Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province’s so-called war room will be respectful while fighting what he says is a foreign-funded campaign of lies to landlock the province’s resources.
Kenney officially opened the new $30-million Canadian Energy Centre on Tuesday in Calgary. The centre is to have a research unit, an energy literacy unit and a rapid response team to challenge misinformation.
“We were not doing nearly enough to tell the truth in response to a campaign of lies, of defamation and disinformation based on torqued, dated and incomplete and out of context attacks on our energy sector,” Kenney told reporters.
Kenney promised to set up the war room as part of his provincial election campaign leading to the United Conservative Party’s win in April.
It’s part of a multi-pronged approach that also includes a $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of anti-oil advocacy groups.
Human rights group Amnesty International Canada has warned that the war room and public inquiry threaten freedom of expression and association.
Legal advocacy group Ecojustice also filed a court challenge citing similar concerns.
“Nobody is proposing to trample on anybody’s free speech,” Kenney said Tuesday.
“If there are organizations that use their free speech to put misinformation into the public square, we will respond. That’s not attacking freedom of speech. It’s responding to the content of the speech. That’s called public discourse.”
He said the centre will react with “respect, civility and professionalism.”
Managing director, Tom Olsen, described the centre as “part new media organization, part think tank, research hub.”
It will create a new energy narrative through advertising and social media, he said. He didn’t know yet if that might mean staff will reach out directly to people who they believe are spreading lies.
“We will push back. Where falsehoods are spread, we will respond,” he said.
Duncan Kenyon, Alberta regional director of the environmental think tank the Pembina Institute, said he laments the government’s singular focus on fighting fossil fuel foes when everyone should be working together on tackling climate change.
“We actually more than ever need to come together to figure out how to decarbonize and diversify our energy,” he said.
“We need to respond to where the world and the markets and the people that are going to buy this product are going.”
The Muttart Foundation, an established Edmonton charity, recently wrote a lengthy letter disputing the notion that opposition to Alberta’s oil and gas industry is bankrolled by foreign money.
Using Canada Revenue Agency data, it found that in Alberta, 284 charities received $88.5 million from foreign sources — less than three per cent of their revenue. The University of Calgary was the top recipient, raking in 42 per cent of all foreign funding in Alberta.