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Duties of Alberta’s Canadian Energy Centre ‘war room’ shuffled into government

Minister of Energy and Minerals Brian Jean is sworn in at the legislature in Edmonton, Friday, June 9, 2023. Alberta’s energy “war room” – the oft-ridiculed agency famous for its feud with a children’s Bigfoot cartoon – is being retooled and brought in-house directly under Premier Danielle Smith’s office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Alberta’s energy “war room” – the oft-ridiculed agency famous for its feud with a children’s Bigfoot cartoon – is being retooled and brought in-house directly under Premier Danielle Smith’s office.

“The Canadian Energy Centre is an important advocate for Canada and Alberta’s long-term position as a safe, clean and responsible energy supplier,” the province’s Energy Ministry said Tuesday in a statement.

“(But) after careful consideration, we will be integrating the mandate of the (centre) into Intergovernmental Relations.”

In Alberta’s cabinet, the intergovernmental relations portfolio is handled by the premier.

The statement said the centre’s assets, intellectual property and researchers will be moved over to the intergovernmental relations office.

A senior government source said three of the six current employees of the Canadian Energy Centre will remain in their roles.

The source said the centre’s branding and website will remain the same. Most of the agency’s budget is devoted to advertising.

The Canadian Energy Centre was the formal name given to a corporation created by former United Conservative premier Jason Kenney in 2019.

Kenney characterized it as a “war room” that would fight back, in real-time, against what it deemed to be unfounded criticism of Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

There was controversy from the start as the centre was structured in such a way as to shield it from public freedom of information searches.

The centre came out of the gate with a $30-million budget but drew fire almost immediately for using someone else’s trademarked logo and for having staff members refer to themselves as reporters instead of public employees.

It also posted, and later apologized for, a series of social media messages about the New York Times, saying the newspaper had been “called out for antisemitism countless times” and had a “very dodgy” track record.

In March 2021, the centre – and by extension Kenney’s government — was widely ridiculed after it launched a campaign against “Bigfoot Family,” a Netflix cartoon featuring talking animals and a domesticated sasquatch battling an oil magnate determined to blow up an Alaskan wildlife preserve to gain easy access to petroleum.

The “war room” urged followers to tell Netflix the movie is “brainwashing our kids with anti-oil and gas propaganda.”

The sasquatch debate spilled onto the floor of the legislature, with the Opposition accusing Kenney’s government of turning Alberta into a laughingstock.

“Which investors in Zurich do you think were swayed by your brave stand against a child’s cartoon character?” NDP Leader Rachel Notley chortled in Kenney’s direction.

Kenney shot back, “I’m sure (the NDP) are cheering on the propaganda in that Netflix story, but we’re correcting the record as we should.”

The Bigfoot film director thanked the province, saying the movie had been sinking on the Netflix viewing list but soared back into the top 10 due to the controversy.

Change had been in the works for months.

Alberta Energy Minister Brian Jean’s most recent mandate letter from Smith, published last July, called on him to review the Canadian Energy Centre.

Nagwan Al-Guneid, the NDP’s Opposition energy critic, characterized the change as a massive waste of public funds.

“Since 2019, the UCP have wasted over $66 million of taxpayer money on this failed war room,” said Al-Guneid in a statement.

She said that money could have gone to fund the province’s carbon tax on large emitters, which in turn could have been funnelled into more technology to reduce emissions.

Al-Guneid said the NDP will ask the province’s auditor general to investigate.