New documents point to a ma*sive increase in public funding for the Canadian Energy Center’s campaign to change attitudes about Alberta’s oil and gas.
An agency founded by Alberta’s United Conservative government to combat what it calls misinformation about the province’s industry and otherwise known as the ‘war room’, the centre’s most recent annual report shows that she signed a $22 million contract last fiscal year for a media campaign. This is approximately three times the entire government grant from the previous year.
“The government could do a lot of things with this money,” said Kathleen Ganley, NDP Opposition Energy Critic.
The expenses are mentioned only in the “RFP — Agency of Record” line of the center’s annual report, filed late last month.
The advertising campaign was to take place in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom and Canada. Little information is available on how the money was spent or what results it generated. It is unclear which campaigns are still underway.
Most of the existing information comes from documents filed with the US Registry of Foreign Agents. These documents are detailed and specific. They show, for example, that Alberta spent $159,593.51 on advertisements in the Wall Street Journal.
They also include contracts signed between the Government of Alberta and DDB, a marketing and communications company with offices in Edmonton and Washington.
The contract says Alberta has spent $1.7 million of a $3.8 million budget trying to convince Americans that fossil fuels will get nowhere and that the province’s industry is a supplier. safe and well regulated.
“Experts agree that even with the most aggressive renewable energy efforts, the transition to a low-carbon economy will not be possible for several decades,” reads an ad. “When America chooses Canadian oil, it helps provide reliable, responsible and affordable energy, committed to environmental excellence. »
The US expenses included $150,000 for “rapid response to media criticism”.
The contract between Alberta and DDB stipulates advertising expenditure in Europe and the United Kingdom. In the centre’s report, these expenses are budgeted at C$5.7 million. The contract also includes $22 million for campaigns in Canada, although no further information on where and how that money was spent is included.
The most recent version of the contract in the US register suggests that it expired on July 31.
Energy center officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment and explanation about the center’s media spending. Alberta Energy, whose Minister Brian Jean is chairman of the center’s board, responded with an email quoted here in full:
“A variety of advertisers on a variety of campaigns,” spokesman James Snell wrote. “The main advertising agency was DDB. »
The government contract requires DDB to file a report outlining the actions taken and how they affected American public opinion. The Canadian Press has not been informed if this report has been filed or if it will become public.
The contract prohibits DDB from speaking to the media without the center’s approval. Structured as a wholly-owned Crown corporation, the center is not subject to Alberta’s freedom of information laws.
“Albertans shouldn’t have to rely on other jurisdictions to tell them what their government is doing,” Ganley said. “Other jurisdictions have better records and rules on public transparency than the current UCP government. »
Ganley said $22 million could have made a real difference if invested elsewhere.
“Twenty-two million dollars could be a game-changer in some areas, like rehiring the teaching a*sistants that this government fired. »
The United Conservatives established the center in 2019 to promote the energy sector and fight back against what they see as misinformation. He has since slammed the New York Times newspaper and berated the makers of a kids’ movie starring Bigfoot for what he saw as an anti-oil message.
In March 2020, the agency lost about 90% of its $30 million budget, much of which comes from the government’s carbon tax. In a press release, the government said all paid advertising campaigns and collaboration with external contractors would cease.
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