These days if you want to take down a politician, you accuse them of populism.
The word immediately summons the image of Donald Trump—a brash, thoughtless, egotistical blowhard.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi relied on this tactic in his recent rant against B.C. premier John Horgan, calling him "one of the worst politicians we have seen in Canada in decades".
Why? Because Horgan "appeals to populism", of course.
For good measure, Nenshi then talked about peaceful protesters in Burnaby engaging in "mob rule" against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The $7.4-billion project has been approved with conditions by the National Energy Board and federal cabinet.
The reality is that the petroleum industry is to Alberta what the forest industry was to B.C. from the 1950s through the 1980s.
In both cases, these industries captured democratic institutions through campaign contributions, lobbying, public relations, and well-funded advertising blitzes in the media.
In the case of Alberta, this was documented in a book released last year called Oil's Deep State: How the Petroleum Industry Undermines Democracy and Stops Action on Global Warming - in Alberta and Ottawa.
The author, Kevin Taft, has a PhD in business and is a former leader of the Alberta Liberal party.
Here's part of the blurb written by David Suzuki: "In order to understand why governments at the federal and provincial levels have been so reticent in taking action to get us off fossil fuels, we must see that money has undermined democracy. There is no place for ethics or morality when the sole drive of corporations is to make money, the more and faster, the better, and that means getting rid of all obstacles to unbridled growth, even if the future of generations to come is in jeopardy."
In B.C., a politician who didn't support the forest-tenure system of that bygone era or who acknowledged that the Crown subsidized big lumber companies was persona non grata.
Big money would be spent to ensure that he or she didn't get their hands on the levers of power.
At the same time, many British Columbians admire Nenshi, particularly for his impressive response to the devastating Alberta flood of 2013.
In former governor general Adrienne Clarkson's 2011 book, Room for All of Us: Surprising Stories of Loss and Transformation, there's a heartwarming story about how Nenshi's family immigrated to Canada from Tanzania shortly before he was born.
Nenshi is an Ismaili Muslim, a group that has been persecuted in many countries. They were welcomed to Canada in the early 1970s after suffering intense discrimination in East Africa.
Canada has benefited enormously from their inclusive world view.
What I find surprising about Nenshi's rant against Horgan is that it came across as ill-tempered and not in keeping with British Columbians' perception of their premier, nor of Nenshi.
Say what you will about Horgan, he can't be compared to Trump.
That's because Horgan is thoughtful, well-read, and a very good listener, even if he's sometimes insensitive to the concerns of environmentalists and Indigenous people.
If there's a knock on Horgan, it's that he pays too much attention to what his fellow cabinet ministers, senior staff, and media tell him, turning him into a somewhat pliable politician.
In closing, I will point out that the spiritual leader of the world's 25 million Ismaili Muslims, the Aga Khan, is well aware of the climate crisis.
In a speech in Dubai in 2016, the widely respected imam told an audience mostly made up of urban planners that "global warming is beginning to create situations where life is at risk, where it was not at risk before".
"We’re seeing villages are being wiped away by earthquakes, by landslides, by avalanches, we’re seeing people moving to dangerous areas in modern environments,” His Highness said, according to Gulf News.
He also urged those in attendance "to try to bring this issue forward so that we address it in good time".
It's advice that Nenshi might want to heed rather than cast aspersions on those who have legitimate concerns about the impact of new pipelines on the climate and B.C.'s precious marine environment.
While Nenshi's at it, he might also want to pick up Kevin Taft's book.
Here in B.C., the forest industry lost a great deal of its influence following huge protests against logging in Clayoquot Sound in the early 1990s.
Since then, forestry has shrunk significantly as a percentage of the provincial gross domestic product.
Financial, insurance, and real estate services form the largest portion of the B.C. economy nowadays. The tech industry has also been a roaring success.
Similar changes are unfolding in Alberta. In the future, the petroleum industry will not be the powerhouse that it is today.
Forward-thinking politicians try to dial down the consumption of fossil fuels to preserve human lives, rather than trash-talk a premier in another province just to win a cheap headline.More