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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith taking over fight of energy 'war room'

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith answers questions during a media availability at the 2024 Western Premiers Conference in Whitehorse, Monday, June 10, 2024. Smith says she's bringing the energy "war room" — well-known for its feud with a children's Bigfoot cartoon — under her office because she needs to take on the fight with Ottawa on behalf of the province's energy industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Crystal Schick

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she's bringing the province's energy "war room" under the purview of her office because she needs to take on the fight with Ottawa on behalf of the energy industry.

"When we have a really big battle that we have to fight, I'm the one fighting it, I'm the one leading it," she told reporters at an energy industry trade show Wednesday in Calgary.

"It should be led out of the premier's office."

A day earlier, the Alberta government said the Canadian Energy Centre, long-dubbed the "war room," is being retooled and brought in-house directly under Smith's office.

The United Conservative Party premier defended the centre's work, releasing reports and information about the industry, and balked at the moniker "war room."

Smith's predecessor, former UCP premier Jason Kenney, introduced the agency in 2019 to quickly counteract what his government deemed to be unfair criticism of Alberta oil and gas.

There was much controversy around the centre.

It may be most well-known for launching a campaign against “Bigfoot Family,” a Netflix cartoon featuring talking animals and a domesticated sasquatch battling an oil magnate determined to blow up an Alaskan wildlife preserve to gain access to petroleum.

Smith cited a proposed federal New Democrat private member's bill as a reason to roll up the agency.

The bill, still making it through parliamentary debate, would ban misleading and deceptive claims from the oil and gas industry.

Smith's government has called those proposals to restrict advertising in the industry laughable and an attempt to muzzle talk of good faith efforts to reduce emissions.

"I don't even know if the Canadian Energy Centre would even be allowed to talk about some of these things," said Smith.

Tom Olsen, the head of the centre, who is due to exit the role in three weeks, issued a statement on social media saying he's proud of its work, which "speaks for itself."

Olsen, once a spokesperson for former Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach, also ran unsuccessfully for a legislative seat in Calgary under Kenney.

Alberta's Opposition NDP has called the centre a massive waste of public dollars. It estimates the centre has cost $66 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2024.

Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press

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