Ethical Oil takes Centre Stage

A number of newspapers are reporting on the new advertisements being created by, formerly run by Ezra Levant and now by former Tory staffer Alykhan Velshi. has created a series of ads that juxtapose images to emphasize why Canadian oil is preferable.

The ads contrast the difference between ethical oil producing nations such as Canada and Norway and conflict oil nations like those in the middle east.  Levant’s argument in his book on the subject is quite compelling and is certainly trying to change the frame of the debate over the Alberta oil sands.

Back in December, Abacus Data did some research on the debate and I wrote a column in the Hill Times about the findings.

One objective of this exercise was to test whether Ezra Levant’s main argument in Ethical Oil had any resonance with Canadians. In particular, I wanted to put the argument up against one advocated by Greenpeace. So we presented Canadians with two anonymous statements (no source was given) and asked which, if either, came closest to their view. The statements displayed were:

Statement 1: Some people argue that… if the oil sands were to be shut down tomorrow, the United States would simply replace our petroleum with petroleum from unstable countries, some of whom are known to sponsor terrorism. Along with the emerging economies of India and China, Americans are going to fill their gas tanks with oil from somewhere like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, or Venezuela. (Levant’s Argument)

Statement 2: Other people argue that… That the environmental, health, and social costs of the oil sands are not worth the economic benefit of the resource. Areas of wilderness the size of small countries are being chewed up by the oil sands and replaced by a landscape of toxic lakes, open pit mines, refineries, and pipe lines. Instead of continuing further development, incentives and investment should be directed towards findings alternatives to fossil fuels. (Greenpeace’s Argument)

The results reflect the division in the country over the issue. While Canadians on a whole were more likely to say that Greenpeace’s argument came closer to their view than Levant’s argument (37 per cent to 21 per cent), there were clear differences of opinion across generational, regional, and political groups. It is also worth noting that about a quarter of Canadians (23 per cent) rejected both statements and felt neither represented their views.

Very few Canadians between the ages of 18-29 (15 per cent) said that Levant’s argument came closest to their view. Almost a majority (47 per cent) sided with Greenpeace. In contrast, one in four Canadians 50 years of age and older (25 per cent) sided with Levant while 35 per cent sided with Greenpeace.

Since that article appeared, the Federal Government has taken up the language of ethical oil.  Environment Minister Peter Kent has described Canada’s oil sands as “ethical” in comparison to other sources of oil.  And so a big question is whether Canadians and Americans been moved by the argument now that it has been in the public sphere for a while.  Abacus will probably go back to Canadians and test the same argument to see if anything has changed.  Stay tuned.