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Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith is no fan of wind and solar power

As a columnist, Smith was a harsh critic of “unreliable” renewable energy

The United Conservative Party government’s decision to impose an immediate 7-month moratorium on all new major wind and solar energy projects in Alberta came as a surprise to many political watchers.

The drastic decision was sudden and it wasn’t featured in any of the UCP’s campaign promises in the election held only 75 days ago. But anyone who has paid close attention to now-Premier Danielle Smith’s newspaper and radio commentary knows she has not hidden her deeply critical and skeptical views of wind and solar power.

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Alberta Politics

Doug Schweitzer’s out. Senior UCP Minister not running for leadership or re-election.

Doug Schweitzer is not running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party and not running for re-election as MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

The first-term MLA and former UCP leadership candidate issued a Victoria Day statement announcing that he will be stepping out of elected politics when the next election is called. He is the first UCP cabinet minister to announce plans to leave office in 2023.

Doug Schweitzer's statement announcing he will not run for re-election.
Doug Schweitzer’s statement announcing he will not run for re-election.

Largely shying away from social conservative issues embraced by some of his colleagues, he was widely named as someone who could take up the mantle of the business conservative-style candidate for the UCP leadership.

Schweitzer was first elected in 2019 by defeating Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark. He won with 44 per cent of the vote, compared to 30 per cent for Clark and 23 per cent for Alberta NDP candidate Janet Eremenko (who is now nominated as the NDP candidate in the neighbouring Calgary-Currie).

Samir Kayande Alberta NDP Nomination Calgary-Elbow
Samir Kayande (source: Pembina Instittute)

Premier Jason Kenney chose him as Minister of Justice and Solicitor General when the first UCP cabinet was sworn-in and shuffled him to Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation in 2020.

While he was involved in some UCP controversies, like the creation of the Energy War Room and the Allan Inquiry, I think it’s fair to say it appears he will walk away from politics largely untarnished by the political games that recently brought down Kenney.

The former downtown Calgary lawyer and past CEO of the Manitoba PC Party was Jim Prentice‘s campaign manager in 2014 and very nearly ran for Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 2017. He instead served as Kenney’s scrutineer in that race and soon after ran for the UCP leadership, finishing third in that contest with 7.3 per cent of the vote.

This leaves an open race for the UCP nomination in Calgary-Elbow, a riding that is considered competitive in the next election.

Kerry Cundal Liberal Calgary
Kerry Cundal

The NDP are putting their hopes in energy analyst Samir Kayande and lawyer and former federal Liberal Party candidate Kerry Cundal recently announced she will be running for the Alberta Party nomination on May 29.

The riding has been somewhat of a swing-riding for the past 15 years after Liberal Craig Cheffins won the 2007 by-election to replace former premier Ralph Klein, who had represented the south west Calgary riding since 1989.

Clark almost won a 2014 by-election to replace another former premier, Alison Redford, and went on to win in the 2015 election.

More nomination news

  • Alberta Party leader Barry Morishita was nominated as his party’s candidate in Brooks-Medicine Hat at a May 17 meeting, which was pushed up from a previously scheduled May 25 meeting.
  • Registered Nurse Diana Batten is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in Calgary-Acadia on May 26.
  • Edmonton-Meadows MLA Jasvir Deol will be nominated as his party’s candidate on May 28. He was first elected in 2019.
  • Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse will be nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Rutherford on May 28. She succeeds two-term MLA Richard Feehan, who is not seeking re-election.
  • Shiraz Mir is the second candidate to announce their candidacy for the NDP nomination in Calgary-North West.
  • Jeff Manchak is the third candidate to enter the NDP race in Sherwood Park. Already in the race are former MLA Annie McKitrick and solar energy expert Kyle Kasawski.

And here are the upcoming candidate nomination meetings:

  • Calgary-Acadia NDP: May 26, 2022
  • Edmonton-Meadows NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Edmonton-Rutherford NDP: May 28, 2022
  • Calgary-Elbow AP: May 29, 2022
  • Airdrie-Cochrane NDP: May 30, 2022
  • Edmonton-Riverview NDP: June 7, 2022
  • Edmonton-McClung NDP: June 8, 2022
  • Strathcona-Sherwood Park NDP: June 9, 2022
  • Edmonton-South West NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Red Deer-South NDP: June 18, 2022
  • Edmonton-Decore NDP: June 25, 2022

I am tracking candidates and building a list of people running for nominations to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. If you know of someone running, please post a comment below or email me at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. Thank you!

(And, I know I’ve said this before but feel free to sign up for the Daveberta Substack.)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Jason Kenney is a bad Premier.

There is no doubt that Jason Kenney changed the face of Alberta politics when he jumped into provincial politics in 2017.

He succeeded in leading the merger of the Wildrose opposition with the Progressive Conservatives remanent into the United Conservative Party.

