Controversial ‘energy war room’ shut down: money and mandate to go elsewhere

The Alberta government has dissolved the Canadian Energy Centre, also known as the “energy war room,” and has reintegrated its mandate into the Intergovernmental Relations department. The NDP is now calling for an investigation into this reorganization.

The CEC was created in 2019 by the UCP government to address misinformation about Alberta’s energy industry. It was a publicly funded provincial corporation that was heavily criticized by the Opposition party.

In the 2023 CEC budget, the centre was given $31,789,000 in government funding, according to a published financial report.

“The CEC is an important advocate for Canada and Alberta’s long-term position as a safe, clean and responsible energy supplier and will continue to increase the public’s understanding of the role oil and gas plays globally in a secure energy future,” said Premier Danielle Smith in an emailed statement to Shootin’ the Breeze.

“We’re in a time where the federal government is attempting to make the promotion of Alberta’s energy industry illegal with Bill C-59 and a proposed emissions cap that would cripple Canada’s largest industry employing hundreds of thousands of Canadians.”

Federal Bill C-59 is a budget bill that recently completed Senate committee consideration, and will be up for third and final reading soon. It contains controversial amendments passed by the House of Commons that require oil and gas companies to provide evidence of environmental claims made, to prevent alleged “greenwashing.”

“The Government of Alberta will continue our fight to promote the energy sector,” said Smith. “Resources such as CEC assets, intellectual property and researchers will now be supporting IGR in order to seamlessly continue this important work without interference by the federal government — something that the CEC may not have been able to do under C-59.”

To the NDP, this shutdown is not a clever workaround for upcoming federal legislation but rather an indication of this project’s failure.

Nagwan Al-Guneid, Alberta NDP critic for energy and climate, has submitted a letter to the auditor general, calling for an investigation into this shutdown.

“There have been no measurable benefits to Albertans or Alberta’s energy sector from this failed experiment,” said Al-Guneid in a media release.

“Albertans deserve to know exactly how many taxpayer dollars the UCP government wasted in the creation of this partisan war room, how much money the government plans to put into this new entity once it operates under executive council, and how this move generates value for Albertans in accordance with the mandate of Intergovernmental Relations.”

“The government wasted over $66 million dollars of taxpayer money on an international embarrassment,” he said.

‘The war room is dead’

In an exclusive interview with Shootin’ the Breeze, NDP leadership candidate and previous energy and climate critic Kathleen Ganley described the CEC as a “political vehicle for the UCP” and a “$30-million slush fund.”

“I think that the way the war room was designed was intended to very much create that ‘You’re either with us or against us’ narrative,” she said.

According to the CEC, its mission was to “tell Canada’s energy story,” rejecting what is false and promoting what is true. While recognizing the need to reduce Canada’s carbon footprint, the CEC is primarily an advocate for the country’s — and notably Alberta’s — oil and gas sector, and against campaigns opposing the industry.

“It has accomplished nothing,” said Ganley, pointing to its most famous acts of attacking a children’s movie and allegedly plagiarizing two different iterations of its logo.

In 2021, the CEC launched a letter-writing campaign against the Netflix children’s movie Bigfoot Family, which portrayed an oil tycoon as a villain seeking to destroy the Alaskan environment. Then-premier Jason Kenney dubbed it a defamation attempt in “the most vicious way possible,” given that the content was geared at children.

“It’s been a waste of money from beginning to end,” said Ganley. “But its purpose, let’s be clear, was a $30-million slush fund for the UCP to spend on their past projects and political projects.”

Now that it is being moved into Intergovernmental Relations, Ganley says the “mandate” will no longer be possible.

“We live in an age where probably our biggest crisis is disinformation. And in that age, the war room, which is exempt from [Freedom of Information provisions], not only attacked journalists, but impersonated them. It pretended to be the media, which is highly problematic in a number of ways.”

Ganley said the war room also added polarization around the energy interest more than anything else, and that the increased division on issues like this puts citizens off of the political process.

“There’s a political advantage in claiming that you can either support oil and gas or you can support renewables,” she said. “There’s a political advantage for them in claiming that action on climate change is an economy killer.”

To Ganley, this agency was bad for the country, bad for the province and bad for its residents.

“They’re using public money to forward the cause of right-wing parties that have an interest in not taking action on climate change, which is at the end of the day to the detriment of all Albertans.”

There is a way to run strategic communications to support provincial industries and create jobs, but according to Ganley, a war room is not the right approach.

“I think that the war room is dead,” she said. “Hopefully it means that they will take that money and reinvest it into something that will actually help Albertans.”

The office of Energy Minister Brian Jean did not respond to questions emailed by Shootin’ the Breeze.

Mia Parker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze