouver, Toronto, or elsewhere.
There is something democratically illegitimate about non-residents being sent in to run a province to which they have few or no ties. It feels colonial – as if the NDP believes Alberta lacks people with talent and judgment to govern themselves.
It feels nepotistic – highly paid consolation prizes for failed NDP activists from other campaigns.
Like Nathan Rotman. He worked on Olivia Chow’s unsuccessful campaign for Toronto mayor. Now he’s the chief of staff to Alberta’s Finance Minister.
Was there no-one in Alberta with any financial background? No socially conscious businessman, or even an NDP-friendly professor or think tank economist? Four million Albertans, but not one who understands Alberta’s fiscal situation better than an Olivia Chow door-knocker?
Although many of these senior staff have no connection to Alberta, they certainly have strong views about Alberta – as a political punching bag. Robin Steudel, the new chief of staff for the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, was a deputy director of the B.C. NDP’s 2013 election campaign. The central platform of that campaign was anti-Alberta: no oilsands, no pipelines, no tankers. It was so extreme that even environmentally conscious British Columbians rejected it, wiping out the double-digit lead the NDP had at the beginning of the campaign.
Steudel has no connection to Alberta. Like the other colonial administrators, she will likely jet back home on weekends – or maybe back to the United States, where she worked as a field coordinator for the anti-oilsands Obama campaign. These senior staff likely won’t move their families to Alberta, buy homes, enroll their kids in schools. So they won’t make friends outside of political circles – they won’t actually get to know normal Albertans, and have their carefully-nurtured anti-Alberta myths challenged by real facts. They’re truly just visiting – political mercenaries doing a well-paid tour of duty, until they can go home to take another crack at beating Christie Clark or John Tory.
There’s a problem with this. These mercenaries’ interests are not aligned with Albertans. This week, the president of Total SA, one of the world’s largest oil companies, said that if Alberta raises taxes, it could cause the cancellation of billions of dollars in investments. That’s not an idle threat; Total has already shelved their Joslyn mine, an $11 billion project. That’s $11 billion in construction, let alone the decades of permanent employment that would come.
Investment is already in jeopardy because of low oil prices and high labour costs. A tax hike could be the deciding factor on tens of billions of investment dollars this year alone.
That would be terrible news to Albertans – including unionized construction workers, or nurses or teachers whose salaries are paid for by taxes from successful energy companies.
But ten of Alberta’s new chiefs of staff – including the premier’s own chief of staff, a Torontonian named Brian Topp – aren’t Albertans and don’t intend to become Albertan. To them, a cancelled project is a good thing – something they’ve been campaigning for, for years, back in Vancouver or Toronto.
When Topp ran for the federal NDP leadership three years ago, he made global warming a central issue. He proposed a “hard cap on emissions”, a carbon tax and even “getting fossil fuelled cars out of our cities.”
Total SA cancelling a mine is a disaster for thousands of Alberta families. But it’s a policy success for those who have been campaigning against the oilsands from Toronto.
Alberta’s nominal Minister of Energy is Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, a sixty-something teacher with no experience or even prior curiosity in oil and gas. She’ll be doing whatever her staff tells her to do and reading whatever speeches they hand to her to say. She will be minister in name only. The real power is Graham Mitchell, and his boss Topp. What will that be like?
Mitchell gave a hint, in a tweet we wrote last fall, quoting his heroine, Olivia Chow: “movement advice: stop being nice and DEMAND more.”
Albertans are about to find out what that feels like.
JOIN TheRebel.media for more fearless news and commentary you won’t find anywhere else.
VISIT our NEW group blog The Megaphone!
It’s your one-stop shop for rebellious commentary from independent and fearless readers and writers.
READ Ezra Levant's bestselling books debunking environmentalist propaganda against the energy industry:
Groundswell: The Case for Fracking
Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands