Kenney’s ‘War Room’ Takes On Well-Funded Campaigners Smearing Oilsands

by FDeditor

News Analysis

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC)—Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “war room”—is still finding its feet in its mission to raise the public’s understanding of Canada’s energy sector using a fact-based approach to combat what it believes is misinformation.

Launched Dec. 11, 2019, the provincial corporation has been publishing articles on various topics, including benefits to Indigenous communities and the opportunity offered by Canadian liquified natural gas (LNG) to reduce global emissions. It’s also rebutting op-eds that it sees as having ignored important facts, like one recently in The Globe and Mail.

However, despite facts like Canada accounting for just 1.6 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the industry has been fighting a losing battle against well-funded environmental activists for public opinion. The toll on Alberta’s economy is significant, and Kenney determined that a new weapon was sorely needed in the war of words to try to turn the tide.

Opponents of the oilsands are funded by both foreign and domestic sources, and their campaigns have been exposed mainly by researcher Vivian Krause and a group like Friends of Science.

The “tar sands” campaign goes beyond American interests. For example, Trevor Loudon, a noted New Zealand-based author and researcher on radical left movements, has pointed the finger at China and Russia, which also want to land-lock oil and gas in Alberta and isolate the U.S. product in a bid to weaken the world’s largest economy.

“Those campaigns have divided our country and devastated the Alberta economy. They have also ignored that Canadian industry is leading the way in cleaning its operations, resulting in innovations with applications around the world,” said Tom Olsen, CEO of the CEC, on its website.

But the CEC has a lot to prove after making two logo gaffes and being called “a propaganda arm of the Alberta gov’t” by Andrew Leach, an energy and environmental economist and University of Alberta business professor.

Nevertheless, the CEC, with its $30 million-a-year budget, isn’t the first effort to balance the messaging to the masses. The $31 million “Keep Canada Working” campaign for the Trans Mountain pipeline, launched by the former NDP government of Rachel Notley in January 2019, was another pan-Canada endeavour.

ENGOs Get More Political

Friends of Science has described how foreign-funded federally registered charities and non-profits are denigrating the oilsands while being subsidized by Canadian taxpayers, due to recent changes to the Income Tax Act.

“The charity status granted to many ENGOs [environmental NGOs] that allows them to avoid income taxation while still carrying extensive political activity and lobbying is anomalous,” according to the group’s “Fear and Loathing” report released Dec. 11.

The report says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government passed legislation authorizing charities to carry on unlimited “public policy dialogue and development activities” to influence laws and policies. There used to be a 10 percent limit on partisan political activity and now there’s no limit.

Now, registered charity status gives activist environmental groups the freedom to spend all of their revenues on activities like blocking pipelines and resource development.

The tax change is consistent with the Canadian government’s intent to show that it is a reliable partner in fighting climate change. Canada sent a massive contingent of 156 delegates to the United Nations COP25 climate conference in Madrid in December. That was more than double the number sent by the United States and drew criticism from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Is this really necessary or just financially wasteful and environmentally irresponsible overkill?” said Aaron Wudrick, the organization’s head.

Industry Should Blow Its Horn

The Kenney government’s efforts to fight back against the climate alarmist narrative by focusing on facts is one thing; another thing is that the Canadian industry needs to promote its commitment to good governance, transparency, and lower carbon intensity, says Maria van der Hoeven, senior fellow at the Clingendael International Energy Programme.

“Canada is really at the top,” said van der Hoeven, a former Dutch politician who headed the International Energy Agency from 2011 to 2015, when talking about transparency and regulation in producing oil and gas on a recent ARC Energy Institute podcast.

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She said the oil companies working in the oilsands are doing a good job but need to be better communicators. “Can’t blame others for your bad reputation if you don’t do something about your bad reputation yourself,” she said.

For example, the Canadian LNG story is not well-known in Europe, according to van der Hoeven.

“With our focus on ever-improving environmental standards and our commitment to labour and human rights, Canada should be the world’s supplier of choice. There is no question about that,” wrote Olsen in an op-ed for the Medicine Hat News.

Will buyers of oil and gas put greater emphasis on adherence to environmental standards, governance, and social issues? If that increasingly becomes the case, as it is in other industries like institutional investing, then the demand for Canadian products should go up. Europe can’t like being so dependent on Russian gas; it’s likely to readily embrace a Canadian alternative if available.

Liquified Natural Gas

Tim McMillan, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), has been very active in getting the industry’s message out. CAPP registered with Elections Canada in order to advertise during the 2019 election run-up. That’s no less than what Kenney encouraged from industry participants.

What climate alarmists and environmentalists seem to be ignoring is that shutting down Canada’s oilsands won’t make a difference in global emissions and could even have the opposite effect if higher-emission products filled the void left by Canada’s oilsands, say the CEC and McMillan.

LNG is the key. McMillan says it will replace coal as the world’s second-largest energy source and Canada has a vital role to play. LNG Canada, a $40 billion pipeline project carrying natural gas across northern B.C. to the west coast for liquefaction and export, will employ 4,500 people at a work camp in Kitimat. It could create an economic boom like what Alberta’s Fort McMurray once experienced.

While the Canadian industry innovates to produce oil and gas more cleanly, China is planning to add another 300 coal-fired power plants that will make the same amount of energy as that generated by all of the coal-fired power plants in the EU. This is another example of the world’s second-largest economy thumbing its nose at international norms like the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

McMillan wrote in an op-ed that Canada can help bring people out of energy poverty while reducing global GHG emissions. China and India, which produce more than 20 percent of the world’s emissions, could use Canadian expertise if opponents to the oilsands weren’t so fastidious in opposing its development.

Follow Rahul on Twitter: @RV_ETBizfrom

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