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Jason Kenney announcing the famed Alberta Energy War Room
Greg Fulmes | The Canadian Press

Closing Alberta’s ‘War Room’: A Power Grab or A Win for Transparency?

Premier Danielle Smith wants to keep promoting oil and gas but plans to change how it’s done after shutting down the ‘War Room’

The provincial government recently announced that it will close its controversial ‘War Room’ and transfer its duties to another department.

Good riddance. That’s a wise and long overdue decision. 

 Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney formed the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC)–known as the “energy war room”–in 2019 to counter what he called “domestic and foreign-funded campaigns against Canada’s oil and gas industry.”

In a speech at the founding annual general meeting of the United Conservative Party in May 2018, Kenney dreamed about 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.”

An Expensive Flop

According to a Canadian Press story, the “war room” has cost Albertans at least $66 million.

Where did these tax dollars go? 

As the CBC recently reported, some of these tax dollars were spent hounding editors at the New York Times and accusing the paper of bias.

More money was wasted targeting the makers of a Netflix children’s film about Bigfoot because of what the CEC felt was its anti-oil message. The affair was nicknamed “Bigfootgate.”

The list of pointless, conspiracy-inspired, money-wasting ventures to suppress freedom of expression goes on and on.

The Alberta government spent millions on pro-oil ads through the Canadian Energy Centre, like these 2021 billboards in New York
The Alberta government spent millions on pro-oil ads through the Canadian Energy Centre, like these 2021 billboards in New York | CEC

Even More Wasted Money

The Alberta government also spent $3.5 million on an inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns led by accountant Steve Allan.

In his report, Commissioner Allan concluded, “No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech.”

Kenney didn’t like the result of Allan’s Inquiry report. If he and the Alberta government had just accepted the Inquiry’s conclusions and moved on, that would have ended the sordid affair. 

Instead, Kenney posted on his social media pages that “the report confirms the existence of well-funded, decade-long campaigns based on misinformation that have impacted the lives and livelihoods of Albertans.” The government website posted key findings with similar misrepresentations.

That’s a big problem because that’s not what the Inquiry concluded. 

So five of the targeted groups–Environmental Defense, Wilderness Committee,, DogwoodBC, and West Coast Environmental Law–filed a defamation lawsuit against Kenney and the Government.

Instead of acknowledging the Inquiry’s conclusions, Kenney continued to make inflammatory posts saying these groups were spreading misinformation about Alberta’s oil and gas industry, an accusation that Commissioner Allan’s report explicitly refuted. 

The targeted groups asked for a retraction and an apology, which haven’t happened, so the matter is before the courts

The kicker? 

Danielle Smith’s government is paying expensive private lawyers to defend Kenney and the government’s misrepresentations with taxpayers’ money.

Like a General Fighting the Last War

Premier Smith plans to intensify her efforts to promote oil and gas by bringing the province’s energy “war room” under her office’s purview. 

Whether this is just another attempt by the Premier to centralize power–like she tried with Bill 20, which would allow her to override elected municipal leaders–or move on from a gaff-filled PR stunt remains to be seen.  

While that may not save Albertans any money, it will bring these efforts under the provincial Freedom of Information rules. That means Albertans can get a better handle on how our money is being spent. 

Because of its structure as a provincial corporation, the CEC was virtually immune from freedom of information (FOIP) laws.

Freedom of expression and the right to hold corporations accountable are things Albertans hold dear.

Danielle Smith’s decision to finally ditch this paranoid and money-wasting war room should be applauded.

Perhaps it’s a signal that Smith’s government will focus resources on important issues, like housing affordability, jobs, and a renewable energy transition.

As always, time will tell.

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