Jason Kenney prepares his Energy War Room. Art: Adam Ashby Gibbard
By Andy CrosbyT
he Alberta government formally established the “Energy War Room” that Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) pledged to institute during the 2019 provincial election campaign in March.
The rebranded “Canadian Energy Centre” (CEC) became an incorporated, legal entity on Oct. 9 and will be operational before the end of the year, according to Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage in a news release. “Once fully functional, it will be a leading and authoritative voice on Alberta’s energy resources.”
The CEC will be composed of a rapid-response unit to issue “swift responses to misinformation spread through social media,” an energy literacy unit to “help the province take control of its energy story,” and a data and research unit “to reinforce this story with factual evidence for investors, researchers and policy makers,” according to the release.
It is, shockingly, not so much a factory for factual information as one for partisan rhetoric, stocked not with energy experts but with Conservative apparatchiks. Former UCP candidate Tom Olsen will head the CEC — and earn $194,000 per year.
Following the announcement, Premier Kenney’s office released a statement outlining that although the CEC is a provincial corporation under the Financial Administration Act, with the justice, energy, and environment ministers serving as board members, the “internal operations” of the CEC would not be subject to the Alberta Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).
“The CEC’s internal operations are not subject to FOIP, as this would provide a tactical and/or strategic advantage to the very foreign-funded special interests the CEC is looking to counter. For example, we would not let those foreign-funded special interests seeking to attack our province see our detailed defence plans,” according to the statement.
The CEC has raised eyebrows over the potential impact of limiting freedom of expression as well as the apparent lack of transparency surrounding the exemptions from the FOIP. Yet, there is a deeper backstory here. The CEC is not a new invention, but simply a new iteration of framing environmental and Indigenous activists as criminals and extremists.
Kenney’s Stand for Alberta
Jason Kenney and the UCP won the Alberta election with a majority government in April 2019. Kenney campaigned on a promise to “stand up for Alberta” by creating more oil and gas jobs and building more pipelines.
A March 2019 press release vowed to root out what the party described as foreign environmental influences undermining Alberta’s energy sector. Kenney claimed that “relentless attacks” by environmentalists and foreign environmental organizations were responsible for the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
Kenney took aim at environmentalist Tzeporah Berman in the press release, who was appointed by the previous NDP government as part of an 18-member Oil Sands Advisory Group. For her opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX), Kenney referred to her as an “anti-Albertan extremist.” This framing precipitated the “Energy War Room” campaign promise which would include a public inquiry into foreign funding of the “anti-Alberta energy campaign.”
War Room Announcement with Industry Stakeholders
Kenney formally announced the creation of the Energy War Room at a press conference in early June, flanked by over a dozen industry stakeholders.
Oil Sands Strong founder Robbie Picard introduced Kenney and displayed a poster of Berman, shown at a rally opposing TMX, within a “universal no” sign – a red circle with a diagonal line – that declared Berman an “enemy of the oilsands.”
Following the incident, Berman received death threats, anti-Semitic messages, and threats of sexual violence on her Twitter account, phone, and email. She warned that her unprecedented demonization at a government press conference could have a chilling effect on open dialogue on climate change in Alberta, reported the National Observer.
The Public Inquiry
In July, the Alberta government launched the promised $2.5-million public inquiry to “expose the foreign interests behind the anti-Alberta energy campaign,” according to Savage in a press release.
“The campaign to landlock Alberta oil has caused over a decade of reputational harm to Alberta’s energy sector,” said Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer. “We will determine next steps once the commissioner files his report and if there is evidence of illegal activity, we will take further action.”
Critics have called the move a “fool’s errand,” akin to a “show trial.” There is nothing legally preventing ENGOs in Canada from accepting money from outside Canada, nor any laws restricting advocacy work on environmental action.
On Sept. 9, the Inquiry launched a website, a snitch-line of sorts, where members of the public are encouraged to submit information on the funding of anti-Alberta oil activities.
In September, Amnesty International issued an open letter to the Alberta government expressing human rights concerns, specifically referencing the energy war room and the public inquiry. The letter expressed grave concern “that these initiatives, and the rhetoric surrounding them, feeds into a worsening climate of hostility towards human rights defenders – particularly Indigenous, women, and environmental human rights defenders – exposing them to intimidation and threats, including threats of violence.”
Conservatives’ obsession with the funding of environmental groups draws largely from the work of right-wing blogger and climate change skeptic Vivian Krause. A Conservative darling and beneficiary of oil sector money, Krause claims that millions of dollars have flowed across Canada’s border to support anti-pipeline and anti-tar sands efforts.
Conservatives in Canada have used this narrative to launch wider assaults against the environmental movement, conveniently ignoring that the oil and gas industry enjoys billions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks on the public dime. For example, the IMF reported that the Canadian fossil fuel industry received $60 billion in subsidies from federal and provincial governments in 2015, amounting to $1,650 per Canadian.
The Conservative obsession with the funding sources of environmental organizations is also shared by the RCMP, which perceives the financing of Indigenous and environmental activism as a national security threat.
A January 2014 RCMP “critical infrastructure intelligence assessment” identifying “criminal threats to the Canadian petroleum industry” contains a section on financing, where it references two of Krause’s Financial Post articles.
