When former Alberta premier Jason Kenney first introduced the idea of an oil and gas “war room,” it was supposed to help the province go on the attack against its supposed environmentalist enemies. Instead, the so-called “Canadian Energy Centre” has consistently exposed the weaknesses in the armour of both Alberta and its favourite (and favoured) industry. But its critics shouldn’t celebrate its recently announced dissolution too loudly. After all, it’s only retreating behind the fortifications of Premier Danielle Smith’s office, not being disbanded entirely.

The war room’s long list of self-owns and other humiliating defeats is so well and widely known by now that even its staunchest defenders quietly acknowledge them. There will be no tearful eulogies for its contribution to the conversation around energy policy in Canada, and the only people who will miss it are the ones — like me — who used its constant follies as fodder for their own output. As University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach wrote back in 2020, “you'd have been forgiven for wondering if the sole mission of the thing was to make every other government expenditure seem like a bargain.”

But if the war room is functionally dead, the fundamental conceit that fueled its creation remains alive and well. Both the UCP government and its supporters within the oil and gas industry believe they’re still the victims of a federal campaign designed to undermine their economic standing. Never mind the $30 billion-plus spent on the TransMountain Pipeline Expansion, the approval and support of LNG Canada and Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion, or the recent approval of the Cedar LNG project — all federal government actions. For an industry that has told itself and the public for years that it’s under siege from a hostile federal government, the narrative simply cannot be allowed to change.

Premier Danielle Smith made that abundantly clear in her comments about the transition of the war room’s assets into her intergovernmental affairs department. “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,” she said. Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid dutifully carried this water in his latest column, writing that “Bill C-59 is appallingly undemocratic and an affront to free speech. It imposes huge penalties on companies and entities that praise environmental and climate improvements in the industry.”

Alas, none of this is actually true. Bill C-59, which the government describes as “an act to implement certain provisions of the fall economic statement,” includes a small section that adds a new form of “reviewable conduct” to the Competition Act’s existing provisions for entities that make false or misleading statements to consumers. As the Department of Justice says in an explantory note on the proposed change, “the amendments would add to the existing section dealing with representations to the public, a new form of reviewable conduct: a statement, warranty or guarantee of a product’s benefits for protecting the environment or mitigating the environmental and ecological effect of climate change that is not based on an adequate and proper test.”

Translation: it would require anyone claiming a clear environmental benefit to backstop it with real evidence. The extent to which Alberta’s government is overreacting here is a massive tell, one that shows just how invested it is in keeping the waters around the oil and gas industry’s climate and other environmental impacts sufficiently muddied.

But truth has always been the war room’s biggest enemy. Back in 2018, Jason Kenney said that the war room’s job would be to “quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world-class energy industry.” In reality, its job was to run interference on the lies being told by that industry, and its targets ranged from Netflix cartoon characters to the New York Times. In a textbook Freudian slip, CEC CEO Tom Olsen told Global News in 2019 that “we are not about attacking; we are about disproving true facts.”

In between slipping on metaphorical banana peels and stepping on bigfoot-branded rakes, it routinely overstated the oil and gas industry’s impact on Canada’s economy and understated the impact of its increasingly massive greenhouse gas emissions. As University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach wrote in a 2020 piece on its struggles, “it's true that the war room has corrected a few falsehoods about our energy industry, although on too many occasions it's also been the source of those falsehoods in the first place.”

The Smith government is free to continue waging the rearguard battle against the truth that Kenney’s war room conducted with such manifest incompetence. But if it really wanted to help the oil and gas industry it would use its position and resources to help it come to terms with the reality it now faces. The International Energy Agency thinks global demand for oil could peak within the decade, and that the world could soon be facing a “major” surplus of supply as a result. All the war rooms in the world won’t change the pace of the global energy transition or the impact it’s going to have on Alberta’s workers.

Alberta's energy "war room" was a laughable fiasco from start to finish, but its official demise doesn't mean Alberta's UCP government is prepared to abandon its broader battle with the truth about climate change.

Instead of finding new and innovative ways to blame Ottawa, maybe it’s finally time for people like Smith to start telling Albertans the harder truths here. Maybe the remnants of the war room could be used to help people understand the story that’s unfolding in their future rather than the one they’d like to tell about their past. Unlike its impotent attempts to convince the rest of Canada and broader world of Alberta’s environmental virtue, this might actually serve a useful purpose. The war it was created to fight, after all, has already been lost.

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Loved the article and especially your closing paragraph.
It puts a bow on that sad but comical chapter of Conservative fossil fuel protectionism.
Totally fair to drop the mike after that.

Have wind and solar companies sued the Smith government yet for shutting down their future in her province, for losing the investments they've already made? Has the Trudeau government realized the futility of dealing with Smith yet and given up subsidizing fossil fuels, or moved into direct investments in federally-sponsored renewable and high voltage transmission corridor projects? Doesn't Trudeau realize he hasn't got anything to lose in Alberta? Don't Albertans have access to information and projections on their tenuous future if carbon output is maintained in light if the transition underway in their export markets?

The conversion of the War Room PR machine into a backroom mouthpiece for Smith et al is just a blip on the radar compared to the changes awaiting Alberta just around the corner. Ironically, some of the painful effects of oil demand destruction may occur with a Poilievre government in Ottawa, siblings to Smith. Will there be convoys of unemployed oil sector workers occupying Ottawa in protest? Will Poilievre and Smith still blame Trudeau long after the kid has left the House?

That would be comical to watch. But all of us will feel the pain of their attempts to prolong the injection of carbon into the planet's atmosphere and oceans.