New documents describe a massive increase in public funding for the Canadian Energy Center’s campaign to change attitudes towards Alberta oil and gas.
An agency founded by Alberta’s united Conservative government to fight what it calls misinformation about the province’s industry and also known as the “war room,” the center’s most recent annual report shows it signed a $22 million contract dollars last fiscal year for a media campaign. That’s about three times the total government grant from the previous year.
“There are a lot of things the government could do with that money,” said Kathleen Ganley, an energetic critic of the neo-Democratic opposition.
The expense is mentioned only in the “RFP – Registration Agency” line of the center’s annual report, filed late last month.
The advertising campaign would 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 not clear which campaigns are still in progress.
Most of the information that exists comes from documents filed with the US Foreign Agent Registry. Those documents are detailed and specific. They show, for example, that Alberta spent $159,593.51 on ads in the Wall Street Journal.
They also include contracts signed between the Alberta government and DDB, a marketing and communications company with offices in Edmonton and Washington.
The contract states that Alberta spent $1.7 million out of a $3.8 million budget trying to convince Americans that fossil fuels are going nowhere and that the province’s industry is a safe and reliable supplier. well regulated.
“Experts agree that even with the most aggressive push for renewable energy, the transition to a low-carbon economy is decades away,” reads one announcement.
“When the United States chooses Canadian oil, it helps provide reliable, responsible and affordable energy that is committed to environmental excellence.”
‘Rapid Response Media Criticism’
US spending included $150,000 for “rapid response media reviews.”
The contract between Alberta and DDB provides for advertising spend in Europe and the UK. In the center’s report, that spending is budgeted at Can$5.7 million.
The contract also specifies $22 million for campaigns within Canada, though no further information is included about where and how that money was spent.
The most recent version of the contract on the US registry suggests 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 chair of the center’s board of directors, responded with an email quoted here in full:
“A variety of advertisers in a variety of campaigns,” spokesman James Snell wrote. “The main ad agency was DDB.”
The government contract requires DDB to file a report describing the actions it took and how they affected American public opinion. The Canadian press has not been told whether that report has been filed or will be made public.
The contract prevents 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 know what their government is doing,” Ganley said. “Other jurisdictions have better records and public transparency rules than this current UCP government.”
Ganley said $22 million could have made a real difference if it had been spent elsewhere.
“Twenty-two million dollars could be a game changer in some areas, like rehiring educational assistants that this administration laid off.”
The United Conservatives established the center in 2019 to promote the energy industry and fight back against what they see as misinformation. Since then he has criticized the New York Times newspaper and has berated the makers of a children’s film in which Big Foot for what he considered an anti-oil message.
In March 2020, the agency lost about 90 percent of its $30 million budget, which comes largely from the government’s carbon tax. In a press release, the government said it would cease all paid advertising campaigns and work with outside contractors.