And, for a period, he was able to convince the two warring factions to put aside their differences and focus on a higher goal: winning the 2019 election.

And it worked.

At least it did for a time.

The UCP won a big majority, but quickly discovered that all those things the PCs and Wildrosers didn’t like about each other still existed, but now they were in the same party.

Last night, Kenney announced his plans to step down as UCP leader after getting a weak 51.4 per cent endorsement an acrimonious, divisive and drawn-out leadership review.

How did we get here so fast?

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely derailed Kenney and his party, but that wasn’t his only mistake.

Let’s look back at the chaos of the past three years.

Kenney’s much promoted Open for Summer plan in 2021 alienated a large swath of Albertans who were uncomfortable with removing public health restrictions so quickly and haphazardly just for the Calgary Stampede.

Rachel Notley’s NDP were riding high in the polls and fundraising, and to a lot of Albertans it looked like Kenney was dropping the COVID-19 restrictions to fast to save his party’s fortunes and his own leadership.

But being forced to backtrack and reintroduce restrictions when COVID-19 cases and deaths predictably skyrocketed and hospitals and ICUs overflowed only served to alienate a growing group right-wing populists and Freedom Truckers who were then highly motivated to defeat Kenney in the leadership review.

Despite flirting with right-wing populism before the 2019 election and during his time as Premier, Kenney is not a populist.

Kenney is probably far more comfortable discussing the works of Ludwig von Mises in the salons of the Manhattan Institute than driving a big blue truck around rural Alberta.

He sold Albertans, and conservative activists, a bill of goods that he could not deliver on.

But again, it wasn’t just COVID-19 that sealed his fate in the leadership review

If Kenney had not been so deeply unpopular with Albertans and if the UCP hadn’t been trailing the NDP in almost every poll since late 2020, he would have had a stronger hand to play.

But he didn’t.

Let’s look at why.

Somewhere along the line Kenney and his ministers began to believe that the big electoral mandate they got in 2019 meant they could impose their platform with abandon and, perhaps fatally, not have to listen to Albertans who started pushing back.

While Kenney’s opponents were always going to oppose his plans to privatize health care and schools, it wasn’t just NDP partisans who pushed back.

It was normal Albertans.

And Kenney didn’t seem to realize this.

Kenney and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon’s plans to close and sell more than 140 provincial parks sparked a province-wide lawn sign campaign that crossed the partisan divide.

After months of actively dismissing and attacking opponents of these plans, the UCP government was forced to back down.

The UCP’s eagerness to open the Rocky Mountains to open-pit coal mining produced a similar backlash.

Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage pushed forward, again dismissing the opposition, which included dozens of southern Alberta municipal councils and country music artists like Corb Lund, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark, until they were forced to back down.

Kenney and Health Minster Tyler Shandro picked big fights with nurses and doctors during the pandemic, which almost certainly undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the pandemic.

Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange were almost engaged in daily fights with teachers, even when the safety of children during the pandemic was the biggest concern for almost every Alberta parent.

Alberta can already be a notoriously difficult place to govern, but at times it looked like the UCP was actively trying to make it more difficult.

And then there were the scandals.

The kamikaze campaign.

The RCMP investigation.

Shandro yelling at a doctor in his driveway.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoning the chief of police after getting a traffic ticket.

Lawsuits alleging of drinking and sexual harassment of political staff by cabinet ministers.

Alohagate.

The Sky Palace patio party.

Betting and losing $1.3 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

And the theatrics.

The Energy War Room staffed by UCP-insiders.

The late and over budget Allan Inquiry into nefarious foreign interference that found nothing illegal.

A referendum about equalization that was always going to be ignored by Ottawa, and ironically, was ignored by most Albertans.

The never ending legal challenges against the federal government.

And then there’s the curriculum.

Pledging during the 2019 campaign to take ideology and politics out of the draft K-12 curriculum, Kenney’s government injected new levels of weird and outdated ideology.

Panned by teachers, reviled by curriculum experts, and mocked internationally as age-inappropriate, outdated, Eurocentric, jargon-riddled, inaccurate, unconcerned with developing critical thinking skills, and rife with plagiarism, is how columnist David Climenhaga described it.

And then there’s that thing about Kenney’s grandfather, Mart Kenney, showing up in the curriculum, which felt like weird pandering by the programme’s authors.

We never got a glimpse into who Kenney really is or anything about his life outside of politics really.

Aside from politics, we don’t really know what makes him tick.

We know he rented a room in mother’s basement, enjoys listening to Gregorian chants and is a devout Roman Catholic, but that’s almost all we were allowed to see.

Not that we are owed any more.

Politicians deserve their privacy but Kenney’s weird blank slate outside of politics probably contributed to him being not very relatable to most Albertans.

So it becomes a trust thing.

Kenney is popular with many white collar conservatives and former staffers in Ottawa who have fond memories of his two decades as a determined opposition critic and hard-working cabinet minister.

