COMMENTARY: Alberta’s energy war room needs a shorter leash

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, centre, addresses attendees at a press conference to announce the launch of the Canadian Energy Centre at SAIT in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Fulmes

When your favourite sports team is in the midst of a losing streak, it’s not uncommon for the coach to hold one of those infamous “closed-door meetings.”

You know, the ones where no one says anything afterwards, but you know it wasn’t a pleasant place to be.

I would hate to be in one of those meetings as a strip is being torn off of me. But there have been times where I have thought it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall.

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As I have watched all that’s encompassed the Canadian Energy Centre in the last few weeks, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s time for one of those closed-door meetings, led by Premier Jason Kenney.

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After all, he was the one who touted the creation of the so-called war room during last spring’s provincial election campaign. Kenney continued to grow excitement about it through the summer, then announced who would lead the charge in October.

Click to play video: 'UCP officially launches war room as Canadian Energy Centre'
UCP officially launches war room as Canadian Energy Centre

By December, it was all systems go — except it wasn’t.

Earlier this week, NDP energy critic Irfan Sabir outlined a myriad of issues and controversies surrounding the centre.

From intimidating a school district for hosting an environmental speaker and writers calling themselves “reporters,” to the changing of a logo and questions about their small social media audience, it hasn’t been a good start at all.

When analyzing government entities — or ones that are supposedly arms-length — I always look at it through a business lens. What would a business owner or a stockholder have to say if their business were run like that entity?

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In this case, how could you not be enraged at how poorly the Canadian Energy Centre has started things off?

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The centre’s brand has obviously taken a hit right out of the gates.

To stick with the sports analogies, it’s like being down 2-0 just a couple of minutes into a hockey game. It’s going to take a lot of grit to not just score, but to put yourself in a position to win.

And in the game of first impressions and reputation, that’s a pretty big hill to climb.

Beyond that, there is seemingly no accountability for the CEC.

They are exempt from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and, despite having three government ministers at the table, are supposedly not a propaganda arm of the province.

The biggest issue in all of this, to me, is transparency.

What is the CEC trying to do?

I think we can all agree that it is a pro-energy outfit. But are they trying to be an online news organization? Are they actually digging into the issues around international efforts they claim have helped derail the energy industry in this province? Or did they hire a few ex-journalists who know how to rewrite press releases from energy companies to make them look like news?

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That last one is sure what it looks like to me.

I’m more than happy to be proven wrong about them because, as an Albertan and someone who sees the direct benefits of the energy industry in this province, I’m not really game for cheering against us.

Believe it or not, it is possible to be pro-energy while also calling into question the efforts of the CEC to this point.

In my mind, those behind the effort had more than enough time and resources to launch the Canadian Energy Centre properly. Premier Kenney had been talking about it for months and Tom Olsen had roughly eight weeks from the time he was named as CEO to the time they had the launch party.

I know Sabir and the NDP are calling for the CEC to be shutdown, but that’s simply unrealistic. It’s not like those in charge are going to say, “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s scrap this thing.”

The best we can hope for is that the senior leadership — whoever that might be — gathers everyone for one of those “closed-door meetings” and reads them the riot act.

The last month has been unacceptable and we, as taxpayers and a province, should expect a little more out of an entity that costs $30 million a year or $2.5 million a month.


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