Alberta shuts down fossil industry ‘War Room’

The war room’s mandate and its stack of industry-friendly publications and web content will be taken over by the province’s Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations.

The Canadian Energy Centre, or the 'War Room' was initiated under the Kenney government. Canadian Press photo by Greg Fulmes.

This article was published by The Energy Mix on June 17, 2024.

By Energy Mix Staff

The Alberta government has shut down its often-embarrassing oil and gas “war room”, the institution it set up in 2019 to counter purported “misinformation and lies” about Canada’s fossil fuel industry.

“So many self-inflicted wounds, so few allies,” CBC headlined last week. “Alberta’s energy war room was long doomed.”

The Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., as it was called, “was set up in 2019 as a private corporation rather than a Crown agency—a deliberate tactic by the United Conservative Party government to shield it from access to information laws, despite being funded entirely by Alberta taxpayers,” the Globe and Mail recalls. “Armed with an initial C$30-million-a-year budget, the energy war room fulfilled a promise made by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney in the 2019 election.”

Kenney had previously committed to a “fully staffed rapid-response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world-class energy industry,” writes CBC producer and writer Jason Markusoff.

But the war room “never seemed to reach its promised potential,” Markusoff says. Last week, “Premier Danielle Smith abandoned the idea, dissolving the organization into her own government, making it a lesser tool in her own fight on behalf of the oil and gas sector.”

The war room’s mandate and its stack of industry-friendly publications and web content will now be taken over by the province’s Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations.

As recently as September, 2023, provincial documents indicated the war room was in line for a $22-million cash infusion for a massive, pro-fossil fuel PR campaign. But not before it complained it was being targeted by climate campaigners, emerged as a potential revenue source for the Postmedia news chain, drew the attention of the provincial auditor general for issuing undocumented sole-source contracts, apologized for using another organization’s trademarked logo, and picked a fight with a kids’ animated film on Netflix for pitting a cartoon character against an oil company. Bigfoot Family director Ben Stassen later thanked the war room for the free publicity.

In an email to the Globe, the provincial energy ministry said it will carry on the “fight to promote the [fossil] energy sector,” particularly in the face of federal policies like the upcoming oil and gas emissions cap. “It is more important than ever that Alberta has a strong advocate,” the release said.

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid says Alberta was forced to shut the war room down in response to Bill C-59, a federal anti-greenwashing law that is now making its way through the Senate. “Pumping out favourable articles about oil and gas is pretty much all the war room does all day long,” he writes, and “the website is still packed with friendly articles on projects and CO2 emission reductions.” But the veteran journalist and commentator takes umbrage that “under the federal bill, industry will have to prove their claims are correct. The onus is on them, not the complainant.”

Energi Media publisher Markham Hislop pulled no punches in a response to the announcement that included links to the 11 columns he wrote on the war room in 2018 and 2019.

“The energy war room was one of Jason Kenney’s dumbest ideas,” he wrote in an email. “Now, his successor as premier, Danielle Smith, plans to dismantle his tinpot propaganda mill. About time. The Canadian Energy Centre, its hilariously pedestrian official name, was a motley collection of journalism hacks and libertarian fanatics that should have been hurled into the sun years ago.”

After those nine columns in 2018 and two in 2019, Hislop added, “I simply stopped caring what the war room was up to. And, apparently, so did the rest of Canada.”

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