Many of them see him a kind of Philosopher King of Canadian Conservatism.

But whatever charm worked inside the Queensway didn’t translate in the Premier’s Office.

Maybe being a trusted lieutenant to Prime Minster Stephen Harper was a quite different job than being Premier of Alberta?

Someone who has known Kenney for a long time once told me that they believed one of his biggest weaknesses is that he still saw Alberta politics through a 1990s lens.

I’m not sure I totally believe that but I think there’s a hint of truth to it.

And it might be why he has misread Albertans so badly over the past three years.

Kenney got his start in Alberta politics in the early 1990s as the founding spokesperson of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

It was a heady time for deficit hawks and social conservatives, and Kenney frequently engaged in very public quarrels with then-Premier Ralph Klein over government expenses.

The young conservative activist with a trademark Nixonian five-o’clock shadow pioneered the CTF soundbite machine with great success.

It’s where he cut his teeth in politics.

Thirty-years later, Kenney will soon be ending the latest phase of his political career in the same building where he started.

But this time he might not be coming back.


Sign up for the Daveberta Substack

I’m trying something new. I’m hoping to share some thoughts on Alberta politics and history on a new Substack and share the platform with some pretty smart people.

Sign up at daveberta.substack.com

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Alberta Politics

Public Inquiry into anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, key part of Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy,” fails to uncover vast conspiracy against our oil

To be very clear, I have not found any suggestions of wrongdoing on the part of any individual or organization. No individual or organization, in my view, has done anything illegal. Indeed, they have exercised their rights of free speech. – Page 596 of the Final Report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns

The final report of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns was released this week.

A key part of Premier Jason Kenney’s “Fight Back Strategy” against perceived enemies of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the public inquiry was launched in July 2019 with a political promise to unearth the vast conspiracy of wealthy international foundations and environmental activists who were working together in the shadows to undermine Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

It was these secretive groups and their dark money, Albertans were lead to believe, who were blocking oil pipelines and were the source of our economic woes. This public inquiry was meant to intimidate those critics. 

Speaking to a crowd of supporters on the night of the United Conservative Party’s victory in the 2019 election, Premier Jason Kenney declared he had a message for the “foreign funded special interests who have been leading a campaign of economic sabotage against this great province.”

“To the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to the Tides Foundation, to the LeadNow, to the David Suzuki Foundation, and to all of the others, your days of pushing around Albertans with impunity just ended,” Kenney decreed.

More than two years and $3.5 million later, Commissioner Steve Allan’s final report does not detail a vast conspiracy, because a vast conspiracy doesn’t exist. It turns out that most of the information he was looking for is already public and the devious activity he was sent to uncover was totally legal.

In fact, Allan’s final report released by Energy Minister Sonya Savage says that “[w]hile anti-Alberta energy campaigns may have played a role in the cancellation of some oil and gas developments, I am not in a position to find that these campaigns alone caused project delays or cancellations.”

The pretence of the report and the boogeymen created to blame for the cancellation of oil pipeline projects completely leaves off the hook the large oil companies and the Alberta government, with their own near bottomless pockets of money and resources to combat any advertising campaign launched by environmental groups.

In fact, the report does not delve into decades of uncoordinated and ham-fisted attempts to respond to international criticism of the oil sands going back to the week in July 2006 when the Alberta government parked a giant Caterpillar 777F hauler on the Mall in Washington DC.

Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.
Premier Jason Kenney (at the podium) announces the appointment of Steve Allan (right) as Commissioner of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.Also pictured are then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

Unlike the press conference that launched the inquiry, during which Kenney, Savage, Allan, and then-Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer stood together on stage, Savage stood alone at the podium this week as she was given the unenviable task of releasing the report and trying to justify its results.

Kenney was nowhere to be seen (he currently has a 22 per cent approval rating), Schweitzer is no longer Justice Minister, and Allan has presumably been relieved of his duties.

The over-budget and thrice-extended public inquiry was conducted almost completely in secret, with no actual public hearings, leaving the inquiry to instead hold “hearing by correspondence.”

The confusingly organized 657 page report details how Environmental Non-Profit Groups wrote grants to receive funding for environmental advocacy in Canada, but there is no suggestion of wrong doing or that anything illegal happened.

But that hasn’t stopped Savage and her UCP MLA colleagues from bandying around a $1.2 billion number, which is the amount the report says it found foreign donors provided in grant funding to Canadian environmental organizations between 2003 and 2019.

But the report found that, of the $1.2 billion, around $554 million went to well-known and respected conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited Canada, which does not participate in “anti-Alberta” campaigns (Ducks Unlimited Canada is run by CEO Larry Kaumeyer, who until recently was employed as Kenney’s Chief of Staff and Principal Secretary), and only somewhere between $37.5 to $58.9 million was specifically granted to anti-oil and gas campaigns in Canada.

Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)
Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. (Source: Facebook)

In fact, the most interesting result of Allan’s final report are his criticisms of the other left foot of Kenney’s Fight Back Strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre.

The CEC, known to most Albertans as the “War Room,” was created in 2019 and is run by former UCP candidate Tom Olsen.

Established as a Crown Corporation with a $30-million annual budget, the Canadian Energy Centre essentially operates as a publicly-funded public relations agency for the oil and gas industry.

Buried on the last page of Allan’s report is a list of criticisms of the Canadian Energy Centre, including an observation that “it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair.”

Allan wrote that the way the War Room was established, as a Crown Corporation, with three provincial cabinet ministers as its board of directors (Savage, Schweitzer and Environment & Parks Minister Jason Nixon) has “seriously compromised” the organization’s credibility.

“There may be a need for a vehicle such as this, assuming proper governance and accountability is established, to develop a communications/marketing strategy for the industry and/or the province, but it may well be that the reputation of this entity has been damaged beyond repair,” Allan wrote.

While Savage deflected from questions from reporters about what was accomplished by the $3.5 million inquiry by denouncing foreign-funded campaigns and demanding transparency from ENGOs who run campaigns in Alberta, the FOIP-exempt War Room recently purchased billboards in Washington D.C. and New York City’s Times Square.

War Room CEO Olsen issued a statement in response to the Public Inquiry’s criticisms but the statement had to be resent soon afterward because of typos. (I’m not making this up).

So, the great Alberta witch hunt is over and no witches have been found.

Now that this embarrassing public inquiry is over, the other part of Kenney’s failed strategy – the Canadian Energy Centre – should be scrapped.

If the public inquiry taught us anything, it is probably that our leaders should be focused on figuring out how Alberta is going to survive the massive shifts happening in world energy markets and not wasting precious time making empty threats and settling vendettas with critics of the oil and gas industry.


Energy Minister Sonya Savage will be back next month to release the report of the committee investigating open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.

Amplifying the loud public opposition to open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, a group of country music artists released a new version of the popular song, This Is My Prairie. The song features Corb Lund, Terri Clark, Brett Kissel,, Sherryl Sewepagaham, Paul Brandt, Armond Duck Chief, Katie Rox and Brandi Sidoryk.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Joe Ceci running for re-election in Calgary-Buffalo

MLA Joe Ceci announced yesterday that he is running for the Alberta NDP nomination in Calgary-Buffalo and his third term in the Legislature in the expected 2023 provincial election.

A nomination meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 15, 2021.

Ceci was first elected as MLA for Calgary-Fort in 2015 and ran for re-election in Calgary-Buffalo on 2019 after a boundary change moved his neighbourhood into the downtown riding. Ceci served as Finance Minister during the NDP’s term in government and previously was elected to Calgary City Council from 1995 to 2010.

Calgary-Buffalo has a unique political history, having elected MLAs from non-conservative parties in 9 of the past 11 elections.

Liberal MLA Sheldon Chumir represented Calgary-Buffalo from 1986 until his death in 1992. Chumir was succeeded by Liberal Gary Dickson who won a 1992 by-election and served until 2001.

The riding was then represented by Progressive Conservative Harvey Cenaiko from 2001 until 2008, when Liberal MLA Kent Hehr defeated PC candidate and future City Councillor Sean Chu. Hehr served as MLA until 2015 when he jumped into federal politics and was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Calgary-Centre.

NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley was elected in 2015 and ran for re-election in 2019 across the Bow River in Calgary-Mountain View, leaving the seat open for Ceci to run for re-election.

Ceci was re-elected with 48 per cent in 2019, defeating United Conservative Party challenger Tom Olsen, who placed second with  39 per cent (Olsen was soon after appointed as CEO of the Canadian Energy Centre, a government-funded oil industry public relations company colloquially known as “The War Room”).

The NDP have also scheduled nomination meetings in Edmonton-Glenora on Oct. 27, Calgary-Falconridge on Oct. 29, and Calgary-Currie on Nov. 13.

 

Categories
Alberta Politics

Meet Billy Briquette. Alberta War Room launches Ethical Coal Mining cartoon for kids.

Move aside Bigfoot Family, there’s a new cartoon on the block. Meet Billy Briquette!

The Canadian Energy Centre is launching a new cartoon series to educate young Albertans about the virtues of open pit coal mining in the Alberta Rocky Mountains.

Billy Briquette
Billy Briquette

“We’re taking our campaign against Sasquatch Family to the next level,” said CEC CEO Tom Olsen, who appeared at a Thursday morning press conference standing beside a life-sized Billy Briquette mascot.

The 100-episode cartoon series will feature Billy Briquette as he joins his friends Nixy the Wild Horse and Bobby Bitumen as they use teamwork to stop villains ranging from local town councils and country music stars to eco-left European bankers and coal dictators. Billy will also be joined in Episode 37 by his Australian cousin, Hector.

