Energy Minister Sonya Savage defended the work of the Alberta government's Canadian Energy Centre — or the energy war room — including last week's attack on an obscure family film during the review of her ministry's budget estimates Tuesday.
Under questioning by Calgary-Mountain View MLA and NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley, Savage admitted that she doesn't always agree with the tactics of the CEC, but said the government needs to fight back against misinformation about the oil and gas industry.
"Not everybody is going to agree with every single tactic of the Canadian Energy Centre. I don't either," Savage said.
"The comments I heard in that cartoon were quite offensive and they're comments that have to be countered somewhere."
Bigfoot Family is an animated feature released in 2020 in which Bigfoot teams up with his son to protect a wildlife reserve from an oil company in Alaska. It is now streaming on Netflix.
After it was flagged by a parent, the CEC urged people to write emails to Netflix protesting how the film portrayed the oil and gas industry in a negative light.
The campaign against the animated family movie was viewed by opponents of the CEC as the latest in a series of gaffes since it launched in December 2019.
The CEC is supposed to portray the oil and gas industry, and investment in Alberta, in a positive light.
Ganley said the campaign against Bigfoot Family backfired by getting more people to watch it.
"(The film) was getting very little notice, in fact, until such time as the war room came along," she said. "Suddenly it shot up to the list of top-ten viewed in Canada movies on Netflix."
Pete Guthrie, the UCP MLA for Airdrie-Cochrane, said that the sudden surge in viewership for the movie shows the power of the war room.
"I think that's pretty awesome if they have that kind of ability," Guthrie said.
"So the NDP's opposition to the CEC, as well as media and activists, tells me it's working and working pretty well, I might add."
Savage agreed with Guthrie, adding that the CEC will become "pivotal" as the government launches a new Enviromental, Social and Governance initiatives such as the new ESG secretariat within executive council.
During the estimates, Savage confirmed that the budget for the CEC was $10 million in 2020-21 and is forecast to be $12 million in 2021-22, a drop from its original $30 million annual budget.
The spending is included in a budget line item called "industry advocacy."
The amount is forecast at $29 million for the current fiscal year and $27 million for 2021-22.
Savage was vague about what the government has spent in this category outside the CEC this year.
She said the full accounting would come when the annual report for the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission is released in a few months.
Savage wouldn't offer specifics about the government's plans for the money in the upcoming fiscal year. She said the money is set aside so the government can deal with issues as they arise.
Ganley noted there was nothing in the energy ministry's business plan to show whether the CEC is meeting predetermined benchmarks or performance measurements.
"You're making an investment of public dollars in the war room and I'm just trying to understand how you are measuring the return on that investment," she said. "At this point, it doesn't appear to be going exceptionally well."
Savage said pipelines under construction like TMX and Line 3 and a year-over-growth in oil sands production are signs the CEC is working.