Alberta Politics
Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen at an earlier stage of his career, but he was probably feeling about the same last week (Photo: CEP Local 115A Photo Archive).

The Energy War Room’s crack team isn’t exactly ‘cookin’ with gas’

Posted on December 26, 2019, 4:49 pm
9 mins

Should we be worried about operatives employed by the Alberta Government’s public-private Energy War Room masquerading as journalists?

Of course we should. But it’s also OK to be amused by the astonishing ineptitude with which they’re going about the task.

CECL Director Doug Schweitzer, the Alberta Government’s minister of justice (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As King Solomon is said to have observed, pride goeth before destruction, so it’s unlikely the prideful United Conservative Party Government of Premier Jason Kenney will do the smart thing and quietly move its so-called Canadian Energy Centre to the back burner of the stove.

But, good lord, you have to ask how long the three stooges who supposedly call the shots at government-owned but putatively “private” Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. — Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer and Environment Minister Jason Nixon — are going to put up with management that seems to seriously mess up a couple of times every week.

The War Room’s “punchy communications experts,” as Ms. Savage once called them, clearly aren’t cookin’ with gas, as the expression goes!

I speak, of course, of the Christmas Day revelation that the subject of one of the War Room’s lame puff pieces, a Vancouver chef who really does cook with gas, is furious that a writer for the taxpayer-bankrolled digital fossil-fuel-industry propaganda house didn’t bother to explain exactly what CECL does when she called about a story on why professional chefs prefer to cook with gas, which is not exactly news. (Hint: You can set the heat just right.)

If the purpose of this exercise is to persuade Canadians in other provinces that the Alberta Government is an honest broker, just setting the record straight on misleading statements about the province’s fossil fuel industry, making new enemies in British Columbia is surely not the right way to go about it.

In the normal course of events, in the normal sort of media, this kind of story would pass unnoticed on any day of the year, not just Christmas.

CECL Director Sonya Savage, the Alberta Government’s minister of energy (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But when Donald Gyurkovits, who is also president of the Canadian Culinary Federation, publicly roasted CECL because he felt he’d been burned by the reporter’s failure to tell him what the organization actually is, it quickly became a national story.

“I never knew it was a government agency, never,” Mr. Gyurkovits told the Globe and Mail. “I wouldn’t have commented if I knew it was a political play.”

Naturally, as a restaurateur in Vancouver where anti-pipeline sentiment runs high, Mr. Gyurkovits needs to be sensitive about not offending his customers. “I live in British Columbia,” he told the Globe. “I don’t want an oil pipeline or a gas pipeline going though my backyard.”

Also naturally, actual journalists don’t want ninnies like the ones in the War Room pretending to be journalists. After all, the ability of real reporters to get folks to tell them stuff — people who have no legal obligation whatsoever to talk to reporters or tell them anything — is endangered by fake journalists in the pay of governments, be they War Room “reporters” or cops pretending to be TV crews.

What’s more, this is not the first time this has happened. This is an operation that’s only been around for a couple of weeks and there’s been a fresh embarrassment almost every couple of days! And this is costing us taxpayers $30 million a year?

The Canadian Association of Journalists has already fricasseed CECL for letting its operatives call themselves “reporters” — an ethically questionable practice that War Room spokesperson Grady Semmens nevertheless deems acceptable.

CECL Director Jason Nixon, the Alberta Government’s minister of environment (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Then there was also the matter of CECL’s apparent inability to come up with a corporate logo that doesn’t actually belong to someone else, another story that’s left egg on the face of Tom Olsen, the former UCP candidate who is the War Room’s CEO and general manager.

It was quite natural that this latest War Room fumble would become a bigger story than it might have if some garden-variety non-governmental scamster had been pretending to be a reporter for whatever purpose. That’s because the journalists who still get to decide what’s news, and what isn’t, are concerned about their diminishing ability to do their jobs in this age of fake news. That, in turn, is why mainstream media have decided this situation is newsworthy. They will now be watching CECL carefully for fresh missteps.

It’s important to note that it’s never really been all that clear if journalism is a profession, a trade or, as Hunter S. Thomson famously and profanely put it, just a cheap catch-all for a couple of words unsuitable for a general-readership blog.

An argument can be made it’s important in a free society that anyone — bloggers, for example — have the right to report and interpret news.

Nor is the CAJ anything like a regulatory college that sets enforceable standards for members of a profession and can decide who is or isn’t a practitioner. Its ethics guidelines are entirely aspirational.

Indeed, many people who make a living as journalists have never had anything to do with that organization, and never will. The CAJ doesn’t seem to publish membership numbers itself, but Aboriginal Peoples Television Network says it has 600 members, so it’s safe to say a majority of working journalists are not members.

