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When Nanaimo recently voted to ban FortisBC’s natural gas hookups from new buildings, Alberta’s infamous pro-oil and gas “war room” launched a cross-border political campaign to reverse the move.

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) is a publically funded provincial corporation created by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney to protect and promote the fossil fuel industry.

The CEC has launched a hardball lobbying push on its associated Support Canadian Energy website urging oil and gas supporters to flood Nanaimo city council with letters to press the local government to reverse its decision.

The Alberta agency targeted the small municipality of Nanaimo after its city council recently decided to accelerate the phaseout of FortisBC gas hookups in new buildings to meet B.C.’s mandated climate targets.

The Support Canadian Energy website doesn’t openly declare its allegiance to the CEC, however, the connection can be found on its privacy page.

The CEC is funded by the Alberta government to the tune of $31.8 million in 2023, up from $7.7 million in 2022, according to the centre’s annual report and financial statements.

As of Thursday afternoon, Alberta’s oil and gas lobby machine website states it has generated 2,377 letters to Nanaimo's city council.

“The good news is that the vote on Nanaimo [city council] was very tight — it came down to a single vote,” the CEC website says.

“These letters make a real difference. Councillors need to know what the majority of people think.”

After #Nanaimo city council banned natural gas in new buildings, #Alberta began to meddle. The infamous "war room", a.k.a. the Canadian Energy Centre, is lobbying hard to support #FortisBC and try to reverse course. #abpoli #NaturalGas #lobbying

The campaign appears to be the first the CEC and its associate website have launched against a municipal government making a local political decision that might run counter to Big Oil’s interests.

Nanaimo city councillor and former Green Party MP Paul Manly said CEC’s campaign is clearly being waged, if not in name, on behalf of FortisBC.

The fossil fuel campaign exceeds the bounds of simple lobbying and is an attack on the democratic process and the expectation local governments should run business free from provincial interference — especially when it’s coming from another province.

“Where does the Province of Alberta get off launching a campaign like this?” Manly told Canada’s National Observer on Thursday.

“It’s outrageous. It's inappropriate. I just honestly haven't seen this done before.

Nanaimo Coun. Paul Manly calls the Canadian Energy Centre's campaign to push city council to reverse a recent decision to phase out natural gas hookups "outrageous." Submitted photo

Alberta, FortisBC and the big fossil fuel lobby have stepped beyond climate denial and greenwashing into the realm of bullying and political intimidation, he said.

It means Goliaths like the Alberta government and corporate oil and gas giants are willing to pit their power against smaller municipalities should they make any decisions deemed counter to their interests — no matter how limited the impacts might be, Manly said.

When Alberta's United Conservative government founded the CEC in 2019, former energy minister Sonya Savage said the agency’s focus would be to improve the reputation of Alberta's oil and gas sector and challenge those it believes are delivering misinformation.

Run by a three-person board composed of Alberta’s energy, justice and environment ministers, Savage stated it would not target or demonize specific critics.

"This is about telling our story, setting the narrative, disputing the narrative opposing our oil and gas sector," Savage said. "It's not about going after individual people."

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office and the justice and environment ministries did not respond to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment on concerns raised by the CEC’s campaign targeting Nanaimo.

Energy Minister Brian Jean’s office refused to comment if the Alberta government condones the CEC’s campaign or if it’s appropriate for the provincial agency to target individual municipalities for local political decisions.

“The CEC advocates for Canadian energy. Please contact the CEC,” an email from the ministry’s office stated.

FortisBC also declined to respond to CNO’s questions about whether the company was aware of or has any reservations about the CEC’s Nanaimo campaign.

FortisBC is not involved with the Canadian Energy Centre campaign, said Diana Sorace, the company’s senior adviser of corporate communications, in an email.

“We have been clear that we oppose policies that would restrict access to low-carbon energy choices for British Columbians,” she wrote.

“To meet provincial climate targets and maintain affordability, British Columbia needs policies that support a diversified pathway, including electricity and renewable and low-carbon energy options such as renewable natural gas and, in the future, hydrogen.”

FortisBC booth at the 2023 UBCM trade show. The natural gas corporation is the "platinum" or top sponsor at the annual convention for B.C. local governments. Photo UBCM / Flickr

The CEC’s campaign against Nanaimo, which benefits FortisBC, sends a chilling message to other B.C. municipalities — currently gathered for a convention in Vancouver where discussions on how to meet provincial emissions targets and deal with climate disasters are key topics, Manly said.

