Alberta Premier Jason Kenney touts Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. at the “War Room’s” opening news conference on Dec. 11, 2019. Energy Minister Sonya Savage is at left, CEC Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen at right (Screenshot of event video).

Alberta’s “Energy War Room” was a year old yesterday and while the cash lavished on the self-described purveyor of a “fact-based narrative about Canadian energy” isn’t the worst investment ever made, or even the worst investment made by the Kenney Government, its return on investment is nothing to write home about. 

Touted as mighty voice of Alberta’s beleaguered oil industry and technically known as Canadian Energy Centre Ltd., the War Room stumbled out of the starting gate on December 11, 2019, and has been little more than an embarrassment since. 

CEC Ltd. CEO Tom Olsen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Despite having Premier Jason Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage on hand for the ceremonial first news conference in Calgary, anyone who expected CEC Ltd. to launch devastating attacks on environmentalists and other “enemies of Alberta” has either been disappointed or relieved by the War Room’s underwhelming performance. 

So much for Mr. Kenney’s boastful vow that CEC Ltd. meant Albertans “refuse to sit here and be a punching bag anymore.

Really, about all CEC Ltd. has delivered is a mediocre website full of dull puff pieces about the wonderful things done by Alberta’s energy industry. (Petroleum products are used to make medical equipment! And rubber duckies! Who knew?)

Even fossil fuel industry flacks, for whom the effort is in effect an undeclared subsidy, must quietly roll their eyes at the CEC’s lame effort. 

So there was considerable amusement in Alberta political circles yesterday when the national broadcaster posted an anniversary story on its website quoting CEC CEO Tom Olsen complaining that nobody understands his War Room. 

Apparently the War Room’s “punchy communications experts,” as Ms. Savage once called them, are having trouble explaining what they do! 

“There’s not a huge knowledge of what we do and how we do it and how we benefit the world,” the former Calgary Herald assistant city editor, former spokesperson for Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach, and unsuccessful United Conservative Party candidate, told the CBC’s reporter. 

Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Actually, that misstates CEC Ltd.’s image problem somewhat. 

In reality, from the Kenney Government’s perspective, too many people in this province understand perfectly well what the War Room does. Which is to say, not much.

It’s a boondoggle that has fumbled its mission almost every step of the way. 

It purloined someone else’s logo. Busted, it did it again! A writer didn’t bother telling a chef being interviewed in environmentally sensitive Vancouver that the story would appear on a government website touting the oil industry. It preposterously suggested in a quickly deleted tweet that the New York Times was guilty of anti-Semitism. 

Mr. Olsen even mistakenly called the organization a Crown corporation in his debut post to the CEC’s website’s blog. (It is in fact a provincial corporation sneakily set up to evade accountability under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Privacy legislation, with three UCP cabinet ministers as directors.)

As for how it benefits the world, well, the answer’s much the same: Not much. 

If the War Room started out as a colossal boondoggle, though, it is presumably somewhat less of one now. Last March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government said in a news release it was cutting the operation’s budget by 90 per cent, from $30 million to $2.84 million.

Elusive Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allen, last seen wearing this hat (Photo: Lieutenant Governor of Alberta).

That tells you right there what the government likely really thinks of the efforts of the War Room. Certainly no one has noticed much difference in its output. Where the rest of the money went is not clear. 

So why does it survive? Probably because it’s less embarrassing to let it hang around quietly producing stories no one reads about how China’s a worse polluter than Alberta and how we’re letting Russia take our lunch money. Ask me again next December if it’s still around.

Mr. Olsen insists it will be. “While opponents bash Canada’s responsible, innovative, world leading energy sector, we’re just getting started on setting the record straight,he vowed in a story published Thursday on the CEC Ltd. website.

Heaven knows, with pension funds dropping fossil fuel stocks hither and yon, electric car sales soaring, and a new U.S. president with a considerably greener agenda than the last one, there should be plenty for Mr. Olsen to write about for his $195,000 annual salary. 

Meanwhile, the other part of Premier Kenney’s plan to Make Oil Great Again, Commissioner Steve Allan’s “public inquiry into anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” apparently continues far from the prying eyes of the public. 

I say apparently because we barely hear from Mr. Allan any more. He occasionally sticks his head up like a gopher, asks for another extension, and pops back into his hole. 

After two extensions and some extra cash, this time the inquiry is supposed to report on Jan. 31, 2021. It’s possible. But don’t hold your breath.

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  1. So, that partisan publicly-financed slush fund called the AEC War Room will not die? Go figure.

    The biggest problem with the War Room is that it cannot explain what it does; because if anyone realized the truth behind the War Room, it would be another scandal that could impair Kenney’s return to Ottawa in a fairly big way.

    The War Room…provides. It provides funds for election and leadership campaigns, specifically the BC Liberals, the Saskatchewan Party, and Erin Toole’s CPC leadership bid. It’s a money laundering operation that assures that there is funding to conservative-favoured PACs, care of the Alberta taxpayer. It’s a publicly funded private entity that is not bound by FOIP rules, so no one will know where the money really goes.

    Judging by what is known of the physical War Room, it’s a smallish, low-budget project that maintains a sub-standard website and a small squad of social media trolls.

    $30M for the War Room, eh? Another UCP sham.

