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Expert questions tactics as province continues 'Bigfoot Family' crusade

Last Updated Mar 18, 2021 at 11:05 am MDT

FILE - This Aug. 13, 2020 photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. Netflix Inc. (NFLX) on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 reported third-quarter net income of $790 million. The Los Gatos, California-based company said it had profit of $1.74 per share. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — Days after the publicly-funded Canadian Energy Centre launched an offensive against an animated children’s movie currently streaming on Netflix, the dust has still not settled as the provincial government continues its line of attack.

The so-called energy war room began their campaign against “Bigfoot Family” last week, with an online form allowing people to notify Netflix of their displeasure about the movie and what they feel is an inaccurate portrayal of the oil and gas industry.

“Bigfoot Family” is about the son of the mythical creature who fights an oil company, and made its debut on the streaming service earlier this year.

The family-friendly adventure film follows Adam and his dad as they take on an evil oil tycoon who wants to explode a fictional place named Rocky Valley for its oil.

Since the criticism began, the film has jumped up the charts on the streaming service and more government-led criticism has followed.

RELATED: Alberta energy minister defends war room petition attack on children’s Bigfoot movie

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called it “quite offensive”, and Premier Jason Kenney blasted it when asked during a press conference on Tuesday.

“It’s clear that they developed content designed to defame, in the most vicious way possible in the impressionable mind of kids, the largest industry in the province,” Kenney said.

The premier said he cannot stand by and ignore the film, and supported the efforts of the Canadian Energy Centre, which receives millions of dollars in funding every year under the United Conservative Party mandate.

Another UCP MLA, Pete Guthrie, also said that the government’s approach is working because the movie is so popular now.

“I think that’s pretty awesome if they have that kind of ability,” Guthrie said at the same committee meeting Savage was speaking at on Tuesday.

But an expert said the strategy is backfiring, and this is not going to result in a rise of oil and gas investment in the province.

“It’s because everybody’s laughing at them,” said Andrew Leach, an economist at the University of Alberta. “I think it sends a signal to some people, some supporters of the premier and the conservatives, that they’re fighting this fight no matter what. But in terms of changing anybody’s mind or in terms of positioning the oil and gas industry, I don’t think it does anyone any good.”

WATCH: CityNews’ Crystal Laderas reports on the province defending the energy war room and its strike against the “Bigfoot Family” film.

Leach said the premier is likely doubling down on the attacks because he now doesn’t want to give the appearance he is backing away from the much-maligned Canadian Energy Centre and draw attention away from the constant criticism it receives.

“I’ve equated the Canadian Energy Centre to a government-funded (political action committee), and so in this case what this is allowing them to do is collect 3,000 email addresses from people who are very active supporters of the energy industry,” Leach added.

On the criticism that has been directed towards the so-called war room, Leach said after they were forced to change their logo several times and there have been numerous gaffes on social media, it is hard to tell how much they have accomplished with a total budget of $30 million.

“Do we count comedy?” he said with a chuckle. “I can’t think of anything that the group has done, other than provide a little bit of pandemic comic relief.”

660 NEWS also reached out to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) for comment on the story, but they refused and suggested to reach out directly to the Canadian Energy Centre instead. Leach said this is a pretty strong indication that the criticism of “Bigfoot Family” is an overreaction.

RELATED: ‘Tell the truth:’ Alberta ‘war room’ says animated kids movie disparages oil industry

“If this was actually something which was a threat to the industry, the industry’s advocacy group would be concerned about it. They’re not,” he said.

The issue still did not go away on Wednesday, as the NDP called out the premier during Question Period in the Legislature as debate circled around jobs amid the latest loss of a thousand positions from Cenovus following its merger with Husky.

MLA Kathleen Ganley asked Kenney if he would defund the Canadian Energy Centre, and he refused.

“Clearly, the reason she’s annoyed by it, is because they called out a French-Belgian production which depicts Canadian oil companies as wanting to kill children,” Kenney said. “Mr. Speaker, the NDP is defending that.”

A point of order was called in response to those comments, and Kenney also used it as a jumping off point to say the NDP has not done enough to fight against the federal carbon tax.

NDP leader Rachel Notley also suggested the UCP is using this controversy as a distraction.

“It is time for this premier to stop focusing on his internal politics, it’s time for him to stop focusing on how to avoid a leadership review, stop focusing on chasing Bigfoot, and instead focus on the job at hand. Which is, coming up with a strategy to help Albertans come through the recovery with jobs being created, not permanently lost,” Notley said.

Leach also pointed out that even though the film is a work of fiction, the main negative point that the government seems to have around the film — which is the use of explosives to extract oil — is not as fictional as it may seem.

“The plotline that has them using a bomb to produce oil was actually an approved project at one point in the oilsands,” he said. “They had a proposal that had been approved by the Alberta government to use a nuclear device to produce oilsands.”

Leach said it was known as “Project Oilsand”, and was eventually canceled by the John Diefenbaker government in the 1950s.

With the debate around the animated film now hitting the floor of the Legislature, Leach questioned why the government is leaning so hard into it, especially as it would be hard to picture Kenney supporting this sort of messaging were he in the opposition during a pandemic and massive job loss in Alberta.

“Premier Kenney, historically, would have been the first to criticize and stand up to say you know, on a day when a thousand people are losing their jobs, Alberta politicians should not be talking about anything other than what’s going on here,” he said. “Yet, it seemed like he wanted to talk about anything but.”