“I have trouble taking [FortisBC’s] greenwashing about sustainability and renewable natural gas seriously,” Manly said, saying the B.C. corporation lobbied Nanaimo city council heavily in advance of its decision on gas hookups.

“This [CEC campaign] just reinforces that they need to call in more big guns for a fight.”

Critics dismiss FortisBC’s renewable gas strategy, noting the fuel made out of methane captured from sewage and landfills is still 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span if it escapes into the atmosphere.

FortisBC says 15 per cent of its gas supply will be renewable by 2030, reducing customer emissions by 30 per cent and preventing the need for new and more expensive hookups.

But close examination of a study by the B.C. government and FortisBC backing the company’s plan shows biomethane will likely only ever make up a fraction of the province's overall needs.

The CEC’s recent tactics only underscore the need for the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to ban oil and gas sponsorship from groups like FortisBC or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers at the annual convention, Manly said.

“I’m not going to let this behaviour intimidate me. I'm not gonna let it sway my decision on this issue,” he stressed.

“I would urge my colleagues at the UBCM to stand firm.

“It’s interesting they've singled Nanaimo out, but I guess that just shows you they feel like they got their backs to the wall.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer

— With files from The Canadian Press / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
September 22, 2023, 01:07 am

This article was updated to correct the spelling of the first name of FortisBC's senior advisor of communications. Her name is Diana Sorace, not Diane as originally written.

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Article: "The CEC advocates for Canadian energy. Please contact the CEC."

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) is concerned only with fossil-fuel energy. The CEC does not defend Alberta wind or solar energy.
On the contrary. Premier Smith has just jammed a wrench in the spokes of Alberta's renewable energy industry. Alberta's seven-month moratorium on approvals applies only to the renewables sector.
No howls from the CEC or any other oil-soaked institutions.

When Alberta politicians defend or boost "Canadian Energy", they are talking only about fossil fuels.
The oil under our feet is "Canadian", even though royalties accrue only to Alberta. The wind and sunshine overhead are not Canadian, apparently, but Chinese imports that compete with and threaten real "Canadian Energy".
Can you say "petro-state"?

Spot on. It is like they don't acknowledge wind and solar as energy at all. Makes me sick.

Article: "The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) is a publically funded provincial corporation created by former Alberta premier Jason Kenney to protect and promote the fossil fuel industry."

Not sure about the "publically funded" part.
"Alberta energy war room immune from freedom of information law, rules adjudicator" (CBC, Mar 22, 2022)
"Canadian Energy Centre not a public body, adjudicator says
"…Although the United Conservative Party government created the CEC as a private corporation, the energy minister is the sole voting shareholder. Its board of directors consists of three Alberta government ministers. The CEC is funded by Alberta's industrial carbon tax, the Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund.
"When the government incorporated the CEC in late 2019, ministers said it shouldn't be subject to FOI requests, to avoid information getting into the hands of those who seek to malign Alberta's oil and gas.
"In May 2021, CBC reporter Jennie Russell filed an FOI request to the CEC, seeking information about contracts it had awarded.
"The centre said it wasn't subject to the process, and referred her to the government's energy ministry.
"Russell appealed to Alberta's information and privacy commissioner, who appointed an external adjudicator to hear the issue.
"She argued the CEC should be considered a public body, given the control and oversight by the province. Both the CEC and the energy ministry disagreed.
"Tully said the legislature could have designated the CEC a public body, but it didn't, and the privacy commissioner has to respect that.
"The energy ministry's annual report for 2020-21 says the ministry 'includes' the CEC, among other entities, such as the Alberta Energy Regulator.
"But Tully said the CEC doesn't qualify as an office or branch of government, either.
"…The government initially budgeted $30 million a year for the CEC. That was pared back to about $4 million in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The 2022-23 proposed budget doesn't include a line item for the CEC, but Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in the legislature Monday it will have about $12 million annually."
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-energy-war-room-immune-f...

The CEC doesn't qualify as an office or branch of government presumably because it is not funded by tax dollars.

That's pretty funny, actually. I saw a cute one on Mastodon today: "Well, the UCP pension plan is just another case of that party sitting Albertans down every couple of weeks to explain to us in careful detail, how they are completely unprepared and unable to govern".

