Alberta’s premier-designate Jason Kenney says he plans to dip into the private sector as he staffs a campaign-style “war room” to push back against environmental groups and negative media coverage of the province’s oil industry.
Mr. Kenney, who is preparing to be sworn in as premier April 30 after his United Conservatives won this week’s election, campaigned on a promise to devote $30-million to respond to “lies and myths” about Alberta’s energy sector. The energy war room was part of a suite of platform promises designed to challenge outside forces Mr. Kenney blames for pinning down the Alberta oil industry at a time when the province’s economy is already suffering.
“Both the industry and governments of different partisan stripes have not been fast enough to respond to the incoming attacks,” Mr. Kenney told reporters after meeting with outgoing NDP Premier Rachel Notley in Edmonton on Thursday.
The war room would be part of the province’s public affairs bureau, and he suggested prospective staff with private-sector experience who have a “creative” approach to communications would be the best fit.
Mr. Kenney has complained that environmental groups have peddled misinformation about the oil industry and used foreign funding to wage public-relations and legal fights to block new pipelines.
He brought up two recent cases as examples of what the war room might target.
Last month, a Toronto councillor raised the prospect of suing oil companies over the effects of climate change, as other cities have considered doing. Mr. Kenney wrote Toronto Mayor John Tory and the motion was dropped.
He also pointed to a National Geographic magazine article about the Alberta oil sands, which the headline condemned as “the world’s most destructive oil operation." He said the article was “riddled" with factual errors.
“I want a unit in the government that will be on that the moment it is published, demanding a correction of the record and throwing a spotlight on what I think was, in that instance, irresponsible journalism,” he said.
He also plans to launch legal challenges over the federal carbon tax and other environmental legislation, threatens to cut off oil shipments to B.C., and to hold a referendum on equalization.
Earlier on Thursday, the federal government confirmed it had extended the deadline for cabinet to decide whether to approve the Trans Mountain expansion project by nearly a month to June 18, from May 22. The government was ordered by the Federal Court of Appeal to hold additional consultations with First Nations and do more to consider the impact on endangered killer whales off B.C.
Mr. Kenney said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told him about the delay when the two spoke on Wednesday.
“I agreed with the Prime Minister that they need to make sure that they cross every 't' and dot every 'i' when it comes to discharging the government’s duty to consult,” he said.
“We certainly don’t want to come back to the drawing board a third time.”
Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley both described their meeting as cordial and said they discussed several issues facing the government, with Ms. Notley offering her replacement some advice ahead of the transition.
Ms. Notley, who has said she intends to continue serving as Official Opposition leader when the legislature returns, pointed to the federal delay on Trans Mountain as evidence the pipeline debate is more complicated than Mr. Kenney has made it seem. She also noted that Quebec doubled down on its opposition to oil pipelines and British Columbia has endorsed the federal government’s legislation to ban tankers off B.C.'s north coast.
“What it does demonstrate is that it’s not as simple as having press conferences and expressing people’s outrage over and over," she said.
“This is a complicated country. It involves considered diplomacy and strategic pressure in a thoughtful way.”