Alberta Politics
Inside the “Alberta Energy War Room” in Calgary (Photo: Screenshot of Global News broadcast).

Rebranded ‘War Room’ aims for ‘measured tone’ in riposte to acerbic Medicine Hat News column, doesn’t quite succeed

Posted on December 19, 2019, 1:05 am
9 mins

All the Alberta Government’s rebranded Energy War Room is trying to do, pleaded Managing Director Tom Olsen yesterday in his much anticipated riposte to an acerbic column last week in the Medicine Hat News, is to bring a little civility to the debate about whether or not foreign-funded enviro-propagandists are an actual thing.

The War Room decided to “reach out” on Sunday as soon as someone there read reporter Jeremy Appel’s sharply worded column, which concluded that the best thing you can say about the so-called Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. is that it’s “an expensive joke.”

Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. CEO and Managing Director Tom Olsen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Mr. Olsen, a former Calgary Herald assistant city editor, tried for a tone more of sadness than of anger when taking issue with Mr. Appel’s tart conclusions. What he came up with, though, was more akin to a boring press release, as Hat News staffers were soon gleefully tweeting.

In his column, published on Dec. 14, Mr. Appel also warned of the War Room that, “at worst, it’s a grave threat to our right to dissent.”

No, no, Mr. Olsen protested, “our approach is to be informative, positive and educational about the Canadian energy industry.”

“We invite everyone to join us in public discourse,” he insisted, describing Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.’s mission as “the sharing of knowledge, facts and ideas that will help us reach our potential with energy that is produced in the most responsible and sustainable manner possible.”

All the War Room wants to do is “bring a more measured tone to a conversation we think is vitally important,” he insisted.

Medicine Hat News reporter Jeremy Appel (Photo: Source not identified).

Readers, I’m sure you’re all just as relieved as I am by Mr. Olsen’s assurances.

The trouble with this line of argument, though, is that it’s a little hard to sustain in light of the stream of belligerent statements made about the War Room and its mission by Premier Jason Kenney and other senior leaders of his government. The premier, after all, is the boss of the unsuccessful UCP candidate at the top of the War Room org chart, whether or not the Crown-owned corporation of which Mr. Olsen is titular head has been legally structured as a private company to dodge Freedom of Information requests.

Making that task even harder is the need to defend the conspiracy theory on which the entire project is based. Mr. Olsen tried, although not particularly successfully. “Creation of the CEC is a direct response to the domestic and foreign-funded campaigns against Canada’s oil and gas industry that have divided Canadians and devastated the Alberta economy,” he wrote.

Well, that’s tendentious, but to give Mr. Olsen his due, at least it’s not rude. He did sort of manage to maintain a civil tone while pretending the government’s favourite (and intentionally divisive) conspiracy theory is fact. Anyway, the Kenney Government has different operatives for the offensive stuff, like the premier’s “executive director of issues management” — c’mon down, Matt Wolf!

U of C law professor Jennifer Koshan (Photo: Twitter/University of Calgary).

And you can’t blame Mr. Olsen for trying — after all he’s paid almost $200,000 a year to do so, and I imagine he understands that he’d better make a success of it or the premier may throw him to the Wolf.

Alas for the War Room, as Mr. Appel put it in his column, its “entire premise is based on the notion that anyone who opposes oilsands expansion is a liar with ulterior motives.”

In response to the corporate structure dodge, Mr. Olsen gamely trotted out the government’s unpersuasive standard talking point — that it’s being done only to keep those foreign-funded environmental plotters from knowing the War Room’s secret strategic plans.

This might be more credible if Mr. Kenney and his minions hadn’t spent months telegraphing what the War Room was going to do. It doesn’t exactly require Mata Hari to puzzle that stuff out!

As an aside, it’s interesting that Mr. Olsen included a line in his effort to claim one of the impacts of the purported conspiracy to “landlock” Alberta’s fossil fuels is to lower the value of shares held by “many of the country’s biggest pension plans and investment funds.” Hmm… Well, the government of Alberta certainly seems to have that topic on its mind these days, doesn’t it?

Mr. Olsen’s approach doesn’t seem likely to be very successful. The government’s supporters want blood. Its opponents are predisposed to disbelieve anything the War Room has to say. And it’s doubtful the undecided — and there are many of them — are going to bother to read anything as dull as yesterday’s contribution to the Medicine Hat News.

Oh, and that Inquiry? It poses a threat to free expression rights too

Meanwhile, over at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, two contributors to its legal issues blog have taken a look at the United Conservative Party’s Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns, a phrase that begs for multiple sets of scare quotes, from the perspective of its potential impact on the right to free expression.

Linda McKay-Panos, Executive Director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre (Photo: AB Secular Conference).

The news is not any better than that from Ablawg’s earlier forays into other legal problems posed by the Inquiry — with the rule of law and procedural fairness.

The conclusion of Jennifer Koshan, a U of C law professor, and Linda McKay-Panos, Executive Director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, is that as currently structured “there are strong arguments that the Alberta Inquiry unjustifiably violates the freedom of expression of the Canadian organizations it is aimed at as well as those associated with such organizations, including their members and supporters.”

“The Inquiry’s harmful effects on expression have already begun to occur,” they noted. “Combined with the adverse impact the Inquiry is likely to have on women and Indigenous human rights defenders and environmental activists, the Inquiry’s harmful effects arguably outweigh any beneficial impact.”

