Alberta’s fossil fuels ‘war room’ targets Nanaimo city councillors

Rochelle Baker
Nanaimo councillor Paul Manly PHOTO BY GREEN PARTY /PNG

Sept. 22, 2023

Alberta's oil and gas lobby machine website states it has generated 2,377 letters to Nanaimo's city council

When Nanaimo recently voted to ban FortisBC’s natural gas hookups from new buildings, Alberta’s infamous pro-oil and gas “war room” launched a cross-border political campaign to reverse the move.


The Canadian Energy Centre is a publicly funded provincial corporation created by then-Alberta premier Jason Kenney to protect and promote the fossil fuel industry.


It has launched a hardball lobbying push on its associated Support Canadian Energy website urging oil and gas supporters to flood Nanaimo city council with letters to press the local government to reverse its decision.


The Alberta agency targeted Nanaimo after its city council recently decided to accelerate the phaseout of FortisBC gas hookups in new buildings to meet B.C.’s mandated climate targets.


The Support Canadian Energy website doesn’t openly declare its allegiance to the centre, however, the connection can be found on its privacy page.


The centre is funded by the Alberta government to the tune of $31.8 million in 2023, up from $7.7 million in 2022, according to the centre’s annual report and financial statements.


As of Thursday afternoon, Alberta’s oil and gas lobby machine website states it has generated 2,377 letters to Nanaimo’s city council.


“The good news is that the vote on Nanaimo (city council) was very tight — it came down to a single vote,” the centre’s website says. “These letters make a real difference. Councillors need to know what the majority of people think.”


The campaign appears to be the first the centre and its associate website have launched against a municipal government making a local political decision that might run counter to Big Oil’s interests.


Nanaimo city councillor and former Green MP Paul Manly said CEC’s campaign is clearly being waged, if not in name, on behalf of FortisBC.


The fossil fuel campaign exceeds the bounds of simple lobbying and is an attack on the democratic process and the expectation local governments should run business free from provincial interference — especially when it’s coming from another province, Manly said.


“It’s outrageous. It’s inappropriate. I just honestly haven’t seen this done before.”


Alberta, FortisBC and the big fossil fuel lobby have stepped beyond climate denial and greenwashing into the realm of bullying and political intimidation, he said.


When Alberta’s United Conservative government founded the centre in 2019, then energy minister Sonya Savage said the agency’s focus would be to improve the reputation of Alberta’s oil and gas sector and challenge those it believes are delivering misinformation.


Run by a three-person board composed of Alberta’s energy, justice and environment ministers, Savage stated it would not target or demonize specific critics.


Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office and the justice, environment and energy ministries did not respond to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment on the CEC’s campaign targeting Nanaimo.


FortisBC is not involved with the Canadian Energy Centre campaign, said Diana Sorace, the company’s senior adviser of corporate communications, in an email.


“We have been clear that we oppose policies that would restrict access to low-carbon energy choices for British Columbians,” she wrote.


“To meet provincial climate targets and maintain affordability, British Columbia needs policies that support a diversified pathway, including electricity and renewable and low-carbon energy options such as renewable natural gas and, in the future, hydrogen.”


Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

[Top photo: Nanaimo councillor Paul Manly PHOTO BY GREEN PARTY /PNG​]