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EDMONTON — Alberta’s energy minister is defending her government’s attack on a children’s movie about Bigfoot that she says is “quite offensive” and carries an inaccurate anti-oil message.

Sonya Savage also says it’s critical the government push back constantly against what it sees as false narratives that cast Alberta’s wellspring industry in a negative light.

“Not everybody is going to agree with every single tactic of the Canadian Energy Centre. I don’t either,” Savage told a committee examining the Energy Department’s budget on Tuesday.

“But I did find that the comments that I’ve heard in that cartoon were quite offensive. And the comments have to be countered somewhere.

“And there’s no question whatsoever that we have to find a way to counter the kinds of campaigns and the kind of narrative and the significant misinformation that is targeted at our energy sector.”

Savage was referring to a petition campaign recently launched by the energy centre, informally called the war room, against the animated movie “Bigfoot Family,” which can be viewed on the streaming giant Netflix.

The film features talking animals and a domesticated Bigfoot character battling an oil magnate who is seeking to blow up an Alaskan wildlife preserve to gain easier access to petroleum.

The war room is urging followers to send Netflix messages that say the movie is “brainwashing our kids with anti-oil and gas propaganda.”

The Sasquatch debate spilled onto the floor during question period. 

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the United Conservative government is making the province a laughingstock. Premier Jason Kenney accused Notley of supporting those who would deride Alberta’s big-ticket industry.

“Which investors in Zurich do you think were swayed by your brave stand against a child’s cartoon character?” Notley asked Kenney.

“I know the NDP hates oil and gas. They’ve always despised this province’s largest industry and I’m sure they’re cheering on the propaganda in that Netflix story, but we’re correcting the record as we should,” Kenney countered.

Notley replied: “More people laughing at you is not a win.”

The fuss over the film has prompted a renewed debate between the UCP and the NDP over the war room’s goals and purpose.

The centre was started in late 2019 to fulfil a campaign promise by Kenney to challenge what he called misleading and inaccurate statements designed to put the energy sector in a critical light and thereby buttress public support against megaprojects such as pipelines.

The war room was given a $30-million annual budget and immediately stumbled into several high-profile gaffes. It was found to be using another company’s logo and its staff had referred to themselves as reporters when speaking with sources.

It also attacked, and later apologized, for a series of tweets about the New York Times, saying the newspaper had been “called out for anti-Semitism countless times” and had a “very dodgy” track record.

The war room’s budget was cut last year as the COVID-19 pandemic took a wrecking ball to the economy. The centre’s budget for the current fiscal year is $10 million and is forecast to be $12 million next year.

The NDP has repeatedly criticized the war room as a high-profile embarrassment and a waste of tax dollars.

NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley, noting the popularity of the Bigfoot movie is rising, renewed that argument with Savage before the committee on Tuesday.

“It was getting very little notice, in fact, until such time as the war room came along and suddenly it shot up to be on the list of Top-10, viewed-in-Canada movies on Netflix,” said Ganley. 

“The war room seems to be having what I would argue is the opposite effect of the effect that it is intended to have.”

UCP member Peter Guthrie, also on the committee, said the Netflix bump could be interpreted as testimony to the reach and effectiveness of the war room.

“They (opponents) claim that the CEC doesn’t work. But next they highlight that the CEC had the ability to take obscure movies created to present misinformation about the energy sector and boost these obscure movies to the top of the charts,” said Guthrie.

“I think that’s pretty awesome if they have that kind of ability.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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