Alberta Politics
Tom Olsen hovers in the background the October night Alison Redford was chosen to lead the Progressive Conservative Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Tom Olsen and the Wreckage: Jason Kenney’s ‘War Room’ is going to need more than just hurtin’ songs!

Posted on October 10, 2019, 1:23 am
7 mins

Former journalist Tom Olsen, for much of the past decade a self employed PR man who rarely strayed far from the gravitational field of Conservative power in Alberta, was named yesterday by Energy Minister Sonya Savage as the successful candidate to lead the United Conservative Party’s “War Room.”

Perhaps Mr. Olsen was the only candidate for the job. It’s hard to know from Ms. Savage’s news release, which subtly renamed the entity a more respectable sounding “Canadian Energy Centre.” That seems unlikely, however, since his managing director’s salary will be $195,000 per annum.

Mr. Olsen goes all Johnny Cash (Photo:

Regardless, the well-coiffed former reporter’s years as a loyal Conservative retainer included a stint as a spokesperson for former Premier Ed Stelmach and a doomed run earlier this year for the United Conservative Party in the Calgary-Buffalo riding, where he was comfortably defeated by former NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci, the Blue Wave of 2019 notwithstanding.

This led one wag, perhaps unfairly underestimating Mr. Ceci’s popularity in central Calgary, to observe on social media yesterday that even when UCP candidates lose, they win. Indeed, Mr. Olsen’s appointment does seem to be another indicator the right kind of failure is no barrier to success in Jason Kenney’s Alberta.

In that vein, a low note in the new War Room commandante’s career, which included a sideline leading an “alt-country” band that often played Conservative party and media hoedowns, was struck when his eponymous ensemble was selected to perform at Premier Jim Prentice’s victory party on election night 2015.

Calgary-Buffalo NDP MLA Joe Ceci (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The name of the band, appropriately enough: Tom Olsen and the Wreckage. The fun foursome’s music can be appreciated here, for the moment anyway.

Notwithstanding his tendency to be found near Conservative leaders — he appeared in the background of news shots of Alison Redford on the night in 2011 she was chosen PC leader — he apparently didn’t love them all. Political blogger Dave Cournoyer recalled in a 2010 blog how Mr. Olsen dismissed ambitious PC cabinet minister Ted Morton in a 2005 Calgary Herald article as “smug” and “arrogant.” Fortunately for Mr. Olsen, Dr. Morton turned out to be the worst premier Alberta never had.

I should note that Mr. Olson and I worked together as assistant city editors at the Calgary Herald in the late 1990s. However, our career paths diverged during the journalists’ strike in 1999 and 2000, when I walked the picket line, and Mr. Olsen didn’t.

Former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

During his tenure as Mr. Stelmach’s PR flack, Mr. Olsen was stuck with the difficult job of explaining how a photo of children frolicking on an English beach managed to find its way into a $25-million Alberta branding campaign launched by the Progressive Conservative government in 2009.

The beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland, was featured in online advertising and a video about Alberta. Northumberland Tourism was delighted.

“There’s no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta,” Mr. Olsen huffed to the Globe and Mail. “That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do.”

He will need to do better than that if he is to live up to Ms. Savage’s promise that the War Room — pardon me, the Energy Centre — will be responsible for “swift responses to misinformation spread through social and traditional media.”

Former PC cabinet minister Ted Morton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s not clear what the centre will do when it must deal with accurate information that doesn’t support the UCP narrative about fossil fuels in Alberta — for example, the argument that using pipelines to salt water to increase the supply of Alberta bitumen will somehow defy the laws of economic gravity and increase the price the stuff fetches as well.

Or, for another example, the tendentious claim, articulated in Ms. Savage’s news release yesterday, that “the reputation of Alberta’s energy sector has been damaged by a deceitful campaign to landlock the oilsands.”

In addition to the War Room’s “rapid response unit,” Ms. Savage noted, the office will have two other units: an “energy literacy unit” that will “help the province take control of its energy story,” and a research unit “in charge of centralizing and analyzing data to reinforce this story with factual evidence for investors, researchers and policy makers.”

Ms. Savage passed over this important point rather lightly in her release, but the War Room will be structured as a corporation, rather than a branch of government.

It’s interesting to speculate on why a highly ideological market-fundamentalist government that in the normal course of events has little time for Crown corporations or other forms of public ownership would take this route. Perhaps it is to avoid conflict with the new Ministry of Red Tape, seeing as some of the core functions of the corporation will obviously duplicate jobs already done by government departments.

Ms. Savage said the centre will be in operation before the end of the year.

6 Comments to: Tom Olsen and the Wreckage: Jason Kenney’s ‘War Room’ is going to need more than just hurtin’ songs!

  1. Jeff Hodgson

    October 10th, 2019

    Another grifting has-been. The UCP is trash.

  2. Dave

    October 10th, 2019

    It seems Mr. Olson’s political and PR success is mixed at best. He didn’t seem to ultimately help Mr. Stelmach or Mr. Prentice improve their images with voters and his own image didn’t seem good enough to win for the UCP in Calgary.

    I believe in other jurisdictions where there is less one party history and where the mainstream media is normally less afraid of what it says about the government this type of appointment might be generally referred to as patronage.

    It is amazing how quickly the rot has set in with the UCP, what took 15 to 25 years for the PC’s to degenerate to, the UCP is already there. I see something in the future of the war room that the UCP does not intend. They will get Mr. Olson, but they will also get wreckage.

    I don”t know that Mr. Kenney cares, as I believe he will be out of here probably in two years or less, but the rest of the UCP should. They will be the ones who will have to deal with and clean up all these sort of messes left.