Although seemingly irrelevant to police work in the absence of actual illegal activity, the RCMP note that US foundations have donated $190 million (USD) to Canadian organizations over a ten-year period. Referencing Krause, the RCMP note that two coastal First Nations received a grant from Tides Canada to “fund conservation planning projects and conservation initiatives” which included mobilizing action against climate change.
The RCMP’s conflation of activism and non-profit funding with extremism is informed in part by what the RCMP perceive as disputed notions of climate change science.
Take for instance the key findings of the January 2014 report, which warned of “a growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti-Canadian petroleum movement. Governments and petroleum companies are being encouraged, and increasingly threatened, by violent extremists to cease all actions which the extremists believe, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.” (Emphasis added)
This is a remarkable display of climate change denial, portraying demands for action to curb greenhouse gas emissions as unreasonable, criminal violence, despite the wide global consensus on the matter.
“Violent anti-petroleum extremists will continue to engage in criminal activity to promote their anti-petroleum ideology,” the report continues, adding, “These extremists pose a realistic criminal threat to Canada’s petroleum industry.”
To counter what is described as “environmental criminal extremism” targeting the tar sands, and associated with well-funded NGOs such as Greenpeace, RCMP emails propose that energy industry stakeholders have ready access to security intelligence. The irony here is that money trickling into environmental organizations from U.S. foundations is framed as criminal, yet partnerships formed between the multinational energy sector, security establishment, and government is considered necessary to protect Canada’s oil industry.
Kenney’s press conference photo op in June flanked by energy industry stakeholders show that these types of security peerships are no secret.
Greta in Alberta
This entire framing exercise epitomizes what Greta Thunberg identified – that the politics required to solve the climate crisis simply do not exist. By deploying the rhetoric of extremism to refer to anybody who opposes tar sands pipelines, government officials in Alberta fan the flames of anti-environmental sentiment with this criminalizing narrative.
So how was Thunberg received when she visited the province in October?
Thunberg rode a wave of climate strike momentum right into the heart of conservative oil country, where she was greeted by thousands of supporters at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on Oct. 18.
Not so welcoming, on the other hand, was the Alberta government. Environment Minister Jason Nixon said that Thunberg simply doesn’t understand Alberta.
A statement released by the Premier’s office carried a petulant overtone: “We trust that Ms. Thunberg will recognize Alberta’s leading human rights and environmental standards, especially in comparison to oil-producing dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela – which she will presumably visit next – as well as major growing emitters like China.”
A group of Alberta separatists organizing under the Wexit moniker called Thunberg a “European environmental agitator,” adding “we wish to inform Ms. Thunberg of Canadian law regarding Defamatory Libel” on social media.
In late October, Thunberg was offered a Nordic Council Environmental award (worth $68,000 CAD), which she refused. “The climate movement does not need any more awards. What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science,” she wrote in an Instagram post to her some 8 million followers.
The Tiny House Warriors
Thunberg visited B.C. after leaving Alberta, ground zero for opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. She was joined by thousands of anti-pipeline activists at a Vancouver rally, including the Tiny House Warriors.
By virtue of publicly opposing the tar sands pipeline and vowing to block its construction, the Tiny House Warriors have been enveloped in the matrix of national security policing and a likely target of Kenney’s war room.
The Tiny House Warriors of the Secwepemc nation are building a series of tiny houses along the TMX route east of Kamloops, where the Canadian government is seeking to expand the pipeline on 518 kilometres of Secwepemc territory.
Referencing the death of a young woman in Kamloops last winter, Kanahus Manuel of the Tiny House Warriors explained the project’s purpose:
“Our goal is to help solve some of the housing crisis that our people in our Indigenous communities are facing [while at] the same time protecting our water, protecting our salmon, and asserting our jurisdiction and authority over our own unceded territories.”
The movement to build tiny homes and stop TMX in Secwepemc territory has been interpreted as a threat by the RCMP, as revealed by documents obtained via the ATIA. B.C.’s Indigenous Policing Services unit creates a “strategic monthly outlook report” where it tracks Indigenous opposition to existing or proposed energy infrastructure and resource extraction projects. The unit tracks movement of the Tiny House Warriors and identify tensions in the region surrounding “the threat of ‘tiny homes’ along the pipeline route.”
The April 2018 Indigenous Policing Services report notes that a “spring building action camp in Secwepemc territory is being planned by organizers with the Tiny House Warriors group. Three homes have been built but have not yet been moved to a location along the pipeline route. Organizers are seeking to raise $50,000 to build 5 more homes between May 25 – June 8.”
While the analysis portion of the report is mostly redacted, a stand-alone sentence notes: “The Government of Canada has indicated that this project is in the national interest and all efforts remain to bring this project to a successful conclusion.”
While Indigenous and environmental opposition to tar sands pipelines is framed as unreasonable and criminal, the war room and security integration tactics of politicians, police, and energy industry stakeholders are considered a reasonable, normal, and patriotic response to calls for climate justice.
Meanwhile, pipelines continue to spill.
At the end of October, Calgary-based TC Energy Corp.’s (formerly TransCanada) Keystone crude pipeline spilled 1.4 million litres of oil in North Dakota.
With environmental catastrophe emanating from fossil fuel projects compounding increased greenhouse gas emissions, we could ask, what is the real threat here, who are the real extremists?