Poe’s Law is a 21st-century adage that describes the conundrum of trying to use parody on the Internet: unless you hit your audience over the head with the fact that you’re joking, someone will invariably take you seriously.
However, Poe’s Law does not typically apply to high-ranking government ministers who appear in televised interviews.
However, Albertans had a hard time understanding what Finance Minister Nate Horner meant when he appeared on a pair of national political shows on Friday and repeatedly outlined his plans for a surprising policy to retrofit Alberta homes with outdated heating systems. technology.
Horner’s comments came in response to an accusation by federal Employment Minister Randy Boissonault that Alberta was being irresponsible in its proposal to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and that Horner was not taking his job as minister seriously. of Finance.
Horner returned that comment to the Liberal MP, attacking his government’s three-year pause on the federal carbon tax on home heating oil, a fuel that is still commonly used to heat homes in Atlantic Canada but is now almost unknown in Alberta.
“I heard him tell me to take my job and politics seriously,” Horner said. said on CTV power play.
“So, given that you just said that, an idea occurred to me: I’m going to work diligently and quickly to create a subsidy for Albertans to switch from natural gas to home heating oil. If that’s the last exclusion on the federal carbon tax, I want to make sure Albertans can enjoy it.”
The proposal is impractical, to say the least, in terms of costs, logistics and climate goals.
So impractical that has to It’s going to be a joke, right?
‘I speak very seriously’
If Horner was joking, his second televised appearance on Friday only muddied the waters.
“Something just occurred to me and I’m going to share it with you too,” he told host David Cochrane on the CBC show. Power and politics.
“I think Alberta should look at a subsidy where we help if Albertans want to switch from natural gas to home heating oil. Maybe we help with one-time costs to do that.”
A little later, in the same interview, Horner went further.
“The more I think about it, I take this subsidy to convert natural gas into home heating fuel very seriously,” he said.
“You can wait for it to arrive.”
When Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, heard Horner’s initial comments, he assumed the minister must have been joking.
“It’s one of the most ridiculous political ideas I’ve ever heard,” Bratt said.
“It’s such an absurd proposition that you’d have to think he was being sarcastic.”
But when he saw Horner return to the idea again and again in the second interview, he wasn’t so sure.
“It didn’t show in the interview,” he said. “That’s my point.”
Bratt was not alone in his confusion.
The Prime Minister intervenes
At a news conference on Saturday, the prime minister was asked whether Horner’s comments were simply a rhetorical argument or whether her government was seriously considering a natural gas subsidy for heating oil.
“No, no. I think he was clearly being sarcastic,” Smith said, laughing. “Maybe you have to know Nate Horner to know his sense of humor.”
She also went further and directly addressed Horner’s comment about being “very serious” when he made the proposal.
“I think he was very serious about how unfair it is,” the prime minister said.
“I mean, that’s the kind of absurdity we would have to have: the only way to qualify for a carbon tax [exemption] “It’s going from a cleaner fuel source to a dirtier fuel source.”
For context: a average alberta home consumes about 10 GJ of natural gas per month, and the carbon tax bill amounts to about $33 per month.
Even if the government fully subsidized the cost of converting a natural gas furnace to a heating oil system, the difference in operating cost would outweigh the carbon tax savings for a typical home, said Sara Hastings-Simon, professor of land, energy and environment at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
This is because oil is significantly more expensive than natural gas for the same amount of heating power.
“We’re talking about something like twice as expensive,” Hastings-Simon said, noting that the exact amounts can vary from region to region and with fluctuating prices for both fuels.
“Not to mention it’s also a lot more inconvenient,” he added.
“You have to have the fuel oil delivered to you instead of just having it piped into your home. You have to buy it before the heating season. You have to pay all of those costs up front. So even in a world where Alberta, for For whatever reason, decided to subsidize a conversion, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to make that change.
For his part, he said he also couldn’t tell whether Horner was joking when he repeatedly raised the idea of converting heating oil.
But Horner himself clarified it, a few days after his television appearances.
“I was being completely sarcastic.”
On Monday afternoon, on the way to the legislature, the Finance Minister was asked if he was serious about the heating oil proposal.
“No,” Horner replied. “He was being totally sarcastic by pointing out the ridiculousness of federal carbon tax policy.”
“I meant it very seriously,” he added. “And I think I did.”
Lori Williams isn’t so sure.
She teaches political science at Mount Royal University and says that if Horner’s television appearances were genuine attempts at sarcasm, that was not clear, partly because of his earnest insistence that he was serious and partly because of the history of his government. .
“The Alberta government has made a number of claims that have been surprising and have led people to question whether they were serious,” Williams said.
“For example: Is Alberta serious when it says it is owed 53 per cent of the Canada Pension Plan assets?”
Bratt said there was a similar sense of disbelief when Alberta announced it would suspend approvals for renewable energy projects due to concerns about the future cost of cleaning up wind turbines and solar panels, given the way the government has treated environmental liabilities. much larger than the oil industry. -and-gas. (That was no joke, though; the moratorium on renewable energy remains in effect until the end of February.)
And while Horner’s initial interviews may have been surprising to Bratt, he said the minister’s subsequent clarifications were not, given what the prime minister said over the weekend.
“Once your boss tells you, ‘No, you were joking,’ then, by definition, you were joking.”