Fact-Checking Rock Stars

Has anyone else noticed the explosive rise of fact-checking in the Canadian media as of late? This is certainly a welcome development. Instead of the usual “He said, she said,” muddle in the name of balance, we are in the throes of a renewed quest for pure facts and unadulterated veracity. Surely this sea-change in fact-checking must be in response to some scandalous claim by a major politician or some other Canadian that wields an immense amount of power over our daily lives.

Unfortunately, no.

It’s because a greying rock singer had the audacity to challenge the claims of the Canadian government and oil company executives and gave voice to the concerns of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation that have all too often been ignored. While media outlets rush to fact-check each and every statement uttered by Neil Young as if he was the sole repository of critical opinion on the expansion of the tar sands, maybe we should apply the same level of factual rigour to the statements emanating from the defenders of tar sands growth.

I’ll stick with what I know and stay close to home, with our own Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. While Mr. Wall has no direct stake in the expansion of neighbouring Alberta’s oilsands, he is more than eager to exploit Saskatchewan’s own deposits of bitumen in our province’s northwest and is a vocal advocate for the oil industry.

Mr. Wall – in his statement lamenting Mr. Young’s lack of facts – claimed that “Canada’s record is better than any other oil-exporting country in the world.” So what record might Mr. Wall be referring to? Is it our environmental record? No, it can’t be that because if Alberta was a country, it’s per capita Greenhouse Gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world, with per capita emissions more than three times that of either the U.S. or Canada (thanks Ontario and Quebec for diluting our per capita carbon output!).

Maybe it’s our environmental policies? Nope, we hold the dubious honour of being ranked 55th of 58 countries in terms of tackling greenhouse gas emissions through environmental policy, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. That means that oil-producing nations such as Russia, Algeria, Norway, Mexico and Indonesia all rank better than us in terms of climate policy and performance.

Maybe Mr. Wall is channeling the mantra of “ethical oil” and the idea that petroleum extracted within the borders of a democracy is better? Here Mr. Wall may have more ground to stand on, but according to The Economist’s Democracy Index, we are the 8th ranked democracy in comparison to first-ranked Norway – another major oil exporting country. Or maybe we have a better record on women’s rights? Nope, once again, Norway beats us. What about our record respecting Indigenous People’s rights? That’s what this is all about is it not? (Although one could be excused for being ignorant of the whole “Honour the Treaties” part of the “Honour the Treaties” concert tour given the myopic fixation on Neil Young’s facts or lack of them). Not even close, Canada would rank 48 out of 174 if our country were judged solely on the economic and social well-being of its First Nations people. So, it’s not exactly clear what “record” Mr. Wall was touting when he touted our “record.” Here is an example of a statement that might be a candidate for fact-checking.

See fact-checking is helpful! So much so, you might think it would be worthwhile to apply it to people that are not rock stars. Like maybe our elected officials or captains of industry? So, while our media certainly deserves kudos for their new found tenacity for seeking out the facts, maybe they could apply some of that rigour to people in actual positions of power once in a while?

Simon Enoch

Full Disclosure: “Cowgirl in the Sand” is best heard live.

4 comments

  1. I like the way you tried to quickly slip in, “If Alberta was a country”…… Well it isn’t, so let’s deal with the reality of Canada being the country not Alberta. Using your argument, one could say if…..”Fort Mac were a country it would be the biggest polluter on earth”. Yeah well it isn’t a country any more than Alberta is so let’s stick to the facts rather than hypotheses. You might want to check our logic as well as your facts.

    1. That’s a fair point, I should have stuck with only country to country examples. However, we can certainly use Canada’s per capita emissions and get a similar result. We are the 14th highest per capita carbon emitter in the world. Ahead of Russia, Nigeria, Norway, Mexico, Lybia, Iran…. In case you are against per capita measures, we can also go total emissions. Canada is about eighth is total CO2 tonnage, ahead of major oil producing countries like Iran, Venezuela, Algeria, Nigeria, Kuwait etc. So I think the logic of the argument still applies even with national measures.

  2. So, carew, are you suggesting examining hypothetical and contrafactual situations – a fairly standard undertaking in philosophy, and indeed in policy-making (the objective of which is usually to change the present, actual circumstances of some polity to match ideal, but currently-hypothetical ones) – is somehow invalid?

    In fact, doesn’t the most successful system of empirical inquiry currently available to humans – science – run on examining the very thing you dismiss (hypotheses)?

    Breaking out greenhouse gas emissions per capita by province is a useful exercise, for at least two reasons:

    (1) It allows for inter-provincial comparison, to see which provinces are falling short compared to the others in dealing with controlling emissions.

    (2) It can assist individual provinces (or advocates of controlling emissions who are working at the provincial level) to set policy goals and benchmarks for emissions control.

  3. You could compare Alberta to Norway though: Alberta is twice the size of Norway and has about 2/3 the population. Alberta’s GHG emissions are about 9 times as high. Saskatchewan of course produces even more per-capita emissions than Alberta does. The crazy thing of course is that when you count up the emissions of an oil-exporting country (or province), you don’t include the emissions produced when somebody else burns the oil that the oil-exporting country sold them. So there’s no reason to give oil-exporting countries their own category in the enviro-crime standings.

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