Campaign by Alberta’s energy war room aims to promote Canadian oil to Americans

WATCH ABOVE: Some Global News videos about the Canadian Energy Centre.

The publicly funded entity created by Alberta’s UCP government to wage an information war with critics of the province’s oil and gas sector has launched a high-profile “awareness campaign,” hoping to convince Americans their country should import more Canadian oil.

“This includes informing Americans the U.S. has a choice from where it imports oil and that Canada is a better, closer, cleaner and friendlier option compared to countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia,” the Canadian Energy Centre, referred to by many Albertans as the province’s energy war room, said in a post on its website Monday. “The U.S. uses approximately nine-million barrels of oil per day beyond what is produced domestically.”

READ MORE: Alberta premier opens war room to promote ‘truth’ about energy industry 

The CEC said its “Cleaner, Closer, Committed to Net Zero” campaign features billboards in New York City and Washington.

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The publicly funded entity created by Alberta’s UCP government to wage an information war with critics of the province’s oil and gas sector has launched a high-profile “awareness campaign,” hoping to convince Americans their country should import more Canadian oil. CREDIT: Canadian Energy Centre

The campaign will see two digital billboards up for four weeks in Times Square, a static digital billboard in Astor on New York’s Grand Central Parkway for two weeks and three full-motion billboards on the exterior of Capital One Arena in Washington for two weeks.

“The approximately $240,000 initiative is a reminder to Americans that their friends and allies in Canada hold solutions to cleaner energy and lower gas prices — and the key to a strong post-pandemic economic recovery.”

READ MORE: Alberta’s energy ‘war room’ planning broad new ad campaign to change oil & gas perceptions 

Energy Minister Sonya Savage tweeted she was pleased to hear of the billboard campaign and that she too believes it will “remind Americans that their friends and allies in Canada have the solution to cleaner energy and lower gas prices.”

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The CEC said its new campaign will also “feature a grassroots component that calls on Canadians and Americans to respectfully advocate to the president and U.S. lawmakers about the benefits of Canadian energy.”

The campaign’s website asks visitors to enter their name and email address to be included in a “pledge” to “support cleaner, closer, Canadian oil.”

Since the CEC’s inception, Alberta’s oil sector has seen a number of setbacks, including U.S. President Joe Biden revoking permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, essentially killing the project.

READ MORE: Alberta energy minister defends ‘war room’ petition against children’s ‘Bigfoot Family’ movie 

Opposition energy critic Kathleen Ganley issued a news release on Monday afternoon saying she believes the billboards are a waste of money, “particularly with no plan to measure results.”

Global News reached out to Savage’s press secretary to see how her office plans to measure the campaign’s success. While a reply was not received, Global News did receive an email from CEC CEO Tom Olsen on the matter, and he indicated the minister’s office forwarded the request for comment to him.

“This is the first phase of a campaign that will be in various markets for several months,” he said.

“During that time, there will be a number of performance indicators we track to enable us to understand the penetration of these types of campaigns. They include visits to the microsite and overall impressions, earned media stories throughout our full campaign and advocacy letters that are sent.

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“The bottom line is we are speaking out for the many Canadians and Americans dismayed that the U.S. government asked OPEC+ countries for more oil to curb rising gas prices, rather than working with Canada.

“Americans should know that cancelling Keystone XL and putting the squeeze on safe, responsible and increasingly less energy-intensive crude from Canada that U.S. refiners need will continue to have a direct impact on driving up prices at the pump.”

The CEC has made headlines over the past two years for its criticism of The New York Times and for scolding the makers of a children’s film featuring Bigfoot for what it called an anti-oil message.

In her news release, Ganley questioned the CEC’s ability to help Alberta’s energy sector.

“Since its inception, the UCP’s war room has been plagued by controversy, secrecy and incompetence,” she said. “It has failed to get results for Albertans or our energy sector, and this latest ad campaign is just more of the same.

“The war room did absolutely nothing to help secure a single pipeline. It is a big part of the UCP’s failed strategy that couldn’t get Keystone XL across the line, costing Albertans at least $1.3 billion.”

Ganley suggested she believes ad campaigns will not have much of an impact on people who are opposed to oil and gas development and said the provincial government needs to take more action on addressing climate change.

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During the time the NDP spent as Alberta’s government, at least $23 million was spent on the Keep Canada Working campaign, an advertising initiative aimed at convincing Canadians that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project was one that must be completed.

READ MORE: ‘This is B.C. vs. Canada’: Alberta has spent $23M on Keep Canada Working campaign 

When asked how the NDP’s Keep Canada Working campaign differed from the CEC’s latest campaign, Ganley provided Global News with a statement that said her party’s campaign was “fully transparent with measurable results for Albertans.”

READ MORE: As Trans Mountain decision looms, poll suggests majority of B.C. still supports pipeline 

“Polling showed we moved support for the Trans Mountain pipeline from four in 10 Canadians to seven in 10,” her statement read in part.

“Our campaign was also paired with real action on climate change, as well as diplomacy and negotiations that ultimately succeeded in getting construction of Trans Mountain underway.

“The war room has already been reprimanded by the auditor general for handing out sole-source contracts without justification and is currently under investigation by the privacy commissioner for the possible mishandling of personal information.”

READ MORE: Alberta auditor flags $1.6B in government accounting blunders, oversight problems 

Professor Tom Meyvis from the Stern School of Business at New York University said the CEC billboard campaign is not a cost-effective endeavour and will not influence opinion in the United States.

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“It’s not the most cost-effective way to reach people in a targeted way,” Meyvis said.

“If you want to have a credible signal that you’re serious about this and you’re willing to pressure the American voting public, then you need to have a much bigger campaign than this. This is a little sad as it is now.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to push oil and gas industry to boost spending'
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to push oil and gas industry to boost spending

Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, noted that such advertising campaigns can be effective and the NDP’s promotion of the Trans Mountain project, for example, did seem to increase support for the project.

However, she noted the NDP’s efforts were centred around former premier Rachel Notley delivering her party’s message, and the CEC may suffer from not being linked to a particular person who is an “effective communicator.”

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“It’s possible that it could have a positive effect,” Williams said of the CEC campaign. “Unfortunately, the legacy (of the CEC) so far has been controversial.

“There are potentially good bits of information (in the campaign), but it’s likely to generate a few different reactions.”

Williams said, for example, she believes some will challenge the CEC’s assertion that Canadian oil is cleaner than other countries. Unlike campaigns targeting Canadians, “the further away you get, the harder it is to make this kind of message to connect,” she said.

Olsen confirmed to Global News on Monday that the CEC’s budget for the current fiscal year is $10.3 million.

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