Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has launched his government’s long-awaited “energy war room,” armed with a $30-million budget to target environmentalists, journalists and anyone else it believes is spreading “misinformation and lies” about Canadian energy.
Mr. Kenney launched the Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. in Calgary on Wednesday, making good on an election promise to establish an oil industry war room to bolster and counter criticism of the sector.
Mr. Kenney said the CEC will be composed of a rapid response unit to “issue swift responses to misinformation about Canadian energy,” an energy literacy unit to create original content about the sector and a research unit to analyse oil industry data targeting investors, researchers and policy makers.
The Premier roundly rejected the suggestion the CEC will be a propaganda arm for the government and oil sector, even though it is already producing its own content.
The CEC website, launched Wednesday, includes a story about an Alberta dad “irked” by an environmental presentation about oil and gas to his son’s class, another story tying artificial-limb advancement to the petrochemical industry and opinion pieces.
Other governments have faced similar criticisms after producing their own quasi-news content, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford with his caucus-funded Ontario News Now communications service.
Mr. Kenney also rejected the notion the CEC could impinge on free speech as it targets what he believes is an international environmentalist campaign against Alberta’s oil sands.
“If there are organizations that use their free speech to put misinformation into the public sphere, we will respond. That’s not attacking free speech, it’s responding to the content of the speech. That’s called public discourse, and the CEC will do it with respect, civility and professionalism,” he said.
“When they lie about us, we are going to tell the truth. When they seek to mislead people, we will offer people the facts."
One third of the CEC budget comprises funds redirected from government advertising. The rest comes from Alberta’s carbon tax on large emitters, the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction system, which also funds green technology research.
That the war room uses TIER cash and therefore strips valuable dollars from emission reduction research is a problem for Duncan Kenyon, Alberta director of environmental think tank the Pembina Institute.
The oil sector needs as much disruptive innovation as possible to let it stay in the global energy game, he said in an interview, and those technologies rely on investments from TIER.
Instead of using $30-million to fight global climate change and economic issues facing the oil sector, Mr. Kenyon suggested the government should acknowledge those “immovable realities.”
“You’re fighting against a tide. You can’t win,” he said. “They are absolutely jeopardizing the financial and economic health of this province by not acknowledging that and not talking about solutions.”
Ultimately, Mr. Kenyon said, “the war room is doomed."
The war room’s managing director, Tom Olsen, was adamant his organization will “offer a narrative based on fact.”
Mr. Olsen, a former journalist and UCP candidate, said Wednesday the CEC would be “part new media organization and part think tank research hub” that will use all available tools at its disposal to spread its message, from tradition and social media to advertising.
“Where falsehoods are spread, we will respond,” he said.
The war room has been factored into the Alberta budget for the next four years. After that, Mr. Kenney said, it will receive a performance evaluation to determine whether it has been effective.
The province registered the CEC as a private corporation rather than an Crown agency in order to shield it from access-to-information laws, which the government says provides it with a “tactical" advantage.
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