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Danielle Smith wants 'energy war room' more closely aligned with premier's office

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says the decision to shuffle the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) – commonly known as the province’s energy war room – into the department of Intergovernmental Relations will help tighten its focus and help its goals.

As part of the move, the centre’s mandate, money and three of its staff members are being moved closer to the premier.

“When we have those big initiatives we have to do, it should be led out of the premier’s office. So that was the thinking behind it,” Smith said.

The government announced the decision on Tuesday, saying the organization will “continue to increase the public's understanding of the role oil and gas plays globally in a secure energy future,” as part of intergovernmental relations.

The war room was created to fight what then-Premier Jason Kenney called energy sector misinformation, but when Smith was elected, funding to the centre was drastically cut. At one time, the CEC had a $31-million budget. More recently, that number is $9 million.

“This is the first stage towards basically dealing with what was a very embarrassing and very costly promotional campaign on the part of the Kenney government,” Trevor Harrison, a political scientist with the University of Lethbridge, said.

The Opposition NDP, however, wants the reorganization investigated by the auditor general. It calls the very heart of the centre’s objectives unnecessary.

“You do not need a war room to communicate the achievement of Alberta or its industry. There’s some really good work that is speaking for itself, and what you need is stable policy,” Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Alberta NDP energy critic, said.

“The objective was to support to sector — so I want to understand how did this help the Alberta energy sector in any way?”

While the centre was taxpayer-funded, it was labelled as a private corporation, exempt from freedom of information legislation.

Shifting the centre under a provincial ministry means it is now under the same rules as the rest of the government, and open to a bit more public scrutiny.

CEO no more

Tom Olsen, the CEO and managing director of the (CEC), revealed he will not be continuing work with the centre, in a post on LinkedIn.

“I am proud of the role a dedicated team of professionals at the CEC has played to advocate on behalf of one of Canada’s most vital industries and I applaud the Government of Alberta’s decision to bring this important work in-house,” he said.

Olsen said he will be working with the government over the next few weeks to help with the transition.

“I am looking forward to moving on to as yet undefined opportunities thereafter,” he said.

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