On the campaign trail in 2018, Jason Kenney promised that one of his first acts as premier would be to establish a “fully staffed, rapid response war room” to defend Alberta’s oil and gas sector. This was the cornerstone of his “Fight Back Strategy,” a massive shift in the tenor of the province’s politics after years—decades even—during which one Alberta government after another could barely be bothered to do much more than launch numerous multi-million-dollar media and outreach campaigns singing the industry’s praises. Where previous governments had merely banned the import of BC wine, bought billboard space in Times Square, or parked a massive oilsands truck on the Mall in Washington, DC, Kenney promised Alberta’s first real, sustained effort to defend the oil and gas business.
At a press conference just weeks after his election victory, the new premier unveiled the plans for his Energy War Room. He was flanked by such luminaries as Vivian Krause, the intrepid researcher who established that Canadian environmental groups sometimes nefariously receive money from American charitable foundations, and Robbie Picard, who launched the I [HEART] OIL SANDS campaign but was booted from it for being too extreme. Surely emboldened by the resolve of his compatriots on stage that day, Kenney vowed that the War Room would be the front line of “a proactive and assertive strategy where we are proactively telling the truth and where we will no longer accept the campaign of lies and defamation.”
Kenney explained, in a manner that was almost palpably proactive, that the War Room would have a permanent office in Calgary, up and running by the fall of 2019 and staffed by full-time government employees. These government officials would be granted a rare and indeed proactive level of “flexibility to engage contractors in the field of, for example, social media,” and their collective mandate would be “to respond in real time with the truth about our energy sector through paid, earned and social media.”
This would surely be government communications like nothing anyone’s ever seen. “The Energy War Room,” Kenney said, “will have a mandate to operate much more nimbly and much more quickly, with a higher risk tolerance quite frankly than is normally the case for government communication.” If it were possible to physically ooze proactivity, the War Room would do so. It was the start of a bold new era.
And after all that? Well, not quite silence, but less proactive communicating than Albertans may have expected out of the gate. In August, former Postmedia energy columnist Claudia Cattaneo was announced as the architect of the War Room’s strategic plan. A few weeks later, former Postmedia reporter and Ed Stelmach communications chief Tom Olsen took on the job of War Room director. Olsen’s arrival also marked a week of name changes, first to “Alberta Energy Information Centre” and then to “Canadian Energy Centre.”
And then, after another quiet interval, the Canadian Energy Centre officially went live in early December. It seemed so immediately farcical that Albertans had to wonder if it was a prank. The War Room’s logo turned out to belong to an American software company. The stock photo topping its Twitter feed depicted downtown Toronto. The launch video appeared to claim credit on behalf of Alberta’s energy industry for every healthy baby on the planet. War Room staffers were identifying themselves falsely as “reporters” to the subjects of their fawning stories about the wonders of oil and gas, while picking fights with real reporters at the Medicine Hat News. In place of nimble, quick and, above all, proactive truth-telling to the industry’s haters around the world, the war room appeared to have launched a full-scale assault on its own credibility.
Surely this was not the plan? Surely those “punchy communication experts” the War Room had promised to recruit didn’t think this was the solution to Alberta’s economic woes? After all the hype, was this blustering incompetence really the best the War Room could muster?
It wasn’t. Alberta Views has learned the intimate details of a top-secret first phase in the War Room’s launch, the demise of which explains the striking failures of the organization’s public debut. The War Room was in fact up and proactively running within days of Kenney’s May 2019 press conference, and a reporter for this magazine recently obtained the War Room Duty Officer’s log from an anonymous source. (The source was definitely not a disillusioned Derek Fildebrandt; don’t even go there.)
Here are some of the most revealing entries from that log.
Timestamp: 17 June 2019, 09:03:23
On the job! The team is PUMPED! Early scans of traditional and social media, police scanners, anonymous tipster fax lines and a quick street sweep by the Kahanoff Centre so far coming up clean. But we’re on the case! Bring it, foreign-funded haters! Your days of bullying Alberta oil are over!
Timestamp: 19 June 2019, 14:07:09
Was hoping for a livelier start. No credible attempts to shut down our industry so far. Keeping troops occupied with training and protocol. Some confusion regarding how to properly identify enemies. Also some internal debate on what constitutes “proactive” War Room activity. Have asked for clarification from the Premier’s office. In the meantime, I’ve urged one overly enthusiastic team member not to act on his plan to accost Pembina Institute staffers on the street.
