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Alberta's energy 'war room' has gone very quiet during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Image: Jeff Wallace/Flickr

For those of you worried about the prolonged silence from Alberta's energy war room, it turns out the nine-member staff of Canadian Energy Centre Ltd. are just taking a little breather while they figure out what to do next.

Back when Jason Kenney was running for his present job as premier of Alberta, he promised to create "a fully-staffed, rapid-response war room in government" and vowed it would "issue swift responses to misinformation about Canadian energy."

The not insignificant sum of $30 million a year was committed this purpose, and environmentalists and other opponents of the United Conservative Party's energy policies braced themselves for aggressive push back from feisty government energy warriors.

Their fears were overblown. First, CECL turn out to be a "private company," apparently created with public funds to keep snoopy reporters from filing freedom of information requests about how the $30 million was being used. After a few weeks of embarrassing blunders by the CEC's minuscule staff, about all we've seen have been puffy features about how the prospects for Alberta's fossil fuel industry are great and the neat things you can make out of refined bitumen. Medical instruments! Who knew?

Lately, though, we haven't seen even that.

The last time anything was heard from the war room was on March 11, when it published a story about the former Algoma Steel Inc. pipe mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, now operated by Luxembourg-based multinational steel maker Tenaris SA.

Other than that, there's been naught but radio silence.

Accordingly, I asked Grady Semmens what has become of the war room's efforts on behalf of Alberta's struggling fossil-fuel industry. For readers who speculated Kenney might have used the genuine crisis facing the world to quietly put the Canadian Energy Centre out of its misery, no soap.

"Like all organizations, we have adjusted our work practices to limit the spread of COVID-19," Semmens told me today. "We have temporarily halted most of our advertising and avoided publishing new material while Canadians focus on dealing with the public health emergency."

Well, you can hardly blame foreign-funded environmentalists and urban European greens for the coronavirus, or for that matter for the Saudis and the Russians deciding to duke it out by increasing the supply of oil flowing to world markets that have all but shut down as a result of the global pandemic.

"In the meantime, we are working on a number of initiatives to support the energy industry and the significant economic recovery that lies ahead for our country, which will roll out at the appropriate time," Semmens said in an email.

"Throughout February and early March," he said, "we launched a national marketing campaign related to the benefits and Indigenous support for emerging LNG export industry, and we released a research brief on Indigenous employment and opportunities in the oil sands. Our communications and research teams continue to develop new plans and materials along similar lines."

One of the advertisements from the spring marketing campaign says that "the world needs more Canadian energy," although it probably doesn't need it just now.

The research brief was drafted by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Mark Milke and war room staffer Lennie Kaplan, an aide to Lyle Oberg back when the often-prickly Brooks physician was minister of finance in Ed Stelmach's cabinet.

Oberg was recently recycled by the Kenney government as well, appearing as a member of the government's bargaining team in 11th hour negotiations with the Alberta Medical Association.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Jeff Wallace/Flickr

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