Folding Alberta's energy 'war room' will give province control over pro-energy message: Smith

‘I think having the moniker ‘war room’ is not what they should be doing,’ Smith said

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Premier Danielle Smith says its energy War Room was folded into government because she believes the province should lead the fight to message for the oil and gas industry, she said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters at the Global Energy Show at the BMO Centre, Smith said large-scale campaigns should be led out of the premier’s office instead of by a third-party agency.

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“When we have a really big battle to fight, I’m the one fighting it. I’m the one leading it,” Smith said. She cited recent ad campaigns spearheaded by the province, such as its fight against the federal government’s net-zero electricity regulations, as an example of initiatives that should fall under the province’s direct jurisdiction.

“When we have those big initiatives that we have to do, it should be led out of the premier’s office,” she said.

Smith added that the Canadian Energy Centres’s identity as a War Room went against her vision for such an agency.

“I think having the moniker War Room is not what they should be doing,” she said. “They really should be giving good, credible research and data on the state of our industry . . . they should leave the fighting to me.”

The controversial centre will be moved into Intergovernmental Relations, the province said Tuesday evening.

Three of its staff have been shuffled into intergovernmental affairs, she said Wednesday.

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The centre was created by Jason Kenney’s government in 2019 with the intent of changing attitudes toward Alberta’s oil and gas industry and firing back against misinformation. During its time, the centre criticized the New York Times and scolded the makers of a children’s film featuring Bigfoot for what it felt was anti-oil messaging.

The energy centre was funded through Alberta’s industrial carbon levy, the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) regulation. It initially had a $30-million annual budget, which was trimmed by about 90 per cent in 2020.

As a wholly-owned Crown corporation, the War Room was not subject to freedom of information laws.

Jason Kenney at the launch of the Canadian Energy Centre, or war room
Then-Alberta premier Jason Kenney speaks at the official launch of the Canadian Energy Centre on Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

Alberta NDP calls for investigation

The Alberta NDP said Wednesday that it’s calling for an investigation into the reorganization and has submitted a letter to the province’s auditor general.

“We should have seen funds invested in emission-reducing technologies, in building more schools, hiring more doctors and making life more affordable for Albertans. Instead, the government wasted over $66 million of taxpayer money on an international embarrassment,” NDP energy and climate critic Nagwan Al-Guneid wrote in a statement.

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Nagwan Al-Guneid
NDP energy and climate critic Nagwan Al-Guneid at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The NDP is calling for an investigation in the UCP’s “war room” reorganization. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Marg McCuaig-Boyd, principal at Counsel Public Affairs and former energy minister under the previous NDP government, said in an interview that the War Room created more polarization around the oil and gas industry.

“There’s better ways to do that than make it political, and in my opinion it was always a political tool, not a tool to help the industry,” she said. “If anything, I believe it hurt the industry because it started getting people pitting themselves against the industry.”

McCuaig-Boyd cited the Alberta NDP’s advocacy on behalf of the oil and gas industry during its time in government, which she said helped consolidate public support for industry.

Kevin Krausert, CEO and co-founder of Avatar Innovations Inc., which launched a clean energy accelerator and training program, said it’s incumbent on the energy industry to provide a strong value proposition to the public.

“Making sure we remain fact-based, evidence-based and reach a value proposition for the general public is going to be absolutely necessary in all of our conversations,” he said.

“I think the premier is the top spokesperson for that vision of a thriving oil and gas industry, meaningfully contributing to emissions reductions and energy technologies.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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