Alberta’s privacy commissioner investigating energy war room’s use of personal information

CALGARY — An investigation is ongoing into the use of personal information by the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), also known as the Alberta Government’s ‘energy war room’.

In a letter obtained by CTV News, Alberta’s Information and Privacy commissioner confirmed an investigation into whether the CEC “has collected, used or disclosed personal information in contravention of section 36(2)(e) of the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)” is anticipated to be completed by October 2022. The investigation started in May of this year.

The complaint against the CEC was launched by Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada. Stewart signed up for the CEC’s online newsletter and provided his name, email address, phone number and postal code.

Stewart alleges his personal information was then shared with a third party in contravention of Alberta’s privacy laws.

“I think the big concern here is our taxpayer dollars, which is funding this agency and yet it is hidden behind this veil of secrecy,” he said.

Stewart has specific concerns with his information being shared with a CEC contractor called One Persuasion Inc.

One Persuasion Inc., which is also known as One Persuades, is a government relations and lobbying company founded by several former federal Conservative Party strategists and advisors. Hamish Marshall, a co-founder of One Persuasion, was the campaign manager for the Conservatives’ 2019 federal election campaign.

“I was concerned that they were hiring what is in effect a public relations firm and government relations firm with very close ties to the federal conservatives and the provincial UCP,” Stewart said.

“There’s not necessarily anything illegal about this, but the waters are very muddy.”

WAR ROOM BOSS DENIES PERSONAL INFO USED IMPROPERLY

The chief executive officer of the CEC, Tom Olsen, declined an interview request, but said in an email that One Persuasion helps manage the war room’s Support Canadian Energy website. Olsen confirms the company has access to the personal information people provide when signing up for its newsletter, but says One Persuasion does not use the information for anything other than sending out CEC updates.

“One Persuasion is contractually bound to strict confidentiality obligations, and, to the Support Canadian Energy privacy policy. That policy makes clear that the personal information provided will only be used for the purposes consistent with the reason it was provided,” Olsen said in an email.

One Persuasion did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CTV News. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner said it cannot speak about specific complaints it has received.

The UCP platform and petitions are being hosted on a onepersuades.com platform.

OPPOSITION NDP HAS CONCERNS

The opposition NDP says the privacy concerns are another reason to shut down the CEC and use the money it’s allocated more effectively.

“I think what’s concerning is that people would’ve put their name on this list thinking that it’s for war room purposes and the war room is an agency of the government — it’s obviously funded through the government,” said Kathleen Ganley, the NDP’s energy and natural gas critic.

“What’s ultimately turned out to be the case is that that information was migrated to One Persuasion, among other entities, which is a fairly clearly partisan entity,” she said.

A request for comment from Alberta Energy Minster Sonya Savage was not answered by the time this story was published.

“Instead of being used for the good of the people of this province, (the CEC is) being used potentially for the good of conservatives, whether federally or provincially. That’s the difference and that’s what’s troubling about it,” Ganley said.

Alberta’s energy war room was launched in December of 2019 with an annual budget of $30 million and is intended to promote the province’s energy industry while dispelling myths about oil and gas.

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