  3. Bill Malcolm

    October 10th, 2019

    The Energy Centre is already hard at work, methinks. Kathleen Petty from Calgary has been hosting CBC Radio’s the Current recently, so we got a dose of Average Albertans yesterday telling off the rest of us on the neverending journey of lame and incorrect talking points. Today His Holiness Sub Pope Jason 1 and Lord Protector of the Realm for Alberta will grace Petty’s program for an exclusive interview to give some higher level harrassment to the rest of us subhuman Canadians who regrettably don’t agree with him and the Alberta vision of being leading GHG Provider to the world. Six million bpd and climbing – one wonders how Albertans can keep their balance on the shifting slippery piles of gold pieces littering the streets! — whaddya mean, the royalties are lousy?

    One supposes the glib tones of Jason will turn to dunning Trudeau and the Liberals at some point, thus violating the Canada Elections Act in spirit if not actuality, if this be justified as a pretend “news” feature. For the rest of we ignoble Canucks, he will weep genuine crocodile tears for our silly resistance to Alberta’s way of thinking, hint at separation if we don’t fall at his feet in supplication, forget the $60 billion in subsidies his industry receives, deny global warming and try to not mention the 6% of CO2 Canada donates to the world as the #4 “oil” producer of note, while claiming new nonsense for the equalization formula he himself wrote in 2007, which overlooks the no PST in its calculations for bit of harperian fudge for the denizens of Calgary SW. I doubt there is a better con artist than our cuddly Jason on the Canadian scene at present, and since he’s only in this politics gig for himself, no empathy for objectors can be allowed to enter his gratuitous fulminations. And if some of his followers get a bit boisterous and over-belligerent at times, well, they’re just enthusiastic keeners looking for a payout themselves.

    Oh glory be! Let us pollute the world for Jaysus.

  4. Simon Renouf

    October 10th, 2019

    Great stuff as always, DC. It’s at least noteworthy that the entire premise behind the war room, the notion of an international conspiracy to “landlock” Alberta bitumen, took a huge hit last week: According to a detailed study published October 3, 2019 by Canada’s National Observer, on-line news magazine, since 2009 roughly 1,800 private foundations committed more than $4.9 billion specifically to climate initiatives. Just five foundations granted half of that figure. Of that nearly $5 billion, American-based recipients received an overwhelming $2.9 billion — or 59 per cent — of all climate grants. Almost $2 billion was divided between the European Union, China and India.

    About 1% of the total ($51 million) went to Canadian climate projects, of which roughly $40 million was granted to dozens of small organizations in the Tar Sands Campaign, and most of the balance went to the Montreal-based Global Campaign for Climate Action. So even though Canada is the world’s seventh largest oil producer, and produces about 5% of the world’s oil, just 1% of foundation funds were targeted to Canadian projects.

    Mr Olsen will indeed have his work cut out for him trying to explain away those facts.

  5. Albertan

    October 10th, 2019

    “You can either have a managed transition off oil….Or you can have an unmanaged freefall.”
    “The trouble with staking Alberta’s future on oil. There’s more to the province’s energy woes than carbon taxes, pipelines and protests.”
    It seems that we are headed for an ‘unmanaged freefall.’
    And at $195,000/year for Mr. Olsen’s heading up of the $30 million ‘War Room,’ it will cost us courteous taxpayers a chunk to participate in the freefall. There’s something new every day with these UCP clowns. What will it be tomorrow? As has been asked before: “How long will it take for UCP supporters to start shifting in their seats and start getting grumpy?” Or, is it a situation of getting you-know-whatted whilst one is being kissed?

  6. Anonymous

    October 10th, 2019

    David: I enjoy reading your blogs very much. I have some thoughts about this war room that Jason Kenney set up to try and defend Alberta’s energy industry from attacks from environmentalist groups. First of all, we need to be concerned about the environment. We can’t neglect it. Starting with Ralph Klein, the Alberta PCs allowed oil companies in Alberta to get away with not cleaning up any messes that they have made. Albertans are now on the hook for $260 billion, to cleanup abandoned oil wells in Alberta. Do you remember when former Alberta PC premier, Peter Lougheed flew over the oilsands in Fort McMurray, 14 years ago, and was absolutely disgusted by what he saw? He said that only one oilsands project should be done at a time, and that oilsands development should not be done at a breakneck pace, or we would see bad consequences in the future? I do, and Peter Lougheed was right. The bill we have for cleaning up abandoned oil wells in Alberta is the result of that. Peter Lougheed also had oil industry experience, prior to becoming a politician. He knew that oil booms could easily go bust. He created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which the other Alberta PCs squandered. We all know that oil prices sank in 2014, as the result of Saudi Arabia and America having a vice grip on oil prices, keeping them very low. We will not see record level oil prices ever again. No new pipeline or war room will change that fact. Brian Mulroney also abolished the NEP long ago. Another very big boondoggle by the Alberta PCs, after Peter Lougheed left office, was the $26 billion Northwest Upgrader fiasco, that had $9 billion in added costs. This project is not economically viable, as oil prices will remain low. Jason Kenney recently admitted he can’t get out of this. On the subject of pipelines, Jason Kenney was in the CPC, when they had a majority government, and had far superior oil prices, and did not help get a single pipeline built, that went to tidewater. I also note that Postmedia is fully entrenched in all things Conservative, and UCP. They have ties to Jason Kenney’s war room. I believe, a former Edmonton Journal columnist, who is now a Canadian Independent Senator, Paula Simmons, spoke out against this. What were Albertans thinking when they voted for the UCP?


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