Alberta’s premier says staff in the province’s so-called energy “war room” will be able to quickly take on industry foes without government bureaucracy holding them back.
The office — to be based in Calgary with a $30-million budget — is meant to take on critics of Alberta’s oil and gas industry in real time.
“We’re not perfect but we’re orders of magnitude better than any of the other energy producers around the world,” Premier Jason Kenney said Friday. “That’s a message that we need to tell without apology.”
WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney explains what the energy war room is and what he hopes it will achieve.
Kenney and Energy Minister Sonya Savage met with industry players on Friday to get advice on how the war room should work.
He said he hopes to have it up and running by the end of the summer and that it will be staffed by government employees and, potentially, contractors.
Kenney shrugged off the notion that the operation will only serve to galvanize the environmental groups it’s meant to target, saying a defensive posture in the past hasn’t worked.
“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can strap its boots on,” Kenney said. “We can’t allow that to continue.”
But critics of the war room believe the concept is a distraction from the fight against climate change.
“Jason Kenney can spend $30 million on political theatre,” Greenpeace senior energy strategist Keith Stewart said in a statement. “Shooting the messenger might make for great election campaign rhetoric, but ignoring inconvenient truths does nothing to prepare Alberta for the coming transition off of fossil fuels.”
Kenney admitted that gauging the war room’s success will be tough, but one measure will be whether there is a shift in public opinion about Alberta’s energy industry.
WATCH: ‘The goal of the energy war room is to tell the truth’ — Kenney
Kenney said the war room will shed some of the usual shackles of government communications, adding that taking hours or even days to approve a message won’t cut it.
“Government communications are, by nature, a little bureaucratic and tend to be a bit slow moving and risk-averse,” he said.
“The energy war room 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 communications.”
The war room is receiving praise from the energy industry.
Tundra Process Solutions Ltd. distributes industrial process equipment like instruments, valves, drives and motors.
Eighty per cent of Tundra’s business is in the oil and gas sector and the company has felt the effects of the downturn over the last five years, even cutting jobs.
WATCH: Kenney calls on federal government to listen on Bill C-69
But CEO Iggy Domalgalski believes a well-funded government-run advocacy group will be positive for the industry.
“There’s Canada Action, the Modern Miracle Network, and a lot of groups like that who do operate on very small budgets but are making a meaningful impact,” Domalgalski, said. “To have a government-led, $30-million organization — I think that will have a huge impact and I’m hopeful they’ll be able to really advance the ball on getting some of these major pipelines built.”
The war room isn’t the first effort the government has unveiled to try and sway public perception of Alberta energy.
Last month, Alberta’s energy minister unveiled the “Yes to TMX” multimedia campaign in Ottawa at a cost of $1.65 million; the full cost of the campaign in other cities is not yet known.
That campaign is acting as the replacement for the former NDP government’s “Keep Canada Working” campaign, which ran on TV, radio, print, online and billboards with a total budget of $31 million.
A war room leader has not been named yet.
Several industry players took part in the roundtable discussion, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Canada Action and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Vivian Krause was also in attendance. Krause is a B.C.-based researcher and blogger who discovered large financial contributions from the U.S to anti-pipeline groups.
“I think Premier Kenney and his staff have a very daunting challenge,” she said. “We need smart policy, we need wise policy so we find this very delicate balance that we need.”
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