Alberta now says energy war room not subject to freedom of information laws as a private corporation

The Alberta government now says that Minister of Energy Sonya Savage misspoke Wednesday, when she told reporters that the government’s new Canadian Energy Centre, set up to combat what the government sees as misinformation about the energy industry, would be subject to freedom of information laws.

EDMONTON—The Alberta government’s new war room, recently named the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), will be a private entity owned by the province and not subject to freedom of information laws after all, a spokesperson clarified Thursday.

In a press conference the day before, Minister of Energy Sonya Savage told reporters that the body would be open to requests under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).

FOIP allows journalists and members of the public to ask for documents, specific communications and certain other information about public bodies or organizations.

However, Christine Myatt, press secretary to the premier, sent a statement to reporters Thursday saying that the minister “was not sufficiently clear regarding FOIP legislation’s applicability to the CEC.”

“The CEC’s internal operations are not subject to FOIP, as this would provide a tactical and/or strategic advantage to the very foreign-funded special interests the CEC is looking to counter,” wrote Myatt. “For example, we would not let those foreign-funded special interests seeking to attack our province see our detailed defence plans.”

During the election campaign, and up until recently, the centre has been known as the “Energy War Room” — mandated with combating what the Alberta government sees as misinformation about the oil and gas industry in social and traditional media. The Alberta government accepts the controversial theory that a foreign funded campaign of misinformation has been deployed in Canada specifically to landlock Alberta oil — hamstringing the economy.

Critics suggest it is the stuff of conspiracy theories and the Opposition NDP say the war room doesn’t do anything to help get Albertans back to work. MORE

In Alberta, a shocking abuse of political power to protect the oil industry

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage speak to reporters after the Senate energy committee on May 2, 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade

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. MORE


Climate change and biodiversity should be top headline news

We are ill served by traditional media. A list of reliable sources is found here

Image: Philip Bump/Flickr

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report in October warning of how quickly we’re advancing toward irreversible climate chaos, it led the news — for a day. A massive study in May by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services about rapid wildlife extinction met a similar fate.

In Canada, issues like legalization of recreational cannabis pushed aside the climate report, and news about the birth of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s baby buried the biodiversity report everywhere.

In early April, I read front-page stories in the Vancouver Sun about Brexit and the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The third page had a single column headlined, “Grim climate report released,” about an Environment and Climate Change Canada review by 43 scientists showing Canada is warming at twice the global average rate, even faster in the North.

Why aren’t these reports dominating front pages, financial sections and newscasts, highlighting the enormous societal and economic implications? British Columbians know well that climate change is real. We’ve seen glaciers that supply much of our water retreatingmountain pine beetle outbreaks destroying billions of dollars’ worth of trees, smoke from massive wildfires darkening skies for weeks, acidified oceans killing shellfish, and rising seas threatening coastlines.

In an April speech to the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation‘s Covering Climate Now conference in New York, respected U.S. broadcaster Bill Moyers pointed to research showing, “The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 2018,” and “about 1,300 communities across the United States have totally lost news coverage, many from newspaper mergers and closures.”  MORE


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Postmedia hires former Kenney staffer to lobby Alberta government on involvement in ‘energy war room’

Read with care: By joining Jason Kenney’s ‘war room’, Postmedia is apparently going to be supporting neoliberal resource development and attacking environmental concerns more openly.  

Calgary Herald building

Lobbyist registration reveals company that publishes newspapers in at least 34 Alberta communities has hired former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to lobby Alberta government

Documents filed with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry reveal that Canadian media behemoth Postmedia — which owns the National Post, Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Vancouver Sun, The Province, Ottawa Citizen and many others — is actively seeking to become “involved” in Premier Jason Kenney’s “energy war room.”

The lobbying records state Postmedia hired Kenney’s former campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to “discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

Kenney proposed the creation of a “war room” during Alberta’s most recent election campaign. The war room — which the UCP said in its campaign platform will run on a $20 million budget — will “fight fake news and share the truth about Alberta’s resource sector and energy issues.”

Kenney named several organizations, including prominent charities, environmental groups and multinational companies, suggesting they may be early targets of the war room. MORE



What Alberta’s new UCP majority government means for the environment

Oilsands emissions cap? What oilsands emissions cap? Kenney has promised he will “absolutely” scrap the cap. Canada’s climate commitments include an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. This means cutting total emissions to 150 megatonnes — across the entire country — in three decades. Projects that have already received approvals add up to 131 megatonnes, according to the Pembina Institute. 

Image result for the narwhal: What Alberta’s new UCP majority government means for the environment
Incoming Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and federal Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer greet one another at the UCP convention in Red Deer, Alta. Photo: Andrew Scheer / Flickr

Regulations and renewables are on the outs and battles with environmental groups are in, as Kenney promises to accelerate approvals of energy projects, scrap efficiency measures and fund an ‘energy war room’ to fight anyone who criticizes the province’s energy sector

Welcome to a new world — a world of “war rooms,” red-tape reductions and some rapid-fire repeals of existing programs and legislation.

1. Regulation? Let’s cut it.

Kenney has made it clear that a UCP government will be all about “streamlining” and “efficiencies.”

As part of that plan, the UCP government will ramp up approvals for new energy projects. Kenney described his plan as a “rapid acceleration of approvals.”

At the same time, his “red tape reduction action plan” will “cut red tape by a third.” There will be a new so-called “one-in, one-out” rule that will require that every new regulation created is offset by the elimination of an existing regulation.

He’ll even appoint a “Minister for Red Tape Reduction.”

Red tape, according to the UCP, is a “costly and growing burden” that “kills jobs.”

2. Parks: privatized services and more booze!

Given the heated backlash over the province’s Bighorn Country proposal earlier this year, it won’t come as a surprise if the UCP doesn’t pursue the planned parks and recreation areas.

Kenney had previously described the NDP’s Bighorn land-use plans as “an extreme approach to land use which cuts out local residents and legitimate economical and recreational use.”

The UCP has, however, pledged to provide $10 million to support the creation of a new urban provincial park within Edmonton city limits.

It has also pledged that “major environmental protection proposals” will be subject to a review of their economic impacts to ensure they are not harmful to the economy — a “balance,” the party says, to current environmental impact assessments of industrial projects.

The party’s platform outlines an increased emphasis of partnerships with park societies, and suggests the UCP will support increased volunteer activities to maintain parks.

An initial pilot project will determine if nearly all park services could be privatized, by examining “whether park societies could effectively be contracted to assume all park management responsibilities from [Alberta Environment and Parks], with the exception of enforcement.”

But, hey — soon we’ll be able to relax with a glass of wine after a long day of trail maintenance. The UCP has pledged to “relax liquor constraints in a number of provincial parks” as well as loosening liquor laws in municipal parks MORE


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