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Keep your eyes on the story of Jason Kenney's 'war room' -- it's going to be a boondoggle!

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Jason Kenney. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

The discovery last week that Postmedia was trying to cash in on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's promised $30-million anti-environmental "war room" at the same time it has its hand out to Ottawa for a federal bailout has rather surprisingly turned out to be a story with legs.

The irony of a down-on-its-luck but still influential media corporation controlled by and heavily indebted to U.S. venture funds trying to cash in on the United Conservative Party Government's effort to give credence to a conspiracy theory about Americans bankrolling the environmental movement was just too much to resist, I guess.

As many observers of the Canadian media scene have noted over this May long weekend, Postmedia has already played a highly dubious role in its one-sided coverage of the energy and global climate change stories in Canada.

Readers are advised to keep their eyes on this developing story, though -- not that they'll get much help from Postmedia.

That's because there's much more to come than just the shabby remnants of the once mighty Southam newspaper empire proving that what journalists used to call "the separation of church and state" -- that is, the metaphorical wall between the editorial and advertising departments -- is nothing more than a fond memory at English Canada's largest newspaper chain.

What to watch for? First, look for what private-sector firm gets to run the generously funded boiler room -- and it will almost certainly turn out to be a private contractor, given the UCP's market-fundamentalist predilections, rather than a formal Ministry of Truth staffed by civil servants.

This thing is going to turn out to be a boondoggle of historic proportions that makes some well-connected conservative operatives very, very rich.

Remember this when Kenney's United Conservative Party government tells you we're so short of money, what with the corporate tax cuts and everything, that classroom crowding is inevitable and essential medical services must be delisted and privatized.

So follow the money. Take note of which friends of Kenney get their paws on it. That's good advice with any political story.

And while environmental lobbies are likely justified to scoff at Kenney's threat of a legal holy war against fact and science -- truth be told, it's the greatest fund-raising opportunity the environmental movement has been handed in its short history -- readers should also watch for signs Kenney will try to turn the "war room" into a Fox News style fake news and harassment operation funded with our taxes.

After all, it would be pretty hard for anyone to argue in a court of law that saying Alberta’s oilsands are the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and are making it impossible us to meet our international climate-change commitments, is somehow defamatory or false.

Sure, you might be able to bully the Calgary-based Pembina Institute for speaking such an unpalatable truth, but not the federal government, which says the same thing.

So the "war room" is unlikely to get far going after major players in the environmental movement, backed as they are by the donations of huge numbers of Canadians.

But using weaponized social media and a taxpayer financed Fox News knockoff to gin up a campaign of harassment against the Alberta government’s long list of "enemies," real and imagined, is another matter entirely.

This, presumably, is the trough Postmedia is lining up to get its corporate snout into, although the record suggests Kenney's "boys in short pants" already have the skill set to deliver this without Postmedia's questionable digital expertise.

Still, why not give it a try? As noted, Postmedia has already established there is no separation of church and state in its news operations. Consider the heavily indebted corporation's pitch to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that it would "undertake to leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively -- through the Financial Post, Postmedia market newspapers and affiliated media partners -- to further this critical conversation." (Emphasis added.)

The corporation's propaganda assets in Alberta are considerable: Two daily newspapers and their online operations in each of the province's two largest cities and more than 30 community newspapers throughout the province.

According to the Narwhal, this even turned out to include running a couple of paid advertorial stories, nowadays known as "commercial content," with no indication they were not written by one of the corporation's diminishing cadre of real journalists.

As for those journalists, though, one is inevitably reminded of the immortal words of the distinguished British civil servant Humbert Wolfe:

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! The
British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.

Jason Kenney's statement on the Battle of Monte Cassino -- it's weird

Jason Kenney's official statement yesterday marking the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in the Battle of Monte Cassino during the Italian Campaign is just … weird.

Kenney rightly marks the sacrifice and remarkable courage of the Polish troops who finally dislodged stubborn German forces from the strategic heights on May 18, 1944, at the end of the bitter five-month campaign that was one of the bloodiest fights of the Second World War.

"On behalf of the Government of Alberta I am pleased to join with Albertans of Polish descent and all Albertans in marking this proud moment in the history of the Polish people," he says in his peroration. About 1,050 Polish soldiers are known to have died in the battle.

But beyond mentioning that many Canadians were among the 55,000 casualties of the protracted battle, there was not a mention of the sacrifice of the 855 Canadians known to have been killed in the fight for Monte Cassino.

Nor is there any acknowledgement that the long engagement might be fairly described as a pyrrhic victory -- the Germans suffered about 20,000 casualties in their strategic retreat -- and it resulted in the obliteration of one greatest cultural and artistic centres of the Middle Ages by the United States Air Force.

Tragically, it was learned later that the bombing raid was militarily useless, and probably counterproductive. Only civilians were killed and the Germans were not using the fortress-like monastery to spot artillery targets.

No acknowledgement of that in Kenney's chest thumping statement either.  Like I say, weird.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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