Postmedia Network Inc. has hired Premier Jason Kenney’s former chief of staff to lobby the Alberta government for a role in the province’s new “energy war room,” a $30-million public-relations machine designed to push back against critics of the oil sands.
Nick Koolsbergen registered as a lobbyist this week “to discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room,” according to a document posted to Alberta’s lobbyist registry. The document said Mr. Koolsbergen plans to lobby the Premier’s Office and the Energy Ministry, as well as several other government departments. Postmedia said the lobbying involves a division of the company that creates advertising and other commercial content, not its newsrooms.
Mr. Koolsbergen served as Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff until last fall, when he became the campaign director for the United Conservative Party. He previously worked in the Prime Minister’s Office under Stephen Harper and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party before that. Mr. Koolsbergen is now the chief executive of a PR firm called Wellington Advocacy, which he launched earlier this month.
Mr. Kenney’s election platform called for a “war room” that would respond to critics of Alberta’s oil industry and correct what it determines is misinformation, whether from environmentalists, other governments or the media. The platform said the war room would have a budget of $30-million, although Mr. Kenney has not announced any additional details since taking office at the end of April.
Postmedia owns the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun. A company spokeswoman said the lobbying was aimed at Postmedia’s “commercial content area.”
“This is not an editorial initiative but part of the commercial content part of the business,” Phyllise Gelfand wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Koolsbergen did not respond to an interview request. Instead, Wellington Advocacy’s president and co-founder Rachel Curran said in an e-mail that the company does not comment on its clients or the work that it does.
Mr. Kenney’s press secretary, Christine Myatt, said in an statement that the government is talking to “a number of stakeholders” about the war room and “will look for the best use of resources in terms of how advertising dollars are spent.” The statement said the government expects all lobbyists to follow the rules.
The Opposition NDP’s critic for democracy and ethics, Heather Sweet, issued a statement that called into question Postmedia’s involvement.
“Frankly, while a newspaper company hiring a partisan lobbyist to offer support for a government campaign promise is deeply troubling, we remain confident in the impartiality of the journalists in the Edmonton and Calgary newsrooms," the statement said.
The war room is part of a larger strategy aimed at attacking the perceived opponents of Alberta’s oil industry.
Mr. Kenney also plans to challenge the charitable status of environmental groups and launch a public inquiry into foreign funding of those groups.
Immediately after taking office, the Premier proclaimed legislation that would allow the province to cut off oil shipments to British Columbia as punishment for that province’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. That has prompted a legal challenge from the B.C. government.
The UCP government also plans to challenge Ottawa’s carbon tax and two pieces of federal environmental legislation in court, as well as campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in this fall’s federal election.