Timestamp: 20 June 2019, 08:44:51
Premier’s office has advised to stop referring to staff as “troops.” Now in reluctant compliance.
Timestamp: 24 June 2019, 15:22:33
Still waiting for first “hot” rapid response opportunity. Staff all assigned to foreign radical background research, beginning with thorough backscrolling of Vivian Krause’s Twitter feed. Several staff flagged entry on 7 June 2019 for follow-up:
Timestamp: 28 June 2019, 16:05:15
Huge day, morale is soaring! Several research initiatives late last week have paid dividends. Located two possible foreign moles in senior positions in Alberta’s oil patch.
Timestamp: 28 June 2019, 16:55:47
Have been advised to stand down on both targets. Email subject line from Premier’s office rendered in both boldface and allcaps. Seems excessive.
Timestamp: 2 July 2019, 10:49:06
Teachable moment in this morning’s staff meeting. Reviewing the day’s media attacks on our industry, one staffer found a headline right in our wheelhouse: “Oil Market Outlook is Bearish and OPEC Triumphalism Won’t Stop 2020 From Getting Ugly.” More pessimism is the last thing our industry needs. But on further investigation, source is not some Vancouver Island activist’s blog but Forbes.com.
Timestamp: 2 July 2019, 15:58:29
Preliminary inquiries have determined the editors and producers at CBC and Globe & Mail and Radio-Canada (which a staffer who once visited Quebec assures me is also a TV network despite the name) don’t see us as a credible, objective source for unvarnished truth and accurate data. Foreign-funded job-killing radical thinking goes deeper than we thought in media. Maybe they all went to Soros University. Made note to raise this with the War Room director first thing after Premier’s office appoints one. Not clear which channels we should be targeting and how to get past this accusation of bias against our impartial Energy War Room.
Timestamp: 3 July 2019, 10:33:23
Staff are keen to use social networks to get around foreign-funded radical media. Our first Twitter account, @YestoTMX has been absolutely killing it—despite having only 125 followers, the account overwhelmed Trudeau’s Rockefeller machine and its secret plan to kill Trans Mountain pipeline by buying it with public money. Instead, thanks to relentless tweet pressure, TMX got approved again in June!
Timestamp: 4 July 2019, 15:09:44
Happy Public Inquiry Launch! HUGE day here at the War Room as we watched the Premier announce that Steve “Receipts” Allan will helm the $2.5-million deep dive into the foreign-funded radical campaign to landlock our oil. Stirring to hear of investigation into “premeditated, internationally planned and financed operation to put Alberta energy out of business.” Our bunker felt like NASA Mission Control watching an Apollo rocket rise into the sky, whooping and hugging. Can neither confirm nor deny champagne corks being popped. LOL. A great reminder of our mission’s importance.
Timestamp: 14 July 2019, 16:58:31
Rough week for the team. All were pumped to get digging on Tides and the Rockefellers and connect with the mighty Viv K herself, but no word yet from the Inquiry team. Have been advised not to contact Receipts Allan personally. Instead, I have instructed team to begin filing submissions to AlbertaInquiry.ca, now in development.
Timestamp: 20 July 2019, 14:05:51
Still no word from Receipts Allan. Keeping morale up with proactive Inquiry submissions. Also received word from our operative in Ottawa—no sign of Rockefeller election machine at the US Embassy, but security there is zealous. Asks us to please notify Canadian authorities regarding his detention.
Timestamp: 25 July 2019, 16:31:05
Ran into another tricky rapid response situation today—staffer tracking foreign radical news came across word that Trump is stepping in to keep arms flowing to Saudi Arabia. Premier has been very clear on his opposition to “OPEC dictatorships” and unethical oil—so shouldn’t the War Room go after Trump? Could be a real opportunity for our ethical oil to stand out against US dictatorship-supporting oil, right?
Timestamp: 26 July 2019, 08:22:31
Advised to leave Saudi issue alone. “Do not engage Trump in any way.” Allcaps, bold and italics this time. Not sure how to explain this to the troops. (Yeah, I called them that, Premier’s office, come censor me, why don’t you!)
