Defending the energy industry against its attackers

The Kenney government has now loaded the barrels in the $30 million war room it established to defend the energy industry against attackers.

Will it hit its intended targets? Calgary Herald columnist Chris Varcoe doesn’t seem to think so. He notes that the Stelmach government tried something similar in 2008 and that it didn’t last long – barely more than two years. “Nor was it particularly effective.”

Varcoe writes that if it was hard in 2008 for the government to correct perceived media errors about the industry, “imagine how difficult it will be to do that in 2019, with the proliferation of social media and polarized audiences.”

Varcoe is right. I also don’t think this new war room – now called the Canadian Energy Centre – is going to work.

It won’t have the power to require the media to run whatever press releases, tweets or other propaganda devices it employs in response to negative publicity about the industry. So, it is doomed to soon become as irrelevant as the ill-fated “For the Record” website launched by the Stelmach government in 2008.

Back in the day, in 1937, the first Social Credit government also tried something similar. It even went so far as to introduce legislation forcing newspapers to print government-supplied articles equal in length to those critical of the government.

It didn’t work. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the proposed press legislation was beyond the province’s legal power to enact. Alberta’s newspapers received special Pulitzer Prize citations for their leadership in resisting the bill.

The Kenney war room does have two functions that might be potentially useful, aside from its more immediate role of rapidly defending the industry against the shots fired by its critics. But these functions would only be of interest to scholars and researchers, not to the media.

One is the data and research unit that will analyze information about the industry. The other is the energy literacy unit that will generate content for the stories the province wants to be told.

The media likely wouldn’t use either of these government-sponsored units to obtain up-to-date information about the industry, because of possible bias. It already has plenty of neutral sources it can tap, including Statistics Canada’s new Canadian Energy Information Portal.

As for the government’s rapid response unit, all it will do is add more decibels to the existing volume of noise about the industry. It would be more effective if it could find a way of cutting through that noise.