For those new to Alberta and for those who have not studied the history of premiers prior to Ralph Klein, it may surprise you that Jason Kenney isn’t the first premier to set up a propaganda machine and go after the free press.
Alberta Premiers of the Twentieth Century, edited by Bradford J. Rennie, is a fascinating read of Alberta’s first 12 Premiers (three Liberal, three United Farmers of Alberta, three Social Credit and three Progressive Conservatives).
Today Jason Kenney is closely emulating Alberta’s fourth premier and first Social Credit premier, William Aberhart.
The Alberta economy was floundering, the press was reporting the many failures of a rookie government whose leader was enacting a radically new economic model birthed in England—social credit.
Like so many politicians, Aberhart was thin-skinned and didn’t think he should be held accountable by the press.
In 1937, Aberhart passed The Accurate News and Information Bill forcing newspapers to reveal all their sources and publish the names and addresses of all writers of articles, editorials and letters to the editor.
Pieces by government-named, blacklisted writers could not be published and newspapers would have to print free of charge any government rebuttals to criticism.
Severe fines and jail terms awaited any editor who did not follow the rules.
Virtually all newspapers resisted these restrictions and in short order, the Supreme Court of Canada deemed the bill unconstitutional.
Kenney’s propaganda ‘war room’ are shadows of 1937.
The ‘war room’s’ first attack was directed at Jeremy Appel, columnist for the Medicine Hat News, who wrote an opinion piece chastising and mocking Kenney’s tax-payer funded truth machine. He wrote,
“Its entire premise is based on the notion that anyone who opposes oil sands expansion is a liar with ulterior motives.”
Reminiscent of 1937, Tom Olsen, the ‘war room’s’ CEO, demanded and got a free opinion column in the Medicine Hat News to refute Appel’s column with the government’s own ‘truth’.
In fact, Premier Kenney’s ‘war room’ isn’t unlike Premier Aberhardt’s Calgary Albertan.
In 1936, he persuaded his followers to purchase the Calgary Albertan and made it a daily government publication.
Fortunately for democracy, it fizzled and unfortunately for many loyalists, they lost personal money on this venture.
Another powerful tool of propaganda is sanctifying an organization’s true intent behind an innocuous label.
‘Calgary Albertan’ implies a balanced newspaper representing all of Calgary and Alberta. Kenney’s ‘war room’ is now called the Canadian Energy Centre.
Its name could mean anything, but its purpose is to distance the government-funded organization from Kenney’s ‘war room’ rhetoric and make it seem respectable.
However, whether called ‘war room’ or the Canada Energy Centre, it is simply a propaganda tool for a government hooked on hydrocarbons without a vision or plan for a diversified energy future.
Ironically, Kenney didn’t stiff private friends to fund his propaganda machine as Aberhart did, he simply uses taxpayer’s dollars.
The $30 million used to fund his ‘Ministry of Truth’ is virtually equal to the cuts his government made to the Calgary School Board.
Not surprising, as the biggest enemy of propaganda is education.
An important line in George Orwell’s political satire, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was, “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
A government propaganda machine is never a long-term winning strategy except when liberty is also forgone.
Horrors against fellow humanity always happens when you can’t tolerate a dissenting opinion. History proves that over and over again.