Monday, July 14, 2008

Inventing a Scandal: "Dirty Money" or Dirty Pool?

Journal op/ed article pedding scandal, concealing facts

In an op/ed article appearing in the Edmonton Journal today, D Braid insists something rotten is afoot regarding former premier Don Getty's application to have a carbon sequestration project subsidized by the provincial government.

Which, at first glimpse, would seem to be amiss. Braid certainly isn't far off the mark when he suggests that "there isn't another province where an ex-premier would even consider applying".

But when one looks a little closer at the article in question, it turns out that a few things are actually amiss within the article itself.

In fact, a significant portion of Braid's op/ed article relies on the insistence of "local dentist and community activist" Amil Shapka.

"That just makes me want to throw up," Shapka says. "Having a private company with political ties and no experience come in first, some red flags have to go up."

"We've been alarmed about this for months. There was money allocated for carbon sequestration in the federal green plan. Now the province is throwing more money in the pot."

"I hope the public interest will come into play, and the money will be awarded to the best applicants. I don't think Getty's company could do it."

Of course, as a dentist, Shapka is certainly qualified to make judgements on the qualifactions of Capital Reserve Canada to launch a carbon sequestering project.

But the question very much could be asked: that's an awfully resolute statement for a dentist to make regarding a matter well outside his personal field of expertise. Who, precisely, is Amil Shapka?

A little rudimentary research shows us that Amil Shapka is more than simply a local dentist and "community activist". He also happens to be both President and Chief Financial Officer of the Lac La Biche-St Paul Liberal party riding association.

Certainly not the kind of individual who could be expected to give a fair and honest evaluation of a former Progressive Conservative premier's ability to properly manage a carbon sequestering project.

Which is precisely why Albertans will expect that the government will evaluate Capital Reserve Canada's application based on the virtues of its proposal, and either grant or deny a subsidy based on that.

Braid also mentions the 1986 disaster at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, arguing it could happen near Two Hills, Alberta (where the project is planned) in the event of a leak in a CO2-carrying pipeline.

Yet he fails to mention that Lake Nyos is generally considered by scientists to have been the result of a combination of a volcanic eruption unlikely to occur in the North Saskatchewan river and unique conditions that resulted in the entire lake being effectively carbonated.

These conditions are unlikely to be duplicated in the North Saskatchewan River -- although it is a possibility that certainly warrants investigation, if only because of the lethal effects of the Nyos eruption.

All the same, it seems that Braid's article is little more than a combination of some less-than-seemly circumstances mixed with either ignorance of, or a discarding of, some of the relevant facts.

Not too much unlike what is typical of certain individuals who ironically also chose to comment on this story.

And while there certainly is potential for a patronage scandal in this matter, an application on its own does not a scandal make. Hopefully, the media coverage the story has already recieved will provide Albertan officials who may otherwise feel tempted to give Don Getty any undue benefit to think twice about it.

In the meantime, however, all the scandal mongering is simply dirty pool.

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