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Alberta Kenney announces ‘war room’ to combat misinformation about energy industry

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Ottawa on May 2, 2019.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government will open a “war room” within months that will seek help from like-minded social-media personalities with the mission of confronting environmentalists and silencing foes of the oil sands.

Staff in the office, funded with $30-million, will respond in immediately to misinformation about the energy industry on social media and in more traditional venues, and will be given a high tolerance for risk, the Premier told reporters in Calgary on Friday. The office will be judged on whether public support increases for new pipelines, he added. He did not elaborate on what he meant by a high tolerance for risk.

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Mr. Kenney said the Calgary-based office is essential in a world where many groups are hostile to Alberta’s oil.

“The goal of the energy war room will be to tell the truth about how the world needs more Canadian energy,” the Premier said. “We will no longer accept the campaign of lies and defamation.” He pointed to a recent National Geographic story critical of the oil sands as an example of what the new office will combat.

Appearing with Energy Minister Sonya Savage and representatives of organizations that promote oil and gas development, Mr. Kenney singled out for praise blogger Vivian Krause, who was also on stage. He said her work is evidence Canada faces a concerted international campaign against its energy industry. According to Mr. Kenney, the new government office will work with people such as Ms. Krause on social media.

“The energy war room will have a mandate to operate much more nimbly and much more quickly, with a higher risk tolerance frankly than is normally the case with government communications,” he said.

Mr. Kenney has faced criticism from environmentalists for his decision to end the province’s carbon tax and for allowing coal-fired power plants to remain open longer as part of a climate change plan that is less aggressive than that of his predecessor.

No one has yet been named to run the office, although Mr. Kenney said he expects it to be operating by the end of summer.

The Premier also criticized Canada’s energy industry for not defending itself more vigorously. Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Mr. Kenney had a point.

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“We aren’t building pipelines, we have [liquefied natural gas] opportunities off our east coast and our west coast that have been sitting idle for close to a decade,” he said of the fact that the industry has not fought back against campaigns to block such developments. “I think it’s important that we recognize that there is a very organized campaign, based out of the U.S., Europe and other places to limit Canada’s investment in the energy sector.”

The New Democrats, who lost power in April after four years in office, said Mr. Kenney’s plans could set back increasing support for pipelines. The NDP said seven out of 10 Canadians now support the Trans Mountain expansion project.

“What we have heard from the Premier today is beginning of a partisan plan to pit the economy against the environment. This is a recipe for disaster,” NDP MLA Irfan Sabir said in a statement.

Greenpeace Canada said that Mr. Kenney’s war room will be an attack on environmental groups and do nothing to deal with climate change.

“Jason Kenney can spend $30-million on political theater to try to distract us from the deadly seriousness of climate scientists’ warnings, but that won’t keep wildfires, heat waves or floods from getting worse or stop the seas from rising,” said Keith Stewart, an energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada. “Shooting the messenger might make for great election campaign rhetoric, but ignoring inconvenient truths does nothing to prepare Alberta for the coming transition off fossil fuels.”

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