Environment Minister and Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. Director Rebecca Schulz (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

When Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., better known as “the Alberta Energy War Room,” was set up by premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government soon after its election in 2019, it was structured as a private provincial corporation to make it immune to searches using the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Energy Minister and Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. Director Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Could this turn out to have been a mistake that actually poses a risk to the directors of CEC Ltd. in the event the federal government passes Bill C-59, the Fall Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2023, and the Trudeau Government somehow manages to remain in power? 

This might explain the overwrought, even panicky, tone of Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz’s May 29 statement on the Alberta Government’s official website, in which she inaccurately labelled the federal legislation an “undemocratic gag order” and raised the prospect of corporate leaders facing fines and jail time for making unproved claims about their practices mitigating climate change. 

“Environmental activists will be able to bring claims against oil and gas companies under so called ‘anti-greenwashing provisions,’” the statement fussed, citing the risk of “fines and jail time for Canada’s oil and gas industry if they tried to defend their record on the environment.”

The risk of fines for Canadian oil and gas companies posed by the federal bill’s proposed amendment to the Competition Act is remote, of course, and the possibility of some O&G executive actually serving jail time is microscopic. 

If passed, Bill C-59 would amend the section of the Competition Act dealing with deceptive marketing practices to read: “A person engages in reviewable conduct who, for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, the supply or use of a product or for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, any business interest, by any means whatever … makes a representation to the public in the form of a statement, warranty or guarantee of a product’s benefits for protecting the environment or mitigating the environmental and ecological effects of climate change that is not based on an adequate and proper test, the proof of which lies on the person making the representation …”

Justice Minister and Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. Director Mickey Amery (Photo: Government of Alberta).

This seems mostly performative. Making such a case stick would be a steep climb for any prosecutor.

In the unlikely event of a successful prosecution, the most likely remedy to be imposed by a court would be an order to remove the offending statement. To face a fine, or God forbid, a jail term, surely a corporation or executive would have to defy an order of a court. 

Nor is it clear if any of this would apply to greenwashing in advertising purchased outside Canada.

So, it is said here, Alberta’s oil and gas moguls can sleep peacefully, unafraid of being gagged, let alone imprisoned, as a result of Bill C-59. 

But unlike a normal corporation, CEC Ltd. was set up essentially as a government propaganda agency with a mandate, despite protestations to the contrary, not bound tightly to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So if any company were actually at risk from such an unlikely prosecution, CEC Ltd. might do nicely. 

Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen (David J. Climenhaga).

So, let’s consider who its directors are. 

They are Brian Jean, who as minister of energy acts as chair of the three-member board, Justice Minister Mickey Amery, and … Ms. Schulz, in her capacity as environment minister.

That was the way Mr. Kenney and his advisors, always too clever by half, set it up.

Could they now actually fear they might face personal liability if some environmental activists went after CEC Ltd. for greenwashing? 

This isn’t likely, even for politicians not exactly wedded to the truth. Moreover, most of CEC Ltd.’s advertising appears to be in the United States and Europe.

Still, things could get complicated for an organization once described by its CEO as being “about disproving true facts.” (In fairness, Tom Olsen didn’t say exactly what he meant, but nevertheless, with the War Room, the potential for credible accusations of greenwashing is high.) 

Former UCP premier Jason Kenney, for whom being too clever by half was on brand (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

At the founding meeting of the United Conservative Party on May 9, 2018, Mr. Kenney outlined his “fight-back strategy” against critics of the fossil fuel sector. “We will set up a fully staffed rapid response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world-class energy industry,” he vowed. 

And if the “green left” wasn’t lying, he didn’t say but everybody in the room understood, the war room just might have to tell some porkies of its own. All in a good cause, and what, in Mr. Kenney’s obsessive mind, could be a better cause than selling Alberta’s “ethical oil”?

When the CEC was officially launched to great fanfare on Dec. 18, 2019, Mr. Kenney’s press secretary, Christine Myatt, repeated the government’s talking point that CEC Ltd. needed to be set up as a private, albeit government-owned, corporation so it was protected from FOIP-happy journalists and environmentalists. 

“The CEC’s internal operations are not subject to FOIP, as this would provide a tactical and/or strategical advantage to the very foreign-funded special interests the CEC is looking to counter,” she explained.

Of course, it also prevented Albertans from trying to answer more traditional questions, such as whether taxpayers were getting their money’s worth for the millions of dollars flowing to CEC Ltd.

