Strange silence from U of W


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/09/2015 (2837 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the University of Winnipeg wasn’t ready Friday with a communications strategy when the Alberta government named president Annette Trimbee to a four-person panel reviewing the highly-contentious royalty rates on Alberta’s oil and gas industry.

I should point out right up front that the person with whom I usually deal at UW was not working that day.

This review is a national story — I think the Alberta panel made second story on CBC radio’s national news that day.

And for such a major study, it has an incredibly tight timeline and huge workload, reporting to the minister within four months. The energy minister herself said that the four had a very tough job ahead of them.

UW simply wasn’t ready for it — no news release of its own, no well-prepared response. Utter silence.

Adding to the intrigue was Alberta’s news release, which called Trimbee and the other three panelists some of Alberta’s best minds. It identified Trimbee as a former deputy minister of finance in Alberta, which she certainly was.

Emphasize ‘was’.

The ubiquitous aide to the Alberta energy minister told me from the socialist workers’ paradise of Edmonton that if I went to the website mentioned at the bottom of the news release, I would find a link to the panellists’ biographies, in which I would find reference to Trimbee’s currently being president of UW.

Oh. OK.

I called UW, voice mail from my usual campus connection referring me to a person with whom I don’t deal directly all that often.

I was, it goes without saying, full of questions. Why no UW reference to Trimbee in the news release? How often will she be in Edmonton, and for how long? What about her day job in Winnipeg? How much would Alberta be paying her? Did the UW board of regents sign off on this?

There would be absolutely no comment from UW, came the reply, everything I got on this story would have to come from the Alberta government. And no, Dr. Trimbee was not available that day.

Like that wouldn’t get me intrigued about why UW had nothing to say, and get me all curious about what the heck was going on. You refuse to utter even a syllable of explanation and response, you think that won’t get me wondering if you don’t see what’s happening as a good thing?

I asked to speak to Chris Minaker, who, as senior executive officer and advisor to the president, is Trimbee’s campus fixer.

No, Minaker would not be talking to me either.

I fired off emails and calls in all directions, to the faculty and student associations, to Advanced Education Minister James Allum, to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, to the Canadian Association of University Teachers. And, eventually, everyone was very positive about the appointment. Prof. James Turk, former executive director of CAUT, called Trimbee’s work in Alberta a feather in UW’s cap which would signal to the community here what an important person she is.

But if it was such a big and important and positive deal, why was there absolute silence from U of W?

It didn’t last. Word got around, and Minaker soon got back to me, arranging a phone interview with Trimbee and letting me know that the board of regents chair and the chancellor had signed off on Trimbee’s work in Alberta.

Trimbee described the work in detail and assured me that the university was her top priority. She would be in Edmonton once a week this fall, and would use her vacation time, she was accepting only expenses from the Alberta government, and she had made it clear to both Alberta and to the university that U of W would be her clear priority.

So why hadn’t U of W lined all that up beforehand? Why no news release primed to coincide with the Alberta announcement, to ensure that no one here missed the news that UW’s president is so valued and prestigious on a national scale, and that Trimbee is a really big deal?


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