However, it’s not as if there’s a legitimate debate about whether the people working for CECL are “reporters.” Obviously they’re not. The whole exercise reeks of fakery. But it’s a sad commentary on the times that there’s not much light between the drivel the War Room publishes and what appears when the credulous folk generally considered to be “real” journalists report on the same stuff.

Still, it’s bizarre War Room employees would do anything except apologize and meekly back away. If they’re such crackerjack communications experts, it should be obvious to them they can’t win because it’s not in the interests of the commercial media they’ve been hired to woo to let them win.

As Mark Wells, former head of the Alberta Government’s Public Affairs Bureau, tweeted today: “How long until this $30 million propaganda/patronage experiment is deemed too embarrassing for the UCP to continue funding?”

If they’re smart, of course, CECL’s directors will turn down the gas and move this whole dumb idea to the back burner.

As Mr. Wells pointed out, the only good thing about this continuing gong show is that it makes the evasion from Freedom of Information laws baked into the War Room’s corporate structure entirely gratuitous. “It’s been public failure after public failure.”

(Enough cooking metaphors! — Ed.)

16 Comments to: The Energy War Room’s crack team isn’t exactly ‘cookin’ with gas’

  1. TENET

    December 26th, 2019

    Just to set the record straight: You are a real reporter. Jason and his henchmen are only fooling themselves and their Hillbilly followers.

    Reply
  2. Abs

    December 26th, 2019

    They aren’t the smartest cookies…

    Reply
  3. tom in ontario

    December 26th, 2019

    So far your CECL has passed enough gas to hoist a hot air balloon miles above the Calgary Tower.

    Reply
  4. Dale Perret

    December 26th, 2019

    The three Ministers that are apparently “the Board” of this corporation are also paid to be a MLA/Minister. So are any of them getting “extra” pay to sit on this board? How much time does this take away from their elected job??? There needs to be more exposed on this fiasco in whatever way we can get it!

    Reply
  5. CovKid

    December 26th, 2019

    I presume that picture of Olsen would be of he crossing the picket line during the Calgary Herald strike … ??

    Reply
  6. James Kohut

    December 27th, 2019

    I thought Jason Kenney was suppose to be one of those Conservatives that does not want the government involved in business, yet Kenney is subsidizing the unethical oil industry to a tune of $120 million dollars over the next 4 years with an oil industry propaganda war room. The highly subsidized oil industry, which is still raking in billions of dollars in profits, can fight its own battles with its own public relations money like every other industry does. That is suppose to be one of the jobs of the foreign controlled Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers or CAPP.

    It is sad enough that Kenney is bringing in a new bill (#12- see https://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=bills_status&selectbill=012&legl=30&session=1) to undemocratically lock in cheap oil royalty rates for 10 years on wells so the unethical oil industry gets away with cheap Conservative royalty rates that are said to be 43% less that the Lougheed Government years. This is oil wealth that democratically belongs to the people of Alberta and it should not be undemocratically squandered away like it has been for the last 35 years to friends of the corrupt Conservatives.

    If we had real democracy in Alberta, where people are given the legalized right to vote on bills before the Legislative Assembly, along with citizen initiated legislation, the citizens would not have to put up with such stupid wasteful spending on things like a Kenney subsidized fake news energy war room or spending millions of dollars to go after environmentalists who just want clean water for all to drink and clean air for all to breathe rather than having corrupt oil companies dumping toxic lung cancer causing chemicals into the air for us to suck on undemocratically. The $120 million Kenney will spend on the subsidized war room over the next 4 years would be better utilized to reduce unethical oil industry pollution and the resulting health problems associated with such unethical pollution. Time to clean up the unethical cancer causing corrupt Kenney machine.

    As a former oil industry worker I helped clean up some corrupt illegal oil industry polluting activities just by making phone calls to CEOs and polluting oil production facilities when I saw black smoke coming from them or I was gagging on sour gas or I saw leaking gas wells. I expect all oil and gas workers to do the same if they have an ethical bone in their bodies and don’t want people to get unnecessary painful lethal lung cancer.

    With the Kenney gang dropping in the polls, some MLAs better find a new party home if they want to stay in Edmonton after the next election. You can still be a Conservative in another party, but one with higher ethical standards than corrupt Kenney.

    Reply
  7. Just Me

    December 27th, 2019

    So…are the people at the CECL journalists? That is the question.

    Tom Olsen once worked as a journalist, but got tired of that gig and decided being a partisan hack was more fun, as well as the employment being more gainful. Recalling Olsen’s writings in the past, I’m not sure if could ever have been called a *real* journalist. That would be the same as calling the writers at Postmedia journalists, which is really not true. Don Braid is a writer at Postmedia, so that pretty much proves my point.

    Given that CECL staff cannot be called journalists in any reasonable sense, they feel, based on their antics of late, that they are not bound by any standards of ethics that would govern responsible journalists. That’s why we get the example mentioned about…calling a chef to ask why she cooks with gas? Because she wants to do her part to help Alberta in its war against Soros-funded environmentalist NGOs?