“My friends, for a long time oil has been in the crosshairs of the radical-urban-eco-bohemian-marxist-left and now they are targeting our democratic coal,” said Premier Jason Kenney, also standing uncomfortably close to the smiling life-sized piece of coal.

“Let me be clear, Alberta’s ethical mountain top removal of coal needs a champion and that’s why we’re introducing you to Billy today,” Kenney said.

The cartoon series also received praise from senior Alberta cabinet ministers.

“Changes to the Film and Television Tax Credit make productions like Billy Briquette possible,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and director of the Canadian Energy Centre.

“I’m thrilled that productions like Billy Briquette will help drive diversification and provide customers to open pit coal mines across Alberta,” Schweitzer said.

“Alberta – with large coal reserves – is perfectly positioned to continue to offer investment in a stable and ethical democracy,” said Energy Minister Sonya Savage.

“Billy Briquette will showcase this to young Albertans and the investors across the world,” said Savage, who is also serves on the War Room’s board of directors.

Along with a wide variety of branded merchandise, bumper stickers and a theme song performed by Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, the life-sized lump of coal mascot is expected to visit more than 100 Alberta elementary schools in the next year. The cartoon series will be integrated into the new provincial Social Studies curriculum and be mandatory viewing for students in Grades One through Six.

After Netflix declined a proposal to stream the series, it was decided that the $25 million animated production will be viewable exclusively on the Canadian Energy Centre YouTube page. 

Author’s note: Readers will note that today is April 1 and, as the Canadian Energy Centre is exempt from FOIP, we are unable to confirm that plans for the Billy Briquette cartoon series and associated merchandise are in the works.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 71: Peace, Order and Good Carbon Taxes

University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach joins the Daveberta Podcast for a rousing discussion about the Supreme Court of Canada’s big decision about the federal carbon tax, the politics of climate change in Canada, and what Alberta’s next oil boom might look like.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading (coming soon)

Categories
Alberta Politics

Speaking of the Alberta Coal Truth Office

I hopped on Instagram Live last week to chat with Dr. Jessica DeWitt with NiCHE Canada about my recent article about the Coal Truth Office operated by the Alberta government from 1920 to 1925 and the parallels to the our provincial government today.

Enjoy.

Categories
Alberta Politics

The Truth, the Coal Truth and nothing but the Truth

The Government of Alberta Trade Branch once operated a COAL TRUTH OFFICE in Winnipeg in an apparent effort to market the sale and defend the reputation of Alberta mined coal for domestic use.

A full-page newspaper ad from the Alberta COAL TRUTH OFFICE (published in the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 13, 1923)
A full-page newspaper ad from the Alberta COAL TRUTH OFFICE (published in the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 13, 1923)

Today it is easy to ask why the office was located in Winnipeg of all places, but when the office opened in 1920, the Chicago of the North was the third largest city in Canada, a centre of trade and commerce, and a major stop in the Canadian railway.

We now know that burning dirty coal to generate electricity is a big driver of climate change and that open-pit coal mining has horrible impacts on the environment and drinking water. But one hundred years ago, the Alberta government was aggressively marketing the sale of coal for domestic and industrial use in Manitoba and Saskatchewan while facing stiff competition from already established coal sellers.

Even though this story took place a century ago, there are some similarities to our current day that are unmistakable, namely that the current United Conservative Party government is enthusiastically jumping back into the open-pit coal mining business and indulging in its own oil propaganda office and inquisition.

Easily accessible public records about the provincial government’s Coal Truth Office are sparse, but I have cobbled together some of what I was able to uncovered about Alberta’s original Energy War Room.

According to media reports from the time, the Winnipeg-based office was established in 1920 and maintained “a staff of Fuel Engineers for the purpose of assisting you in any problems which you may have particular to your equipment or fuels.”

The office also published a book, COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE, which was sold for 50 cents and included lengthy instructions about how to use Alberta coal and why Alberta coal was a superior coal.

“Statistics quote the Province of Alberta as having 70 per cent of Canada’s visible coal resources. While this represents an enormous number pf tones of coal, it must be remembered that civilization is using fuel at an alarming rate,” wrote Provincial Secretary Herbert Greenfield in the 1923 edition the propaganda booklet. “Therefor the need for economy.”

The Alberta government even attempted to brand Alberta coal as more ethical and efficient than coal from other sources. 

An image in COAL TRUTH: ALBERTA STORED SUNSHINE
An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE

“There is no country in the world that has such an abundance of similar coals. There are no raw coals in the world which have such desirable characteristics for domestic purposes as Alberta Domestic Coal – NOT excepting hard coal,” wrote George Pratt, the chief engineer stationed in the Coal Truth Office.

“Coal is the greatest necessity of Canada, yet the coal consumer takes the least interest in it, his policy being to leave it to whoever cares to take a hand,” Pratt wrote. “The individual coal buyer must be made to realize that he must get out and do something to help himself if he wishes to safeguard his interests.”

