Alberta’s ‘energy war room’ sees budget cut by 90% amid coronavirus

Inside the Canadian Energy Centre, also dubbed Alberta's "war room.". Global News

The UCP’s Canadian Energy Centre has had its operating budget cut by 90 per cent in light of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

According to a news release from the Alberta government, the majority of the budget was allotted for paid advertising campaigns, which aren’t going ahead anymore.

The “energy war room” budget has gone from $30 million to $2.84 million and the spending will now be limited to research, administrative support and office infrastructure, the UCP said.

The reduced budget will be in place for three months, “or until regular operations can recommence.”

The Official Opposition criticized the government for not getting rid of the war room altogether.

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“[CEC CEO] Tom Olsen and his war room buddies have been doing nothing for Albertans but waste $82,000 a day of their money on juvenile tweets and plagiarized logos,” NDP Energy Critic Irfan Sabir said in a statement.

“It’s good that they will be wasting slightly less in the coming weeks, but the premier should listen to the broad consensus of Albertans and scrap the war room altogether.”

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Sabir added that in light of the government announcing layoffs this weekend that affect people who work in the province’s education system, he believes the cuts to the war room aren’t enough.

“Educational assistants and school bus drivers should have kept their jobs, and the war room budget should be reduced to zero, permanently.”

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The CEC will be ending all of its paid advertising campaigns, stalling all work with outside contractors and making sure it’s ready to resume normal operations when that time comes.

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“Global energy demand is down dramatically because of reduced consumption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Saudi-initiated price war,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a news release.

Savage said the government believes the country’s oil and gas sector is still essential, despite the downturn, and the CEC is a key part of getting that message out.

“While some would like to capitalize on this unprecedented crisis to permanently shut down Canadian oil and gas, we do not believe we should surrender the global energy market to these opponents,” Savage said.

“The CEC will continue to be required to promote and defend Canadian energy.”

The CEC gets two-thirds of its budget directly from the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) levy. The rest comes from reallocated advertising money from previous budgets, the UCP said.

Oil prices have been steadily dropping since the coronavirus pandemic started, bringing with it a slew of cancellations, restrictions and shut downs of everything from pubs and bars to air travel.

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On Monday, prices were the lowest experts have seen since 2002.

–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich

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