Friday, September 24, 2010

The politics of letter writing


Aside from blogging I keep the editors of the local and national newspapers busy with a regular stream of letters. My letters have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines over the years. This week I sent my first letter to the National Post, it was published and the online version appears above. My record is more spotty with other papers, this was first-time-lucky and I appreciate the opportunity. However my letter was edited so much that my argument was altered, see if you can spot the differences.

Re: Alberta Sands praised as ‘ethical oil’. Adam McDowell, Sept. 22

To the Editor:

I think that reframing the debate by called Alberta’s Oil Sands ‘ethical oil’ is disingenuous, like putting lipstick on a pig, its still a pig. Any kind of oil exploration and production is dirty business; witness the Gulf of Mexico oil debacle.

The ethical focus should be on the producers. Are they responsible enough to clean up after themselves; are they minimizing the impact of production so that the people of Alberta are not stuck with an environmental mess for generations afterward?

Oil is an essential ingredient of modern civilization, it should be traded with as few restrictions as possible, and the market should dictate its price. Alberta should not be ashamed of its good fortune as a major player in oil production. Calling it ‘ethical’ or ‘fair trade’ oil because it comes from Canada as opposed to Saudi Arabia or Nigeria is of no consequence to me, I shop for the best price.

Danielle Smith should reconsider her support of Ezra Levant’s book; it is shortsighted thinking. If ethics dictated trade we should refrain from travel to Cuba or from purchasing Chinese manufactured goods because of human rights issues. That’s wrong, it is trade that brings about change.

If the Americans don’t want our “dirty” oil, someone else will.     


My letter was based on this article. It talks about Ezra Levant's book and how Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Alliance picked up the argument. Full disclosure: I haven't read the book, but I have read about it, this fairly positive review was in the Financial Post the day before my letter was sent.
I admire Levant and I agree with him on many issues, probably even this issue, given the provisos in my unedited letter. But the day after I wrote the letter the National Post ran a lead editorial supporting ethical oil, and not mentioning Levant or Smith. My letter appeared the following day, edited so as to make it look like it was written in response to the lead editorial. While I know the newspaper reserves the right to edit whatever it is sent, this seems fishy to me.









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