The Coal Truth Office was also active in defending the reputation of Alberta coal companies when, in the early 1920s, the federal government launched a public inquiry into an alleged price-fixing combine by Alberta-based coal companies.

The Alberta government’s legal representative in Winnipeg, J. B. Hugg, even urged the Commissioner to move the public inquiry’s activities into a private setting so that the publicity would not damage Alberta’s interests.

An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE
An image in COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE

Hugg argued that advertisements published since the commission commenced investigations were misleading, deceiving and defrauding the public.

“I am instructed to say that the government of Alberta is deeply concerned in the Alberta coal industry,” Hugg was reported by the Winnipeg Tribune to have told the inquiry.

“By a series of advertisements, the coal buying public are being mislead, deceived and defrauded,” Hugg argued. “Alberta domestic coals of the highest value with long established records, are being slandered and grossly and deliberately misrepresented, and at the same time foreign coals wholly unsuited for domestic use are being passed off on the public and are being falsely represented as being most satisfactory and most efficient.”

“The government of Alberta urgently requests that you immediately investigate the activities of those persons who are misleading the public with regard to Alberta coals and endeavouring to reap a quick and unjustifiable profit out of the prejudices which they are arousing by making statements  to the public regarding the very matters which are subject to this investigation,” Hugg continued.

It does not appear that the Public Inquiry’s Commissioner accepted the Alberta representative’s argument that a veil of secrecy should be drawn over the inquiry.

The rapid expansion of Alberta’s coal industry in the 1910s and 1920s did not come without strife.

Striking coal miners in Drumheller
Striking coal miners in Drumheller (source: Glenbow Museum)

In 1919, more than 6,500 Drumheller coal miners went on strike under the banner of the One Big Union to fight for better working and living conditions, and higher wages. The striking miners were brutally repressed by “special constables” hired by the largest mining companies in the Red Deer River Valley. The RCMP and Alberta Provincial Police turned a blind eye to the violence by the para-military mining company police.

Coal mining communities in the Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, like Blairmore and Nordegg, would become hotbeds for radical politics over the next two decades. Radical Labour and Communist candidates were routinely elected to municipal councils and the provincial legislature during this time.

A poem on the back cover of COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINE
A poem on the back cover of COAL TRUTH: STORED ALBERTA SUNSHINESUNSHINE

Somewhat mirroring the current political debate over oil pipelines, transportation of coal became an issue of concern.

With railway costs becoming prohibitive, Alberta’s Provincial Secretary and Grouard MLA Jean Cote stood in the Legislative Assembly in 1921 to call for the creation of a dedicated transportation corridor on the Saskatchewan River to transport coal from Alberta to Winnipeg and beyond.

It is not entirely clear when the Alberta Coal Truth Office was shuttered, but the final mention of it I have been able to find was a report in the Winnipeg Tribune that the building at 277 Smith Street that housed the Coal Truth Office had burned down in Dec. 1924. According to the news report, “included in the loss is a new issue of the “Coal Truths” booklet with the original drawings and other valuable material.”

It is unclear whether the Coal Truth Office ever reopened after the fire.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 57: A deep dive into diversification, oil pipelines and petro-patriotism with Andrew Leach

Andrew Leach joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the state of Alberta’s economy, economic diversification and how the politics of oil and pipelines are developing in 2020. He also shares some thoughts and reflections on climate change policy from his time as chair of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel in 2015.

Leach is a Canadian energy and environmental economist and an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta. You can follow him on Twitter and read more about him on his Wikipedia page.

This episode sounds great because of the skills and technical expertise of our hard-working producer, Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening.

Recommended Reading

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Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 49: Radical Sabbatical. Climate justice and Alberta politics with Chris Gusen

Is Alberta ready to face the challenges of climate change?

Climate activist and communicator Chris Gusen joins Dave Cournoyer to discuss Alberta politics, climate justice, and a Green New Deal on the latest episode of the Daveberta Podcast.

Chris shares some insight into his transition from his role as the Alberta government’s Director of Identity to his current volunteer efforts with Extinction Rebellion and Climate Justice Edmonton, and what meaningful action against climate change could look like in Alberta.

Daveberta Podcast Alberta Politics Dave Cournoyer Adam Rozenhart
Daveberta Podcast

As always, a big thanks to our producer Adam Rozenhart for making the show sound so good.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

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Alberta Politics

War Room’s Twitter tirade against New York Times sends embarrassment shivers across Alberta.

Time to shut down the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” was how former Alberta premier Ralph Klein suggested some of the province’s self-respecting ranchers could deal with the mad cow disease crisis of the mid-2000s. And it is time that Premier Jason Kenney heeded Klein’s words and applied the same advice to the controversy-plagued Canadian Energy Centre.

