Breakenridge: It’s time to put the war room out of its misery

It seemed harsh and premature in early January to declare, as the opposition NDP did, that the Canadian Energy Centre (a.k.a. the war room) was a “costly, ridiculous failure” and needed to be shut down.

But sitting here a month and a half later, it’s now hard to disagree with that argument. After the latest round of gaffes and embarrassments for the Canadian Energy Centre, it’s become clear that the time is now for the Alberta government to cut its losses and put an end to this experiment. This approach clearly isn’t working and it’s impossible to see how the centre’s $30-million annual budget can still be defended.

Premier Jason Kenney has frequently invoked the spirit of Premier Ralph Klein in pressing ahead with tough decisions in the face of fierce opposition. But it’s time for him to invoke the Klein spirit in another important way: knowing when to admit you were wrong and being willing to change direction.

In a way, it’s almost unfortunate that the NDP called for the war room to be shut down, given how politics these days seems to mean never conceding a point to your political opponents. But the inevitable “we told you so” from the NDP will lose a lot of its political sting if the government is seen to be genuinely candid and contrite in acknowledging its mistake and correcting course.

It’s been relatively easy as of late to forget that the centre exists at all, but they were certainly garnering attention last week amid a spate of apologies and deleted tweets.

First was a retweet that showed up on the centre’s Twitter feed, spreading an inaccurate claim about the emissions from the proposed Teck Frontier oilsands mine. When the war room was called out on the tweet, the response was, “Whoops. That was done in error. I was givener this morning and got a little carried away. Sorry about that.”

Now, it’s a little alarming that it’s that easy for false information to be sent out by such a well-funded operation, especially since its stated mission is to counter misinformation about the oil and gas industry. If you dabble in misinformation, it’s a lot harder to lecture others about doing so.

That was followed by a lengthy Twitter thread on the centre’s account in response to a New York Times article about international investors turning sour on fossil fuels. The centre’s response, however, went in several strange directions, enough so that the tweets were deleted and the CEO himself apologized.

Tom Olsen said the tone of the tweets “did not meet CEC’s standard for public discourse” and that there would be a new response to the New York Times article posted. It’s hard to see how the second go-around on that would have much credibility.

There’s been a serious and arguably fatal erosion of credibility for the centre, but that’s assuming people are reading its work in the first place. The centre’s Twitter account only has about 5,800 followers and most of its tweets have little to no interaction. How is any of this changing hearts and minds?

And what void is being filled by the centre in the first place? The industry group CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) and the grassroots organization Canada Action both have much larger social media footprints than the centre and both do a much better job in communicating the importance and ingenuity of the oil and gas industry and responding to the industry’s critics. The same could even be said of Energy Minister Sonya Savage herself.

We’re at a crucial point when it comes to several major pipeline and oilsands projects and we can’t just traipse along pretending that the war room is effective or hoping that it eventually will be. The centre is not moving the needle in any significant way, and its foibles only serve to discredit the very message it’s supposed to be spreading.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays 12:30-3:30pm on 770 CHQR


  Twitter: @RobBreakenridge

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