Alberta premier says energy war room will be respectful as it takes on critics

Alberta premier says energy war room will be respectful as it takes on critics

CALGARY — Alberta’s United Conservative government has opened its war room to take on critics it says spread misinformation about the oil and gas industry.

Premier Jason Kenney insists the $30-million Canadian Energy Centre is not a propaganda arm of the government and won’t trample on anyone’s right to free speech.

“This is designed to respond with facts to a campaign of misleading and dishonest propaganda that has come in large part from a highly co-ordinated campaign of foreign-funded special interests,” Kenney said Wednesday.

The war room is part of a multi-pronged approach that also includes a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of anti-oil advocacy groups.

The Muttart Foundation, an Edmonton charity, disputes the notion that opposition to Alberta’s oil and gas industry is bankrolled by foreign money. Using Canada Revenue Agency data, it found Alberta charities received less than three per cent of their revenues from foreign sources.

Human rights group Amnesty International Canada has warned that the war room and public inquiry threaten freedom of expression and association.

Legal advocacy group Ecojustice has also filed a court challenge citing similar concerns.

“If there are organizations that use their free speech to put misinformation into the public square, we will respond,” Kenney said.

“That’s not attacking freedom of speech. It’s responding to the content of the speech. That’s called public discourse.”

He said the centre will react with ”respect, civility and professionalism.”

The centre is to have a research unit, an energy literacy unit and a rapid response team to challenge misinformation. Its website lists eight staff members, half of whom used to work in the media.

CEO Tom Olsen, a one-time journalist and former premier Ed Stelmach’s spokesman, ran unsuccessfully as a United Conservative Party candidate in the April provincial election.

He said he anticipates adding staff as the centre ramps up.

“We will be effective and mindful of the money that we spend, which is taxpayers’ money,” he said.

One-third of the budget comes from existing provincial advertising money, and the rest from a levy on major industrial emitters.

The centre aims to get its message out through advertising, publicity and social media. Olsen described it as “part new media organization, part think tank, research hub.”

He said he’s not sure whether the war room will reach out to people or organizations privately to request corrections.

Its website, which went up Tuesday, has several articles by centre staff. There’s one about an Indigenous businessman proposing to build a pipeline, another about how Canadian natural gas can help lower global greenhouse gas emissions and a story headlined “Alberta father irked by charity group that targets fossil fuel industry.”

Outside the news conference, about a dozen protesters wearing festive reindeer antlers sang about climate change to the tune of Christmas carols, which included “Cool Down the World” and “We Wish You a Stable Climate.”

In Edmonton, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called the centre a “slush fund” for Kenney’s political goals. She said it has no firewalls or safeguards to ensure that the data, research and work of the centre is not used for the benefit of the UCP or its political allies.

She also questioned whether the centre will stick to its promise to keep debate to the facts and to not target individual Albertans who disagree with the government’s stance.

“I certainly hope we’re not using taxpayers’ dollars to attack Albertans, to attack people who have other concerns and other priorities.”

Duncan Kenyon, Alberta regional director of the environmental think tank Pembina Institute, said he laments the government’s focus on fighting fossil fuel foes when everyone should be working together on tackling climate change.

“We actually more than ever need to come together to figure out how to decarbonize and diversify our energy,” he said.

“We need to respond to where the world and the markets and the people that are going to buy this product are going.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2019.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Energy War Room

Just Posted

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read