Premier Ralph Klein
Ralph Klein

The Energy War Room, as Kenney called it during and after the 2019 election campaign, has been fraught with embarrassing missteps and blunders since it was created in October 2019, but today marked peak embarrassment for the CEC.

The Calgary-based publicly-funded private public relations company and blog was caught under fire today for posting a series of tweets attacking the New York Times and sharing links claiming the 169-year old newspaper of record held anti-Trump and anti-Semitic biases and a “very dodgy” record.

The CEC’s childish tirade of tweets appear to have been posted in response to a Times article about the decision by some of the world’s largest financial institutions to stop investing in oil production in Alberta.

https://twitter.com/ByJamesKeller/status/1227690653938802688

Some international banks, pension plans and financial institutions appear to have included the impact of climate change into their long-term investments plans and have decided to move away from investing in some carbon-intensive resource extraction industries like Canada’s oilsands.

According to the Times, “BlackRock, the worlds largest asset manager, said that one of its fast-growing green-oriented funds would stop investing in companies that get revenue from the Alberta oil sands.”

Sonya Savage

The Times article noted that “Alberta officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about BlackRock’s announcement on Wednesday,” which is a shocking departure from Kenney’s pledge he would use “the persuasive power of the premier’s bully pulpit to tell the truth of our energy industry across the country.”

CEC Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Tom Olsen publicly apologized on Twitter for the unprofessional tweet storm against the Times, a statement that is now being widely reported.

Olsen, a former United Conservative Party candidate and lobbyist, was appointed to the role when the CEC was launched in October 2019. The CEC is a private corporation created by the Alberta government and receives $30-million annually from the Alberta government to ostensibly correct misinformation about the oil and gas industry, but in reality appears to be doing a poor job conducting public relations for the oil and gas industry.

Doug Schweitzer Calgary Alberta Conservative
Doug Schweitzer

Another member of the CEC’s staff is Mark Milke, a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, former senior fellow of the Fraser Institute and lead author of the UCP’s 2019 election platform. Milke is the Executive Director in charge of Research, according to the CEC’s website.

Existing as a private corporation with a board of directors that includes Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, the CEC is not subject to the freedom of information rules that make other government institutions and agencies more transparent to the public and the media. Despite receiving $30-million annually from the government, the CEC appears to have no accountability mechanisms and its internal operations are kept secret.

While Kenney was recently lauded for changing his message about an eventual transition away from of oil (I suspect he is coopting language rather than changing his mind), some of the good for Alberta that his trip to Washington DC last week may have done has at least been partially damaged by the latest PR disaster exploding through the War Room in downtown Calgary.

Jason Nixon
Jason Nixon

What started a few months ago as a $30-million annual public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry is starting to become a running joke that might hurt Alberta, and its oil and gas industry, more than it helps it.

As Finance Minister Travis Toews asks Albertans to accept deep cuts to public health care and education and for public employees to take salary rollbacks in his Feb. 27 provincial budget, it will become increasingly difficult to convince Albertans that the CEC’s $30-million annual budget is not a giant waste of money.

In this case, Kenney should take his own conservative free-market advice and let private sector industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the legions of public relations professionals working for Canada’s oil and gas companies handle their own public relations.

As Ralph Klein might suggest, it’s time for Kenney to take the Canadian Energy Centre behind the proverbial barn and stop this embarrassing initiative from doing any more damage to Alberta’s reputation at home and abroad.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta politics talk with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

I was thrilled to spend an hour with Ryan Jespersen on 630CHED today to talk about American and Alberta politics.

We covered a lot of ground, including the political theatre between United States President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the State of the Union address, the federal Conservative Party leadership race and whether a Draft Kenney campaign will start anytime soon, political party fundraising returns from 2019, Rachel Notley’s decision to lead the NDP into Alberta’s 2023 election, and whether the Canadian Energy Centre is worth it’s $30 million annual budget (spoiler: it’s not).

Thanks again to Ryan for having me on the show!

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Alberta Politics

Kenney declares victory but the pipeline fight is nowhere close to over

The 1358th chapter of the ongoing saga of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project ended today as the Federal Court of Appeal unanimously ruled to dismiss four challenges by First Nations in British Columbia.

Speaking in Montreal today, Premier Jason Kenney lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, telling reporters that “I have my disagreements with Prime Minister Trudeau on a number of issues … but I think they did realize there has to be at least one project that gets Canadian energy to global markets so we can get a fair price.

3000 kilometres away from Alberta is probably a safe distance for Kenney to effuse some praise for Trudeau, something he likely wouldn’t be caught dead doing back home. But praising Trudeau for a pipeline that is deeply unpopular in Quebec while he is in that province’s largest city is a shrewd piece of political theatre on Kenney’s part.

Since he jumped into provincial politics in 2017, Kenney has used the pipeline as a cudgel against his political opponents, tarring Trudeau and former premier Rachel Notley as opponents of a project they spent incredible amounts of political capital to see completed.