If it is to avoid embarrassing defeats in the courts, the government is going to have mute the findings of the Inquiry to the point they turn out to be as unsatisfactory to the UCP base as Mr. Olsen’s lame press release is bound to be.

9 Comments to: Rebranded ‘War Room’ aims for ‘measured tone’ in riposte to acerbic Medicine Hat News column, doesn’t quite succeed

  1. Abs

    December 19th, 2019

    The “disproving true facts” slip of the tongue by Tom Olsen continues to fire up Twitter, with Matt Wolf issuing his own revisionist version of events. He asks the public to listen very carefully for the word “with”, which nobody can hear, because it isn’t there. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, 2019 edition. Perhaps we should call this episode of the War Room antics “True Lies”.

    The Wolfman can now go back to his usual habit of government-funded Twitter-stalking of outspoken women. Did I mention the JK-vacay to London at taxpayer expense? Where’s Adriana “La Grande Hammer”? Etc.

  2. Just Me

    December 19th, 2019

    Well, let the squirming begin.

    The “war room” was announced by Kenney prior to the UCP’s landslide election win as a means of combating the legions of foreign environmentalists and their propaganda machines. These foreign actors were already identified by Kenney over the last several years as the Rockerfellers, the UN (UNICEF in particular) the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and a host of other George Soros funded NGOs bent on turning Alberta into a land locked wasteland. Oh, and Trudeau, Catherine McKenna, Chrystia Freeland … the list of these destructive anti-fossil fuel industry actors is long, their resources limitless, and their fanatical mindset unstoppable. Alberta was at war with the world, so get the hate on, for God & Kenney.

    I’m not surprised that the intentions of the rebranded war room was toned done because Kenney’s federal CPC leadership aspirations and made his usually belligerent angry midget tone behaviour unbecoming for a defender of national unity. That and WEXIT’s de facto leader, Peter Downing, has been recycling every one of Kenney’s angry little man talking points as he builds his crusade. With Downing making copy in the UK Guardian and Bloomberg, it seems that Alberta’s nascent secession movement is making the UCP MLAs look bad. The most recent missive from Downing on social media demanded that the UCP MLAs get inline with WEXIT, or see their “comfortable” positions terminated. Say what one will about Downing’ crazy man act, he is putting the heat on Kenney to drop the statesmanlike tone and resume the screaming tantrums. Rebel Media is calling Kenney and the UCP, to use a Trump-ism, two-faced. Even Danielle Smith is making Kenney look like a weakling (Scheer-like) and Kenney can’t have that.

    With the Centre’s budget and activities out of FIOP’s scope, it was the perfect slush-fund. Now that recent polls report Alberta voters having buyers’ remorse over Kenney, watching the UCP and its fellow travellers fall over themselves justifying their antics is the best entertainment going.

    Maybe Kenney will tag some of the Republican’s impeachment rhetoric and have some UCP lackey declare that Kenney is more persecuted than Jesus ever was. It’s right because the GOP does it, right?

  3. Colino

    December 19th, 2019

    I don’t think these UCP brown Shirts realize that they have now given the critics of Alberta oil a target for their ideology, which before was aimed at a vague enemy called the fossil fuel industry. They can now focus their rhetoric at a physical entity which will amplify their arguments to the bench sitters and recruit allies for the battle ahead. I think they have kicked the proverbial hornets nest!

    • Death and Gravity

      December 22nd, 2019

      Or they focus on the people of Alberta who elected this government by overwhelming majority, even reducing the popular vote of the only possibly alternative. And who, by history, will re-elect that government next election and the one after that. As a former Albertan, I have predicted for more than 20 years to everyone who would listen that the citizenry would snap out of it sooner or later. I was wrong. They never, ever will; not in time to do themselves or the planet any good. Meanwhile, people can’t insure their condos in Fort Mac anymore. I’m sure they’ll blame the hippies as soon as they manage to put two and two together. Just you wait.

  4. Prairie Observer

    December 19th, 2019

    I was expecting to see a giant map somewhat like the “big board” featured in the movie Dr. Strangelove. With a $ 30 million budget they should be able to afford one. This is very disappointing.

    • Scotty on Denman

      December 22nd, 2019

      Heh, heh, heh,…I too envisioned—almost immediately upon hearing about this “war room”—something of a Dr Strangelove setting. In fact, I re-watched the movie right away (a masterpiece of movie making, in my opinion) to see if the UCP was worldly enough to avail the iconic atmosphere of a pan-global power centre. So, yes, I too was disappointed that, instead of the gravitas of heavy chiaroscuro and knowing looks of suspicious consternation we see in the movie set, we get only the flickering fluorescence of a robo-call sweat-shop.

      Even Mike Myers did it better.

      What a bummer! I really wanted to see Jason KeKangaroo Kenney hop onto his hubris and whoop as they both drop out of the bomb bay, Stetson and all.

  5. ronmac

    December 19th, 2019

    I can’t believe I’m saying this but if the war room is trying to promote Alberta oil all it has to do is focus on the Texas shale boom which is slowly sinking like the Titanic. I heard it described as a ponzi scheme which has sucked in billions of investor cash to finance what is ultimately an activity that doesn’t make sense economically.
    Forget about everything else.

  6. pogo

    December 19th, 2019

    My home province is a real dirty enigma! Here we have a full throat government of retrograde weaponized linguistics versus an organic human society. Who are you?

  7. Keith McClary

    December 19th, 2019

    “REBRANDED” – do they have a non-infringing replacement logo already?

    Today’s effort is a crusade against electric ranges.


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