Timestamp: 1 August 2019, 13:10:10
“Alberta hires former journalist to devise fight-back plan against fossil fuel foes.” This from the CBC today; for once they aren’t the enemy. Don’t know what the Premier’s office is thinking anymore. Morale is in the toilet. We’ve been fighting back for months, and now some retired journalist is here to “devise” a “plan” for us? Nothing against Claudia Cattaneo; she has always defended our industry the way an objective journalist should. But does the Premier value our work at all?
Timestamp: 16 August 2019, 21:55:02
So yeah they said standd down everyone go on holidays so we had, a party. more liek a wake but hey Justin you should spend next week attacking our industyr noone carres. launch a National Energiy Program again nows you’re chance
Timestamp: 26 August 2019, 12:59:16
Natural Resources Canada news release today: “Government of Canada Establishes Canadian Centre for Energy Information.” Justin is trolling us. Where’s Cattaneo’s PLAN to fight back at that, eh? Crickets.
Timestamp: 12 September 2019, 16:00:21
Not sure morale can recover from this. Two days ago, foreign radical group Amnesty International came at the Premier over the inquiry. Their open letter read: “Amnesty International is calling on your government to take immediate steps to ensure that the energy ‘war room,’ the public inquiry, and other aspects of the ‘Fight Back Strategy’ do not go forward in ways that violate or set back human rights.”
Timestamp: 27 September 2019, 16:49:35
Student climate strikes today in Calgary and Edmonton. Didn’t even bother filing any materials with the Premier’s office. Reports indicate some government staff put signs in their Legislature windows reading “I HEART OIL AND GAS.” Sure, that’ll cover it.
Timestamp: 27 September 2019, 17:08:50
Staffer informs me one of the guys with an I HEART OIL AND GAS sign is Matt Wolf, “Executive Director of Issues Management for the Premier of Alberta.” Research turns up he makes $195,000 a year—just for doing our job badly.
Timestamp: 3 October 2019, 09:15:40
Staff busy today producing new team gear, website etc. after the Premier indicated our War Room will be officially named “the Alberta Energy Information Centre.” Great work differentiating it from Justin’s Canadian Centre for Energy Information, Mr. Premier. Did your director of issues management advise you on that one?
Timestamp: 3 October 2019, 22:10:37
Major attack on our industry from the National Observer, a publication high on our Crazed Pinkos list, came to our attention late this afternoon. Article is entitled “A data-based dismantling of Jason Kenney’s foreign-funding conspiracy theory,” by a reporter already well known to us, a serial industry assassin named Sandy Garossino. Took this one on myself, figured it would be easily rebutted—if “the Alberta Energy Information Centre” even does that kind of work now.
Timestamp: 9 October 2019, 13:17:20
War Room director finally named today—Tom Olsen, another ex-Postmedia journalist, ran communications for Ed Stelmach. Staff spent morning scrubbing all evidence of Stelmach’s “For the Record” website, which Olsen ran and which made six posts in two years, 2008–2010, correcting errors in reporting on our industry. Staff not exactly inspired by proactiveness of director’s previous work. Olsen says there will be three units—our rapid response team, an “energy literacy” unit, and a “data and research” unit. This is not the war we signed up for.
Timestamp: 12 October 2019, 10:47:06
War Room—sorry, Canadian Energy Centre—taking flak today because it won’t be subject to freedom of information laws. Government spokesperson said, “This would provide a tactical and/or strategic advantage to the very foreign-funded special interests the CEC is looking to counter. For example, we would not let those foreign-funded special interests seeking to attack our province see our detailed defence plans.” I wonder if WE will ever see those plans. Maybe there aren’t any.
Timestamp: 17 October 2019, 15:31:01
Greta Thunberg in Edmonton today. Marched with thousands. Should have been red alert, DEFCON 1, everyone-to-their-battle-stations event for our War Room. Instead we followed it on Twitter like a bunch of schmucks. Didn’t even tweet. They had some of those I HEART OIL SANDS signs in the windows at the Leg again.
“Canadian Energy Centre” had no response, unless you count my resignation.
Chris Turner is the author of The Patch (Simon & Schuster), which won Canada’s 2018 National Business Book Award.