Nationwide support for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion dropped by 11 per cent since 2018, according to a poll released by Angus-Reid last month. Urgency about climate change has become a more front and centre issue since then, most effectively demonstrated by tens of thousands of Canadians participating in climate strike marches across Canada, including more than 10,000 people in Edmonton. And since Kenney’s United Conservative Party formed government in April 2019, his government has taken a hyper-aggressive approach to responding to opponents to oil industry expansion, which may have had an impact on national opinion. 

The creation of the publicly funded Canadian Energy Centre (aka The Energy War Room), a government-sponsored public relations company run by failed UCP candidate Tom Olsen and boasting a $30-million annual budget, has been front and centre in the government’s new approach.

The CEC largely duplicates public relations work typically done by industry associations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and had a rough first few months as it was forced to replace a plagiarized logo and tell its staff not to identify themselves as reporters when writing content for the War Room’s blog.

The Canadian Energy Centre, the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns (which has been dogged by an alleged conflict of interest scandal), the pledge to open Alberta government offices in provincial capitals across Canada, and Kenney’s steady schedule of international travel, are part of what the UCP government calls it’s “Fight Back” plan.

The court ruled that First Nations have no veto and cannot refuse to compromise or insist a project be cancelled, and found that the federal government made genuine effort to consult and accommodated concerns raised by First Nations communities.

While this decision is expected to be appealed by First Nations groups at the Supreme Court, and will likely have political implications if UNDRIP is implemented in Canada, it is likely that the next round of opposition to the pipeline project will come in the form of civil disobedience and direct action.

This isn’t over yet.

UCP releases radical health care report, and look! Jason Kenney is leaving the country, again!

Tyler Shandro, Dr. Verna Yiu, and John Bethel (Source: YouTube)
Tyler Shandro, Dr. Verna Yiu, and John Bethel (Source: YouTube)

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but it seems pretty darn convenient that Premier Kenney was on a plane to Quebec when Health Minister  Tyler Shandro shared a stage with Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and Ernst & Young spokesperson John Bethel (who attentive readers will remember as the 2004 federal Liberal candidate in Edmonton-East) in announcing the release of the international management corporation’s $2-million report on Alberta Health Services.

The report is big and bristling with the kind of ideological and predictable recommendations that you would expect from the right-wing Fraser Institute, which was cited a few times in the report. Privatization of services ranging from long-term care to security, gutting of collective agreements and salary rollbacks, and closure of rural hospitals were among the many recommendations included in the report.

While Shandro was clear that he would not risk further alienating his party’s rural base by closing rural hospitals, despite the report’s recommendations, the report did deliver the UCP with a powerful talking point – $1.9 billion in potential savings.

The report suggests that if all its recommendations were implemented, the government could potentially save $1.9 billion in costs to the health care system (of course, many of those costs could be transferred to patients). It might be unlikely that all of the recommendations will be implemented, but expect to hear Shandro repeat that $1.9 billion number, a lot.

Meanwhile, Kenney will soon leave Quebec for meetings in Washington D.C.

Kenney’s office stops releasing public travel itineraries

The Premier’s Office under Kenney appears to have stopped publicly releasing the Premier’s itinerary ahead of inter provincial or international trips. Previous premiers commonly released a brief daily itinerary that listed who or which organizations the Premier and their staff were scheduled to meet with.

A lack of publicly released itinerary meant that Albertans discovered on Twitter that Kenney’s trip to New York City in September 2019 included a speech at a reception hosted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. It was also revealed by the Alberta Today newsletter through Freedom of Information requests that Kenney also held court at a historic speakeasy in midtown Manhattan, an event that was not listed in the standard government press release announcing his trip.

Kenney’s office also did not release an itinerary for his December 2019 trip to London, UK, citing concerns that individuals he was meeting with could be targeted by climate change advocacy groups.

With no journalists from Alberta accompanying Kenney on his international trips, the release of public itineraries is an important way to ensure some basic accountability and transparency when the Premier is travelling out of province on the public dime.

Note: Past requests for public itineraries of Premier Kenney’s international trips have gone unanswered by the Premier’s Office.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 47: If you ain’t oil, you ain’t much. A deep dive into Alberta’s oil well liability crisis.

Oil well liability became a big issue in Alberta politics this month when rural municipal politicians raised giant red flags about the estimated $173 million in unpaid municipal taxes as a result of some oil and gas companies nearing insolvency and many more companies just believing paying taxes is voluntary.

Tina Faiz and Regan Boychuk joined Dave Cournoyer on this episode of the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the growing issue of oil well liability, and the political and policy repercussions created in its wake.

Tina Faiz is a communications consultant and political strategist based in Edmonton and Regan Boychuk is the lead researcher and oilfield liability expert with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB. The Alberta Podcast Network includes more than 30 great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Find us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, or you can email us at podcast@daveberta.ca. Thanks for listening!

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