    It would have been worse had they called up someone and said, “Hi. I’m calling on behalf the women’s social-justice organization (insert feminist-sounding institutional name here) I’d like to ask you for a comment on fake male-feminists calling themselves “feminists” all the time…what do you think of Justin Trudeau and his relationship with Alberta…would his wife put up with that kind of treatment?”

    And this is the extent of the kind of content Alberta can expect from the CECL. Oh, and they paid $30 million for it. (Insert a higher dollar value here, because this thing is a slush-fund and there’s no FOIP.)

    Reply
  8. December 27th, 2019

    Speaking as a journalist (and editor), the possessive ‘its’ does not have an apostrophe. Just like ‘his’ and ‘theirs’. Otherwise, nice blog post.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 28th, 2019

      Rain: I am aware of the difference and do try to be vigilant about getting it right. It is an embarrassing error I nevertheless make from time to time, either from typing in haste or a stubbornly uncooperative spell checker. I literally blushed when I saw your note. However, in this case, I have now gone through the piece twice and I just can’t find it. You’ll have to point out in which paragraph the error occurs. I did find another typo — Sill for Still — in another paragraph adjacent to one of the many “it’s”es, as it were, so my efforts were not wasted. Thanks for your kind words about the post. DJC

      Reply
      • Kang

        December 29th, 2019

        I believe the inappropriate, “it’s” can be found in the quote from Mr. Wells in the very last paragraph.

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          December 30th, 2019

          That’s an abbreviation for the spoken “it has,” not a possessive. Quite acceptable, I would argue. Thanks, though. DJC.

          Reply
  9. Dave

    December 27th, 2019

    People don’t like being duped, so pretending to be reporters is not helping the war room’s credibility with anyone and is probably especially irritating to real reporters.

    I suspect if they told people they were an agency of the Alberta government to promote our energy industry and energy development, many people outside of Alberta would not be willing to talk to them. However, at least they wouldn’t have these embarassing situations.

    I never expected the war room to convince many people outside Alberta of the wonders of the energy industry. I think, unlike what they claim, it is done mostly for internal political reasons – the appearance of action. However, I didn’t expect it to be quite so embarassing and clumsily handled. Well there sems to be plenty of action, but it doesn’t seem very effective so far.

    I don’t think the government is ready to give up on it yet, but will probably try to quietly distance itself from the war room as much as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets cut eventually some time in the next year. Perhaps it will be burried somewhere deep in the next budget or in a summer time press release late on a Friday afternoon that says something vague about reorganizing communications. It may also be timed so that Premier Kenney is out of town or out of the country at the time, doing whatever he does on those trips – visiting Conservative MP’s, going to a show in London’s west end, etc…

    Reply
  10. Patrick Linehan

    December 27th, 2019

    Perhaps you could do a story on how the “war room” is dog whistle politics, what they actually publish or do is of little consequence as long as they point out an “enemy”, and however feeble their actions are the real point is to whistle up the UCPs online horde of trolls and abusers to heap abuse, intimidate and threaten anyone who opposes the UCP. That part is not so funny, but more important than the distractions out front.

    https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/12/18/opinion/bomb-threat-called-tides-canada-extension-political-theatre

    Reply
  11. Magda

    December 28th, 2019

    I think the War Room is turning out to be a splendid thing. They can’t go five minutes without stepping on their dicks and making the O&G sector in Alberta look stupid. An “interview” with a chef that no one reads and a rebuttal from the chef – including a quote about how much he doesn’t want a pipeline in his neighbourhood – that everyone reads? And the logo-of-the-day saga?

    My partner and I have a bet on how long the O&G sector execs will tolerate this nonsense before yanking on JK’s leash good and hard. Greenpeace et al should be jealous – they’ve never made polluters look this bad.

    Reply
  12. Marie

    December 31st, 2019

    Is everyone positive they are talking oil? I think that maybe a tiny we bit but my guess it is more strategizing on staying in power and preparing for the election in 3 years. Seeing how much more money they can make from the oil business and what contacts they will have fostered so that when no longer MLAs they will have cushy corporate jobs waiting for them just like Harper got. Also analyzing what dirty tricks they can pull to get elected. I do not think Kenneys meeting in Texas was all about oil. The Koch brothers are huge donors to the Republican Party in the USA. We know of all the dirt in politics there. HARPER, FORD, and KENNEY all the same. If Kenney was making such great in roads with his buddies why haven’t we heard about many more big oil contracts and developments. We do not trust him and I do know about the Koch Family. We lived in Texas.
    Can anyone tell us why it is costing 30 million and we are not allowed to know anything that is going on behind closed doors. We have never had anything like this. This is very troubling and certainly raises suspicion.

    Reply

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