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Postmedia hires former Kenney staffer to lobby Alberta government on involvement in ‘energy war room’

Lobbyist registration reveals company that publishes newspapers in at least 34 Alberta communities has hired former UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to lobby Alberta government

Documents filed with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry reveal that Canadian media behemoth Postmedia — which owns the National Post, Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Vancouver Sun, The Province, Ottawa Citizen and many others — is actively seeking to become “involved” in Premier Jason Kenney’s “energy war room.”

The lobbying records state Postmedia hired Kenney’s former campaign director Nick Koolsbergen to “discuss ways Postmedia could be involved in the government’s energy war room.”

Postmedia registration to l… by on Scribd

Postmedia lobbyist registry

A filing in Albertas lobbyist registry indicates Postmedia will lobby the government on ways to be involved in the government’s “energy war room.”

Kenney proposed the creation of a “war room” during Alberta’s most recent election campaign.

The war room — which the UCP said in its campaign platform will run on a $20 million budget — will “fight fake news and share the truth about Alberta’s resource sector and energy issues.”

In his victory speech, Kenney made it clear that Alberta would take an aggressive stance against any negative attention directed at the province’s energy industry.

Kenney named several organizations, including prominent charities, environmental groups and multinational companies, suggesting they may be early targets of the war room.

Postmedia, it appears, is now seeking to become a part of this campaign.

Postmedia hires lobbyist who will ‘win high stakes campaigns’

Koolsbergen has deep political roots, having taken on the role of chief of staff for the United Conservative Party in October 2017. He remained with the party, as campaign director, during the most recent election campaign.

Koolsbergen also worked briefly as former B.C. premier Christy Clark’s chief of staff, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Koolsbergen announced earlier this month on Twitter that he had left his role with the UCP and had founded a new group called Wellington Advocacy, a firm that would work in “government relations” and “help companies and candidates win high stakes campaigns.”

Wellington Advocacy boasts its team has “a decade of working alongside Stephen Harper on the campaign trail and in office.”

Less than ten days after Koolsbergen announced his new company, Postmedia filed documents to have Koolsbergen lobby the new UCP government on its behalf.

Postmedia plans to lobby the Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, Alberta Environment and Parks, the Executive Council, the  Premier’s Office, Alberta Energy and Alberta Legislative Assembly, according to documents filed with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry.

The lobbying records contain few details as to how exactly Postmedia plans to become “involved” in the energy war room.

‘An abrogation of everything that we as news media are supposed to stand for’

Postmedia purchased the Sun newspaper chain in 2015 and went on to merge the newsrooms of the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun, as well as the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun.

The Competition Bureau reviewed the acquisition, but did not oppose the purchase despite the fact it meant the chain took ownership of both dailies in three major cities: Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.

At the time of the purchase, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey said he intended to maintain separate newsrooms, but less than a year later the chain announced it was laying off 90 journalists and merging newsrooms in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Sean Holman, a journalism professor at Mount Royal University, called the lobbyist registration “disturbing.”

“If I was to speculate about what they might be doing here, I would think that they would be discussing branded content or custom content that Postmedia could provide in the service of this war room,” Holman said.

In an emailed statement, Postmedia’s vice president of communications, Phyllise Gelfand, told The Narwhal that “Postmedia has engaged Wellington Advocacy with respect to the commercial content area of the business and the previously announced Alberta government’s energy war room.”

“This sort of exposes the problematic nature of that kind of business,” Holman said. “Is it appropriate for a news media organization to be providing political custom content while at the same time reporting on politics? And how does that impact trust in that media organization?”

Holman said having newspapers looking to profit from a “government operation that is designed to punish a certain kind of speech” is “problematic.”

“Media organizations certainly shouldn’t be in the business of working in support of that type of activity. It’s an abrogation of everything that we as news media are supposed to stand for.”

Edmonton Journal

The Edmonton Journal recently ran a “built on trust” ad campaign. Photo: Mack Male / Flickr

Postmedia told local papers to endorse conservatives

During the most recent election campaign, the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun publicly endorsed the UCP and then-candidate Kenney, writing “voters should choose the UCP.”

“Kenney has shown force of will and determination to accomplish tasks some believed impossible,” the editorial staff wrote.

“The election is about who can best lead Alberta …. That person is UCP Leader Jason Kenney.”

In 2015, then editor-in-chief of the Edmonton Journal, Margo Goodhand, told Canadaland that the paper was “asked to endorse” the Conservative party during that provincial election campaign by Postmedia leadership in Toronto.

All four major Postmedia papers in Alberta ran endorsements of the Conservative Party in 2015.

Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey has long been known to be a conservative supporter, having financially contributed to conservative campaigns in the past.

Postmedia also reportedly told its papers to endorse the federal conservatives in 2015.

“This was a decision made by the owners of the paper,” tweeted Paula Simons, at the time a columnist at the Edmonton Journal (Simons is now an independent senator).

The admission prompted CBC’s Charles Rusnell to question the ethics of “an American hedge fund telling an Alberta newspaper which federal Canadian party to endorse.”

In 2014, a presentation was leaked that detailed a partnership between Postmedia and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Later that year, we revealed that Postmedia had been running editorial content paid for by the oil industry without any labelling to indicate it was sponsored content.

Holman said it seems there is more and more reason to believe “Postmedia has ceased to be a news media organization and has become a political organization.”

And, he said, that raises concerns about the future of democracy in Alberta.

“If the major dailies are unable to do their job to hold power to account and inform the citizenry, then that does not speak well for the future of democracy in Alberta,” Holman said.

“When a jurisdiction lacks a robust fourth estate, that leaves them vulnerable to political authoritarianism and subversion of democracy.”

— With files from Emma Gilchrist

 

Update Friday, May 17, 4:17 p.m. MST: This article was updated to reflect that Postmedia’s vice president of communications, Phyllise Gelfand, provided a brief statement in response to The Narwhal’s questions.

Sharon is an Alberta-based writer and reporter. Her essays, interviews and long-form nonfiction have been published by The Walrus, Harper’s,…

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