In May 2021, a CBC reporter filed a FOIP request to the company, trying to winkle out more information about the contracts it was awarding. CEC Ltd. told her to talk to the environment ministry.

Investigative reporter Jennie Russell appealed the ruling to the information and privacy commissioner, who handed the question over to an independent adjudicator. In March 2022, the adjudicator rules that, nope, CEC Ltd. didn’t have to release any information because it was a private company.

As time has passed, Alberta’s journalists have mostly forgotten about the War Room. Too much trouble, one supposes, and so much of its advertising outside Alberta and outside Canada. 

According to the company’s last annual report, CEC Ltd. received $31.8 million in transfers from the Alberta government in 2023, it sole source of revenue. Past statements by the company and government officials have indicated some of those funds, in turn, originate elsewhere, including the government’s Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program for large industrial carbon emitters. CEC Ltd. had total expenses that year of $26.1 million, much of that for advertising campaigns in the United States and Europe. 

Of that, in 2023 the company spent $1.5 million on salaries and benefits for its small staff, $1.3 million on research, just under $700,000 on “social advertising,” and only $34,667 on its colourful web page touting the wonders and benefits of fossil fuel use.

NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the ultimate source of CEC Ltd.’s revenues. DJC

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  1. DS on X- June 3rd
    “UCP members are some of the most principled, passionate and caring people I’ve ever met.”………………

    “You can register for the Red Deer AGM and take advantage of early bird pricing here…..”

    Green washing, white washing— it’s all dirty laundry, imho; and about to get even dirtier covered in all that coal dust.
    First ethical clean oil, now the cleanest coal…..hmmm, where have we heard that before?
    Follow the yellow brick road.

  2. Greenwashing isn’t what the UCP are doing. It’s brownwashing. They claim that the oil in Alberta is being developed in a responsible manner, when it isn’t, and it hasn’t been in a very long time. Thanks to Ralph Klein, we are left with a $260 billion orphan oil well mess, and the UCP are dumping us with a $20 billion cost to help pay for this. There are the longstanding issues with the tailings pond leaks in northern Alberta, which the UCP and the AER never did properly address.

    I also became aware that Ralph Klein’s wife, Colleen has passed away. My recollection of Ralph Klein certainly isn’t with any fondness. Many people suffered from his very foolish policies.

  3. that would have been fun, if you don’t tell the truth, you could be fined or sent to jail. Politicians all of the province must have had a bad scare.

    That budget is fairly rich. It makes one wonder, if they have that sort of money for advertising wouldn’t it be better to be spent on health care, hospitals, etc.
    A former premier, I think el gordo, used “the make it a private corporation” to avoid the opposition from asking questions which they would have to answer. And thus it was so much easier to hide what went on at B.C. Ferries.
    Politicians who act in this manner are usually up to something they ought not to be. Its not a democratic act.

  4. Any law enforcing truth would make the UCP jump off a cliff. They are that much of a death cult.

  5. It would be ironic if Kenney’s too clever setting up the War Room as a corporation to get around access to information laws ended up in exposing high profile UCP politicians to legal liability. It would be in keeping with the War Room’s incredible ability to again and again shoot itself and its political masters in the foot.

    It has been ineffective and a political embarrassment from the start, as half baked ideas often can be. But I feel this could at best be a mixed blessing, as it would give the the UCP another opportunity to go into victim mode and complain about an oppressive Federal government.

    However, I suspect more than a few of those in other levels of governments and educational institutions in Alberta, that the provincial government has been recently bullying, would be quietly gleeful to see these UCP politicians get their comeuppance.

  6. Rebecca Schulz, Minister for CAPP. Just another con that never had a real job and has had her snout in the public trough just about her entire working life. Best job she has ever had so she is not about to ruin it by ending the nose stretchers.

    As an aside, we now know why Pierre Poilievre stopped yipping and yapping long ago about foreign election interference since it turns out Conservative leadership contests had foreign interference. Now, of course, the cons are stating they had no idea.

  7. “According to the company’s last annual report, CEC Ltd. received $31.8 million in grants from the Alberta government in 2023, it sole source of revenue.”

    The Canadian Energy Centre’s funding is murky, but it appears to be mainly funded by industry via Alberta’s TIER carbon pricing program for large industrial emitters. On top of which, taxpayers support the CEC to the tune of millions of dollars a year.
    If the CEC is supported by taxpayers, our contribution should be a line item in the government’s budget documents.
    It is surprising, or perhaps not, that neither the Alberta government nor the CEC feels obligated to clearly identify the sources of the CEC’s funding.

