An inside look at Alberta’s ‘war room’

Click to play video: 'Extended: Sitting down with the CEO of Alberta’s ‘war room’'
Extended: Sitting down with the CEO of Alberta’s ‘war room’
Global Calgary anchor Dallas Flexhaug sits down with Canadian Energy Centre CEO Tom Olsen inside the CEC in downtown Calgary – Dec 17, 2019

The Canadian Energy Centre is an office like so many others in downtown Calgary.

It’s a modest 1,500 square feet. When you walk in through the double doors, you see two large desks on your left. To the right of that are two long tables with four work stations set up.

There is very little privacy.

The open concept is meant to mimic a newsroom where everyone can communicate freely and work together. There are a few white boards on the walls alongside a television. There’s a small meeting room beside the only closed-door office in the place. That belongs to the CEC’s CEO Tom Olsen. Inside is a big desk with a small table and two chairs off to the side. There’s a window, but the only view is of a wall of another building and an alley.

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Global News got a first look inside the Canadian Energy Centre. The “Alberta War Room” — as it was initially dubbed — has been the topic of much discussion ever since it was pitched as part of the UCP platform in the last provincial election.

Click to play video: 'An inside look at Alberta’s ‘war room’'
An inside look at Alberta’s ‘war room’

Newly operational, Olsen says he wanted to open the curtain on the centre.

“Some of the discussion has been about some of the mystique about the Canadian Energy Centre, and there’s really no mystique. We are in downtown Calgary, and if I may say, there’s nothing to see here, really.”

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Olsen says security concerns previously prevented them from disclosing the address, which is 801 – 6 Ave. SW.

“We are co-located with other tenants on this floor who have nothing to do with the Canadian Energy Centre. We don’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation.”

Olsen says the pushback started coming as soon as it opened.

“We have had some emails. Some nastiness on the phone, and some nastiness on social media. To be expected.”

However, Olsen says the centre is fighting on behalf of Albertans and Canadians.

“Our starting point is that Canadian energy can make the world a better place. Emissions are not provincial, they’re not national, they’re global. For example, if we could get our natural gas to India and China and supplant their use for coal — even a small amount — there would be an immediate reduction in greenhouse gasses and that’s what it’s all about.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta government launches energy ‘war room’'
Alberta government launches energy ‘war room’

The Canadian Energy Centre has three units: a quick response unit, an energy literacy unit and a research and data unit. It has a budget of $30 million a year.

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“Twenty million of that comes from the TIER fund, which is funded by large emitters in the province,” Olsen said. “The other $10 million is re-purposed from advertising earmarked from the previous government.”

Olsen says the CEC should be viewed as a new media organization with a research hub. It monitors traditional and social media and generates its own content.

“We have people coming up with original story ideas, we are creating videos and we have a research arm right now that is looking at research that is available, where the gaps are and deciding what further research we need to do.”

The CEC also plans, in the new year, to take out TV and radio ads and possibly even some billboards.

NDP leader Rachel Notley has called the centre a distraction to the fact that 18,000 Albertans lost their jobs in November. Olsen responded to that by saying: “We are losing tens of billions of dollars in investment in Alberta every year. That translates into a lot of things, including jobs. We are fighting on behalf of the country.”

There’s also been criticism about transparency, since the CEC’s internal operations are not subject to freedom of information laws.
Click to play video: 'An inside look at Alberta’s ‘war room’'
An inside look at Alberta’s ‘war room’

Olsen says it’s a decision by the provincial government that he supports, because the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) “essentially allows people who want you to fail, to have a look at your playbook.”

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Olsen says there’s no shortage of oversight.

“The CEC is subject to a strict budgeting process that involves the directors of the CEC, a business plan and expenditure reports all in line with the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act. We are subject to audit by the auditor general. There are a number of other measures to ensure financial accountability: a code of conduct, a strict expense policy, travel policies, whistleblower policies. We have requested a further security audit, to make sure measures in place are appropriate.”

When asked about the goal for his work, Olsen said that in a few years “I hope that we won’t be necessary.”

“I hope that we will have changed the story about Canadian energy and given investors confidence that this is the place to be. So I guess I’m really working to put myself out of a job.”

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