In April of 2006, author and environmental scientist Mark Tushingham, was on his way to a presentation at the National Press Club. He was invited to speak about the science behind a book that had been launched the previous November: Hotter than Hell. But when he entered the elevator on his way to the event, his cell phone rang. It was Rona Ambrose's office and he was told that he would not be allowed to attend the event. Ambrose was the first Environmental minister in the government of Stephen Harper.
Tushinham immediately contacted his editor to tell her the bad news. He worked for Environment Canada, and though the book was a futuristic story and classed as science fiction, Ambrose believed that it would hurt her government's image.
She claimed that he was being billed as a government speaker, despite the fact that the ads for the April 13 Newsmaker Luncheon billed Tushingham as an environmental scientist, with no mention of his employer.
What Mark wasn't aware of at the time was that then Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn had just issued a release stating 15 programs related to the Kyoto Protocol would be eliminated.
Tushingham's editor Elizabeth Margaris told The Hour: "When we asked why [Tushingham's presentation] was shut down, the minister said it was 'bad timing.' But how were we supposed to know that the government was going to make an announcement that they were cutting 80 per cent of Kyoto programs? ... The science within [Tushingham's] book is all in the public domain, there's nothing revolutionary here. Besides, it's fiction. It's written by a scientist about what he envisions happening in the future." (1)
She would later tell CBC Radio: "So I guess we're being stifled. This is incredible, I've never heard of such a thing." (2)
Indeed it was an incredible thing for Canada.
This incident may seem trivial, however, it would become part of broader movement to stifle debate and change the way Canadians think.
Now I know that this was nothing like the massive book burnings that took place in Germany under Goebbels, but the message was clear. This government was not going to address global warming, but instead change the way we felt about global warming. And they would do it one book at a time, one public address at a time. Meanwhile, they would use rhetoric and clever slogans to keep us pacified.
And no one was better at clever slogans and message manipulation than Republican pollster Frank Luntz. He had been involved with the Reform Party for several years and was on a first name basis with our prime minister.
Luntz is famous for what he calls "language guidance'' -- the use of simple messages, carefully tested and frequently repeated, to overcome public suspicions on potentially unpopular policies. [He advised] not to use economic arguments against environmental regulations, because environmental arguments would always win out ... stress common sense and accountability.
"First, assure your audience that you are committed to 'preserving and protecting' the environment but that 'it can be done more wisely and effectively.' Absolutely do not raise economic arguments first.'' (3)
Ambrose would parrot the message: "My mandate is to have accountability on the environment and show real results and action on the environment for Canadians...'' Luntz also advised putting the cost of regulation in human terms, emphasizing how specific activities will cost more, from "pumping gas to turning on the light.'' So Ambrose argued that "we would have to pull every truck and car off the street, shut down every train and ground every plane to reach the Kyoto target. Or we could shut off all the lights in Canada tomorrow.''
And then the huge message that the Reformers have adopted courtesy of Luntz is that "we won't accept targets unless developing countries like India and China also do so."
"The reality is that the Harper government has studied Republican tactics carefully and is implementing them one at a time,'' said Louise Comeau, project director of the Sage Climate Project. (3)
But these tactics are not really Republican. One time girlfriend of Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, herself a respected political philosopher, once questioned whether Nazi Germany was in fact a full totalitarian dictatorship, since it depended so heavily on a "certain societal consensus". Their success depended on directing and exploiting public opinion, and they did it masterfully. (4)
Leo Strauss would also stress the important of controlling the "ignorant masses" as one of the keys to political success and Joseph Goebbels would say: "He who controls the message controls the masses."
This is Neoconservatism 101.
1. Catch a Fire: Tories muzzle environmental scientist, By: Julie Fortier, The Hour, April 20, 2006
2. Minister Stops Book Talk By Environment Canada Scientist, CBC Arts, April 13, 2006
3. Bush's Chief Climate "Spinmaster" Tells Harper How It's Done, By: Ross Gelbspam, DeSmog, May 31, 2006
4. The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, By: David Welch, Routledge, 1993, ISBN 0-203-93014-2.