    About Us: “The Canadian Energy Centre’s mandate is to promote Canada as the supplier of choice for the world’s growing demand for responsibly produced energy. It is an independent provincial corporation that is PRIMARILY supported by the Government of Alberta’s industry-funded Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund.”

    “The Canadian Energy Centre aims to tell Canada’s energy story” (Tom Olsen, CEO/Managing Director, CEC, Dec 10, 2019):
    “The CEC is a provincial corporation under the financial administration act that will largely be funded by Alberta’s energy industry, through the new Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund.”

    Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) (Desmog)
    “‘The CEC is a provincial corporation under the financial administration act that will LARGELY be funded by Alberta’s energy industry, through the new Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund,’ the Canadian Energy Centre’s CEO and managing director Tom Olsen wrote on the group’s website at launch.
    “Initial Incorporation and Funding
    “The Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. was incorporated as a provincial corporation under the Business Corporations Act of Alberta on October 9, 2019. Its annual report notes that ‘as a provincial corporation, the Corporation is exempt from income taxes under the Income Tax Act.’
    “According to the 2019 Alberta Fiscal Plan, over the next four years $80 million Canadian (about USD$60 million) would be set aside for the Canadian Energy Centre out of Alberta’s carbon tax, or Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program. The fiscal plan document notes that:
    “According to the 2019 Fiscal Plan, the CEC would be allotted C$30 million per year, sourced from different lines on the provincial budget:
    “‘$10 million of this funding is being reprofiled from the current government advertising budget; and $20 million will be supported by TIER revenues.

    “Alberta energy war room immune from freedom of information law, rules adjudicator” (CBC, Mar 22, 2022)
    “Canadian Energy Centre not a public body, adjudicator says
    “…Although the United Conservative Party government created the CEC as a private corporation, the energy minister is the sole voting shareholder. Its board of directors consists of three Alberta government ministers. The CEC is funded by Alberta’s industrial carbon tax, the Technology, Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) fund.
    “…The government initially budgeted $30 million a year for the CEC. That was pared back to about $4 million in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The 2022-23 proposed budget doesn’t include a line item for the CEC, but Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in the legislature Monday it will have about $12 million annually.”

    Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent, and what benefits they receive in return. If the CEC is funded by tax dollars, even partially, it should be responsible to taxpayers and wide open to public and media scrutiny.

    1. Thank you, Geoffrey. I have updated the story to clarify the source of CEC Ltd.’s funds. DJC

    1. JM, I don’t know whether or not to thank you for that link….I feel like I need a shower after reading that drivel.

      Cute website. Their immigration page features such heartwarming “Albertan” images such as outdoor hockey, a blonde riding a horse in full stampede cosplay mode, and a church! Just a snippet: “Alberta should seek to amend the Agreement for Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration, crafting a distinctive ‘made in Alberta’ immigration policy. This policy should prioritize the province’s distinctive economic and cultural interests, emphasizing the attraction of highly skilled, younger immigrants who resonate with our Western values. It should also include measures to limit the influx of immigrants, including refugees and family reunification programs for parents and grandparents….”

      “The notion of Alberta reaching a population of 10 million people within the next 20 years is both culturally and economically irresponsible and unsustainable. Not only would it likely contribute to a further decline in standards of living, but it also risks eroding Alberta’s traditional Western heritage by potentially replacing the native-born population with non-native residents….”

      “Alberta must strive for increased autonomy in shaping its immigration policy, and limit the number of foreign workers, students, refugees, and permanent residents to those that align only with its unique economic demands and cultural values….”

      So much for saying the quiet part out loud, these knuckle draggers are shouting it from the rooftop. The 1905 Committee? More like the 1933 Committee.

      1. I also checked it out – using the Private Browsing mode on my web browser to avoid ending on some e-mail list. This language, “Amend the Canada-Alberta Cooperation on Immigration … policy focusing on attracting skilled, young immigrants aligned with Western values while limiting overall immigration to safeguard economic interests and cultural heritage…” reeks of fascist xenophobic bigotry. My only real question is, how did that dude named Tariq ever decide he should sign up with these clowns? He’s clearly an example of who they don’t want to let in.

  8. Hello Geofrey Pounder,
    Thanks for adding to DJC’s column. The contradictory statements on the CEC’s funding are telling.

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