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The Government of Alberta has created the new “Energy War Room” (with an annual budget of $30 million) to combat environmental NGOs, specifically those who have been campaigning against the oil sector.
This may come as a surprise to taxpayers wondering why a billion-dollar industry needs such government-subsidized assistance in the first place. Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage provided an answer of sorts, offering the following as the higher purpose of the Energy War Room:
"For more than a decade, anti-fossil fuel interest groups from around the world have been leading a deceitful campaign to landlock the oilsands. Not only has this campaign — founded entirely on lies — damaged the reputation of our world-class energy sector, it has caused significant damage to our province and hurt thousands of people who work hard and are proud of the work they do."
This official statement shows that the government has the oil industry’s back. Declaring the campaigns by the environmental NGOs to be “founded entirely on lies,” as the rationale for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to do the bidding of a billion-dollar industry, seems like a stretch. Surely, these corporations can handle their own legal challenges. The Energy War Room seems to be just another frivolous waste of taxpayer money.
Perhaps no one should be surprised that the Energy War Room only targets the NGOs against the oil industry.
None of the friends of oil are under attack by the taxpayer-funded Energy War Room, such as the hypocritically-named Friends of Science, even though this Calgary-based organization has been accused of “false and misleading representations” about the science of climate change.
Clearly, lies aren’t driving the Government of Alberta to establish the Energy War Room. What is?
Soon after the announcement of the Energy War Room in early June, what had simply been persecution escalated to prosecution: a public inquiry was launched into an alleged “foreign-funded defamation campaign” on the part of environmental NGOs.
At the announcement, Premier Jason Kenney said, “most importantly, it will serve notice that Alberta will no longer allow hostile interest groups to dictate our economic destiny as one of the most ethical major producers of energy in the world.” Hmmm, does “ethical oil” combat climate change?
The premier seems to think so.
When Danielle Smith, a zealous advocate of the oil industry, claimed, in a Calgary Herald column, that “Alberta’s energy industry is on the cusp of saving the planet,” Kenney quickly tweeted the article.
This retweet is just part of his own personal campaign. For example, on the federal price on carbon, he tweeted that the carbon tax would “punish Albertans for heating their homes & driving to work.” So much for defending the truth.
And it is not only organizations being targeted by the premier. At the launch of the Energy War Room, he notably singled out the respected environmental activist Tzeporah Berman for a personal attack; afterwards, she received a barrage of death threats.
Ms. Berman had already been mentioned in over two dozen derogatory tweets of his: she was labelled an “anti-energy zealot,” an “eco-radical” and “anti-Alberta.” With the creation of the Energy War Room, Jason Kenney has essentially branded Tzeporah Berman an enemy of the state.
The war room amounts to censorship and intimidation of any environmental group or person daring to challenge Kenney’s biggest corporate supporters. This new McCarthyism is a shocking abuse of political power to undermine free speech, and the inquisition has been mocked and appropriately called the “Un-Albertan activities committee.”
Chillingly, Postmedia has lobbied to be a partner in the Energy War Room. How can journalistic integrity exist within an organization advocating for an industry? The Energy War Room is a propaganda weapon that rings of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Only so-called lies against the oil industry are “investigated” by the agency, while ones for the oil industry are encouraged by those in power. In other words, Big Brother is protecting big oil.
Even though Alberta and oil may be inseparable, Jason Kenney has crossed the line with his use of propaganda to protect the industry at any cost. Will the Energy War Room really save the oil sector and “put food on the table for their families” by censoring the environmental NGOs? Are there not much bigger factors plaguing the oil sector, such as U.S. oil imports, global pricing, pipelines, etc.?
The Energy War Room is a waste of tax dollars and suppresses free speech, but more importantly, we must remember, with or without the environmental NGOs, the climate crisis is not going away. Alberta is the largest carbon pollution emitter, and it has the fastest growth of emissions in the country. The major source is the oilsands. None of this is ever discussed by the premier or his officials.
Without major reductions in the oilsands’ GHG emissions — Kenney’s hardline stance makes this unlikely — Canada will not meet its international commitments on climate change. The Energy War Room is good for oil, good for Kenney and bad for Canada.