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Ezra Levant and the image makeover of the oil sands

Ezra Levant turns after addressing a partially filled auditorium with Ann Coulter supporters after informing them that her appearance has been canceled at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 23, 2010.

Pawel Dwulit/Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press

Conservative columnist and provocateur Ezra Levant is working to rebrand Canada's oil-sands industry in the face of criticism from U.S. politicians and environmental activists who want Americans to boycott the petroleum extracted from gooey tar.

Oil-sands critics point to the hefty greenhouse-gas emissions generated in the process and blame the Alberta-based industry for a host of environmental ills.

Mr. Levant's 2010 book Ethical Oil tries to shift the debate by pointing out the relative merits of buying oil from Canada instead of regimes with dubious environmental and human-rights records, from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela. By comparison, he argues, Canada is environmentally responsible, peaceful, offers its workers fair wages and respects human rights.

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"I don't know what God was thinking when he was handing out oil, but he gave it to all the world's bastards - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Nigeria. Out of the top 10 countries ranked by oil reserves, Canada is the only Western liberal democracy on the list," Mr. Levant told a Commons committee last fall.

"Greenpeace propaganda pictures make the oil sands look like something out of the Land of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. But in only 2 per cent of the area, where there is 20 per cent of the resource, is the oil close enough to the surface for it to be mined that way," Mr. Levant said.

The so-called 'in the ground' mines "don't use any river water, and even the 2 per cent that's mined has to be reclaimed afterwards. Already more than 60 square kilometres have been. Compare that with the 2,000 unremediated toxic oil spills in Nigeria that will never be cleaned up."

Mr. Levant argues that Canada beats out most foreign-oil producers on every measure.

"The mayor of Fort McMurray is a young woman named Melissa Blake. How many women mayors are there in Saudi Arabia? There are none. It's against the law. In Iran, women are stoned to death if they're accused of adultery," he said.

"Canada invented peacekeeping. Saudi Arabia invented 9/11. Iran is using its oil profits to build a nuclear bomb. Sudan uses its oil profits to buy weapons to prosecute the genocide in Darfur."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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