Energy 'war room' shuffled into government; NDP claims it's a sign of failure

The province cut 90 per cent of its $30 million annual budget in 2020, but last year’s annual report showed a $22-million media campaign in Europe, the U.K., Canada and the U.S.

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The UCP government is shifting the controversial Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) into one of its ministries, a move the opposition NDP claims is a sign of its failure.

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On Tuesday, the province said the CEC, also known as the war room, will be moved within Intergovernmental Relations, a move a spokesman for Premier Danielle Smith’s office said will ensure it continues to advocate for Alberta’s energy sector.

“The government of Alberta will continue our fight to promote the energy sector,” Sam Blackett said in a statement.

“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 (Bill) C-59.”

Under provisions of that federal legislation, energy companies publicizing their actions will need to prove that’s being done accurately, according to an “internationally recognized methodology.”

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Supporters of the bill say it will prevent misleading so-called industry greenwashing while its critics call it dangerous muzzling and a violation of constitutional rights.

NDP says UCP could have instead focused on schools, doctors, affordability

The war room’s critics contend the CEC has been more of a redundant, money-wasting embarrassment than an asset and see its latest incarnation as confirming that.

“The UCP’s decision to move the energy ‘war room’ under the office of the premier proves that this was a colossal waste of taxpayer money,” Nagwan Al-Guneid, the NDP’s critic for energy and climate, said in a statement.

“Danielle Smith could have been focused on building more schools, hiring more doctors, and making life more affordable for Albertans. Instead, the government is wasting their time with an energy war room that’s most famous battle was with a children’s cartoon, and has not improved Alberta’s energy sector in any measurable way.”

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The CEC attracted ridicule in 2021 when it launched a campaign inviting the public to censure Netflix Canada for airing the animated family movie Bigfoot Family it says unfairly demonizes the province’s petroleum sector by featuring a scheme to blow up a valley to extract oil.

The energy centre, which produces content to defend Canada’s energy industry and correct what it calls misinformation, had already drawn mockery for its repeated faux pas in creating a logo, its own inaccuracies and attacks on journalists.

Al-Guneid said the $66 million in Alberta’s industrial carbon tax and emissions trading system that has funded the CEC since its creation in 2019 could have been better spent on emissions-reducing technology.

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But its defenders insist it’s done vital work in combating negative and misleading assaults on the province’s oil and gas industry.

“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 Blackett.

NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley speaks to media at press conference on the steps of McDougall Centre in Calgary. Ganley said in a statement the UCP government needs to cover the costs of the utility deferral program and bring back the price cap. Photo by photo supplied

Ganley ‘thrilled to see this pointless waste of money finally ended’

NDP leadership candidate Kathleen Ganley said folding the CEC into Intergovernmental Relations is tantamount to it being shut down, something she said is long overdue.

“The war room was symbolic of the UCP’s leadership — it existed only to signal the UCP’s disdain for our fellow Canadians and waste money, and it was intentionally designed to avoid even a hint of transparency,” said Ganley.

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“I am thrilled to see this pointless waste of money finally ended — I hope the UCP will use the funding to do something to actually help the people of this province.”

In 2020, the province cut 90 per cent of its $30 million-a-year budget, but its most recent annual report released last year showed it had signed a $22-million public funds contract for a media campaign in Europe, the U.K., Canada and the U.S.

The war room’s existence as a wholly-owned crown corporation means it’s not subject to freedom of information laws.

The government said that was to shield its operations from the enemies of the province’s oil and gas sector.

On Tuesday Blackett was asked what the budget of its new incarnation will be and if the change will increase transparency. He didn’t reply.

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