BC could really bring the humour in reply:

- Letter campaign to Albertan restaurants to serve more BC fish and stop with all the beef.

- No more watching American-shot TV and movies; Albertans should consume only BC-filmed entertainment.

- All use of concrete in construction must cease, while only BC forest products are used for construction.

Let's get with it and start that campaign! Definitely a smile on my face

I would add fresh water to that list. As the mountain glaciers melt and major Prairie rivers start to dry up when newborns today are in retirement, the increased rainfall on the coast will likely be a gold mine for export.

Eventually reversing the flow of TMX for fresh water (after a thorough scrubbing) to keep Prairie cities and farms alive would be a highly ironic rebuttal to Alberta's hubris, a "resource" that is wearing a little thin these days.

Since when did hydro, wind, solar and especially nuclear not become "Canadian Energy?"
And for electrical energy, 81% of Canada's electricity is non fossil fuel.
And as far as heating our homes, heat pumps are much less expensive and 3x more efficient than natural gas heating, especially in the Vancouver Island climate!
This is the type of action I expect from Big Oil not my Alberta Provincial Government.
When the UCP alt right neoliberal Government in Alberta decides to really get corrupt, it certainly goes whole hog.

Yup! "Git'Er Done" - Act first, regret later.
And: "Why we moved back to BC".

"This is the type of action I expect from Big Oil not my Alberta Provincial Government."

NEWS FLASH: The Alberta provincial government IS Big Oil. More accurately, a branch of the industry that has corrupted democracy through donations to politicians who have had direct links to the industry and who are perfectly willing to accept draft policy from industry on energy and environmental laws in the making.

FortisBC is actively undermining the BC Climate Change Accountability Act.
B.C. has legislated targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2007 levels by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 80% by 2050. By trying to influence BC municipalities such as Nanaimo, who want to move away from using fossil fuels in new construction, FortisBC is proving again that they should have their business license removed in BC. I wonder what the BC government has to say about that.

The BC government is bullish on LNG. Both major parties have planted their feet firmly in the effort, dreaming of very generous and long-lasting revenue streams.

There is a downward slide in the works locally as the BC domestic market electrified. The vaunted Asian markets and investors seem to be oblivious to the demand destruction for fossil fuels just around the corner as cheaper renewables (including large-scale battery storage) ramp up everywhere.

China cannot be relied upon as an export market for Canadian LNG for more than a few years (perhaps a decade) because it already imports gas from Russia at horrendously discounted prices, LNG from more competitive non-Canadian suppliers, and is ramping up its own renewables at an unbelievable pace. Its population is also going into a steep decline, which will also shrink its economy.

Indonesia, one of the top investors in BC LNG, is ripe for its own solar and wind. Australia is building up massive solar energy capacity very quickly and has struck a contract with Singapore to supply solar power via a set of massive marine transmission cables with planned interties to Indonesia and Malaysia.

South Korea and Japan are key export markets but even they will be increasingly tempted by the cost and emissions benefits of renewables.

The writing is on the wall. BC and Canadian fossil fuel interests would be well advised to take their shades off and learn to read.

I look forward to the CEC taking on the city of Vancouver next. It hasn't banned gas hookups entirely yet, but it has built in a number of energy efficiency regs into its building and permit bylaws that do not work in Fortis's favour. Perhaps Fortis should consider forming a major solar and wind subsidiary instead of beefing up the PR BS. Just saying that diversification can be a good thing.

Picking a fight with the little guy is just plain old schoolyard bullying, a rather immature and spineless PR strategy. So pick on a city -- more accurately a metropolitan area with 21 cities and 3 million residents -- more appropriately sized to offer a counterpunch of equal measure.

The CEC is a collection of cowards who lash out at easy targets when they feel threatened. That is, when they aren't making up conspiracies about how the poor, beleaguered Alberta oil industry is assaulted by the foreign corporate environmental army who work in secret for foreign oil companies. Kinda puzzling how contorted the logic is on that one.

She's branching out now to sort out which are the "reasonable" people in the country....
/https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-danielle-smith-sa...
"I would say it's not uniformly negative in the Liberal caucus. But for some reason they're allowing Steven Guilbeault to be a maverick and a renegade and quite offensive to those of us who are trying to be reasonable and adult about this," Ms. Smith said.

Danielle Smith...reasonable...adult..?

Wow. Just wow. Alberta is not a world power. Being blind to the world passing it by is a tragic comedy.