  2. let me start by saying
    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ! siGh

    mr Climehaga, ever the gentleman
    a better man than i

    gunna start with a couple of what i think are more apt definitions/understandings starting with this word
    punch·y, adjective
    1. having an immediate impact; forceful.
    “his style is journalistic, with short punchy sentences”
    forceful, incisive, strong, powerful, effective, potent

    think this second definition is actually more accurately descriptive of the “war room”
    another term for punch-drunk.

    in order to properly “understand perfectly well what the War Room does” this word is foundational

    sinecure noun
    1 an office or position requiring little or no work, especially one yielding profitable returns.
    2 an ecclesiastical benefice without cure of souls.
    (love the irony of definition #2)

    these terms also have a part to play as i’ll shortly esplain (sic)
    ass-kisser, bootlicker, brownnoser*, fawner, flunky, groveler, lackey, lickspittle, toady

    i propose that in order to recoup some of the very poorly spent on the ‘war room’ money that Kenney/UCP (very much sub rosa) commision the “Kenney/UCP Are Idiots edition” Magnetic Fridge Poetry Kit using the very big list of words that might apply

    it might even do better than the “(bad word) Kenney” coffee mug

    *what’s the difference between a brown noser and a s*^thead ?
    depth perception

  3. I suppose opportunistic opposition politicians can be excused for coming up with simplistic, but somewhat appealing solutions in their quest to become government. I suspect this was where idea of the War Room was hatched and perhaps the Inquiry into un-Albertan environmentalists, too. It might actually be a smart political tactic. However, what isn’t smart is instead of conveniently forgetting about bad ideas after you are elected, going full steam ahead with them and embarrassing yourself and the province. Even less smart, is continuing on with them long after they have clearly been shown to be ineffective and embarrassing.

    I suppose instead of pulling the plug, Kenney’s plan is to let them eventually die off somehow, perhaps from neglect. Maybe it is an ego thing – he doesn’t want to admit he was wrong, maybe he things it will reflect badly on him if he does. However, I believe voters actually admire a leader who is able to see his mistakes and correct them, more than one that does not. Maybe Kenney is just stubborn and it taking this way too personally. I wonder who originally came up with the War Room idea? Perhaps if it was someone else, it would actually be easier for him to cut it loose.

    However, I think not only the ideas were flawed, but the execution as you have indicated was as well, such as the logo mess ups. I think in part Kenney made poor choices in who he chose to lead these initiatives. Mr. Olsen’s main qualifications seem to be he has been around for a long time and was a former candidate for the UCP. Mr. Allen’s legal experience and qualifications to lead a public inquiry seem very shaky too. Were there no retired judges or experienced politicians available for this task, or perhaps just none that wanted to risk tarnishing their reputations by taking it on?

    In any event, I suspect the War Room and the Inquiry will continue on for a while yet as a reminder of the ineffectiveness of Kenney’s grand ideas and his incompetence in implementation, until somehow they just quietly disappear.

  4. Well, the UCP’s War Room is simply another big time waste of money. It has no significant purpose, and it just employs candidates who just couldn’t make it as an MLA, like Tom Olsen. There are no possibilities of seeing another oil boom. Those went the way of the dodo bird, and several years ago too. Even with the UCP’s corporate tax blunders, which also lost the province significant amounts of much needed revenue, which was in the billions of dollars range, oil companies didn’t even make any additional hires, and high tailed it out of Alberta. The other longstanding issue which began with Ralph Klein, is the abandoned oil well cleanup cost of $260 billion. The UCP will not address that either. Nor will the UCP address the abysmal oil royalty rates that the Alberta PCs took, when Peter Lougheed wasn’t Alberta’s premier anymore. This is $433 billion in lost revenue. The UCP were also gambling $7.5 billion on a pipeline, and this money is gone. Meanwhile, the UCP hasn’t helped the less fortunate, those in the healthcare profession, our seniors, students, and the educators. The War Room is a big waste of money, and that money could be better used.

  5. As with everything connected to the UCP follow the money -always. Everything they do is a pretext for rewarding themselves and their friends using public money.

    They are thieves above all else. Calling them ideologues is missing the point -It’s about money stupid.

  6. Olsen gets $195,000 a year for this disaster? No wonder he’s ashamed to show his face in public.

  7. It is certainly not a ‘dud’ for those on the payroll. A rather cushy job thanks to ‘friends’ with little or no accountability. Plus an expense account. Does not sound like a dud to me.

  8. It’s nice that the “national broadcaster” now routinely labels Trump’s ravings as “false” and “baseless”. When will they apply the same standard to Canadian politicians and their propaganda organs? I could give them tips about the War Room, for (one of many) example, in this “research” article
    Aboriginal groups who have signed an “Impact Benefit Agreement” with an oil and gas developer are counted as pro-oil&gas. In fact, governments will allow O&G development to bulldoze through their lands anyways and groups that haven’t signed get nothing.

  9. It could be a front for a money laundering operation. It could be anything, really. We, the taxpayers, will keep on sending it money, because we have no say in the matter, or in anything now. The War Room and Alberta’s Covid R-value are supermassive black holes. Alberta is a supermassive black hole. Nothing can escape, not even light.

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