Alberta's energy 'war room' launches in Calgary
The program aims to fight what the government calls misinformation about the province's energy industry
Premier Jason Kenney's $30 million "war room" officially launched in Calgary today — an effort to combat what his United Conservative Party government calls misinformation about Alberta's energy industry.
The operation, set up as a private corporation and officially titled the Canadian Energy Centre, will be headed by former UCP candidate Tom Olsen, who lost to the NDP's Joe Ceci in the recent provincial election.
"Our starting point is that Canadian oil and gas makes the world a better place," said Olsen at the launch.
"There will be a demand for fossil fuels for years to come and Canada, with its focus on environmental rights and human rights, is ideally positioned to meet that demand."
The war room will have three sections:
- A "rapid-response" unit to issue "swift responses to misinformation spread through social media."
- An "energy literacy" unit to "create original content to elevate the general understanding of Alberta's energy sector, and help the province take control of its energy story."
- A "data and research" unit to centralize and analyze data "to reinforce this story with factual evidence for investors, researchers and policy makers."
Those three sections will produce social media, television ads and campaigns targeting investors in cities like London and New York.
The war room is part of an aggressive push by the UCP government to promote the province's oil and gas industry, the primary driver of Alberta's struggling economy.
"We were not doing nearly enough to tell the truth in response to a campaign of lies, of defamation and disinformation based on torqued, dated and incomplete and out of context attacks on our energy sector," said Kenney at the launch.
"What I personally, and I think Albertans, find unacceptable is that our industry has been placed in a double standard compared to energy produced in places like Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia."
In addition to the war room, Kenney's government also has launched a public inquiry into what it calls the "foreign funding of anti-energy campaigns," a popular rhetorical target for the government.
Despite the repeated references by the inquiry and the premier to "foreign-funded radicals" lobbying against Alberta's energy sector, Olsen said the energy centre will have a "hopeful, unifying and uplifting" tone.
Critics have called the war room a government propaganda operation. Kenney rejected that argument on Wednesday, arguing the new operation will counter propaganda from those who oppose oil and gas development.
One of the environmental groups targeted by Kenney and the UCP is the Pembina Institute, a think-tank that works with the oil and gas industry on responsible development of energy resources.
"It is very useful to have enemies when you're trying to have a polarized approach to success," said the organization's Alberta director Duncan Kenyon.
"And it's easy to characterize, to paint everyone as one, and Pembina gets sort of lumped into an 'enemy' bucket."
Kenyon said now is the time to have hard conversations about the future of the province and its current business strategy, and about how to move forward on climate change. Instead, he said, "we are actually entrenching in this game of PR sound bites and polarization."
He said he thinks Alberta is well placed for a de-carbonized future and has the technology to move forward, as long as the government is committed to the change.
The war room will be funded by pulling $20 million per year from the province's new carbon tax and $10 million per year from the government's existing advertising fund, according to the recent provincial budget.
Olsen will receive a salary of $195,000 per year to head the organization.
The newly launched Canadian Energy Centre website lists eight additional staff, but Olsen says that number will grow.