Energy war room blunders hurting Alberta's resource industry, NDP says
'Full development of an organization of this nature takes time,' government says
A series of embarrassing blunders by the Canadian Energy Centre has destroyed its credibility and hurt Alberta's resource industry, the Official Opposition NDP charged on Monday.
Irfan Sabir, the NDP's critic on energy issues, called on Premier Jason Kenney to dismantle the CEC, which would save the government $30 million a year.
Sabir listed 10 errors made by the CEC since it launched last month. They included having to abandon its original logo over copyright infringement and failing to tell an interview subject about the CEC's connection to the provincial government.
"That is a lot of failure to pack into three weeks," Sabir, the Calgary-McCall MLA, said at a news conference in Edmonton.
"Kenney's war room isn't just failing to meet its goal, it's actually exposing Alberta to ridicule and providing a platform for opponents of pipeline expansion."
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Energy Minister Sonya Savage is one of the three directors of the Canadian Energy Centre. Her spokesman accused the NDP of not supporting the energy industry and having done little to defend it while in government.
"The NDP criticized the Canadian Energy Centre from before it was even set up, calling for it to be pre-emptively scrapped," Kavi Bal, senior press secretary, wrote in an email to CBC News.
"The centre's official launch was less that a month ago, on Dec. 11, 2019, and the full development of an organization of this nature takes time."
The creation of the centre was part of the United Conservative Party's platform in the spring election.
Kenney vowed to have a rapid-response operation in place to counter what his government considers to be misinformation about the energy industry.
The organization has been criticized for its cost ($120 million over four years) and its secrecy. The government made the CEC a private corporation, which means it isn't subject to freedom of information requests. Kenney said that was done to prevent "foreign-funded special interests" from accessing internal strategic information.
Brad Clark, communications professor at Mount Royal University and a former CBC national reporter, has been watching the CEC's rollout closely over the last month. He said the blunders have affected the organization's credibility.
"I think they're going to have to find their stride to come up with some notable successes," Clark said in an interview on Monday. "I don't know what those would look like, but I don't think you can really say they have a win to date."
Clark said he wondered if the CEC is really countering negative messaging from environmentalists that affected the international reputation of Alberta's oil and gas industry, or if the message is targeted to readers closer to home.
He pointed to the organization's battle with the Medicine Hat News over a critical column that appeared before Christmas.
"It's a bit baffling as to just who the audience is," Clark said. "Is this just another way to speak to the base, the UCP base?"
Two-thirds of the funding for the Canadian Energy Centre comes from fees paid by industry into the government's Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER). The remaining funding comes from money set aside for government advertising campaigns.