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NDP assails Alberta energy war room for 'gross incompetence,' but is that such a bad thing?

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NDP Opposition energy critic Irfan Sabir when he was a minister of the Crown. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Having swallowed much of the United Conservative Party's conspiracy theory about what ails the Alberta oilpatch during its term in office makes it harder for the NDP to criticize the Kenney government's $30-million-a-year energy war room.

To give the Opposition its due, though, yesterday they tried.

After three weeks of watching excruciating self-inflicted fumbles being committed by the war room's brain trust, NDP energy critic Irfan Sabir called a news conference yesterday to accuse the government's public-private propaganda partnership of "gross incompetence."

With a top ten list in hand of unintentionally hilarious war room gaffes, all of which have been discussed fulsomely on social media since the operation was launched by Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Energy Sonya Savage on December 11, this was an easy case for Sabir to make.

So were his arguments that the $82,000 the government is spending on this gong show every day is a waste of money, and that the professional public relations flacks in the Ministry of Energy would certainly do a better job than the UCP loyalists and recycled Calgary Herald journos hired to run the war room.

After all, in addition to approving the use of a couple of apparently plagiarized corporate logos, war room operatives have been caught pretending to be reporters, whinging ineffectually about a school presentation a random parent took issue with, and promising to pick a fight with a reporter from the Medicine Hat News who wrote an unfriendly column, then delivering only a lame press release in response.

"I think you cannot build credibility on that kind of gross incompetence," Sabir told the assembled media.

But what about the fact that a key goal of the war room operation, which the government would prefer us to call the Canadian Energy Centre, is obviously to silence people who criticize continued oilsands expansion on the grounds it presents a threat to the survival of the planet? Or the realization the whole enterprise is based on the preposterous notion that low prices fetched by bitumen mined from Alberta's oilsands are the result of a conspiracy of nefarious agents of the Rockefeller family foundation and European Greens?

On such discreditable and discredited nonsense, Sabir apparently had nothing to say. So it's tempting to conclude there's really not a lot of difference between the NDP and the UCP on what needs to be done, only about how it's being done.

In fact, it's no bad thing that the war room is so badly run. Run competently, it could do considerably more harm to the democratic rights of Albertans and the state of our rapidly heating globe than its efforts have so far produced.

This thought has apparently occurred to those inside Premier Kenney's circle. Postmedia political columnist Don Braid, who seems to be a regular conduit for government thoughts that aren't quite ready for prime time, tweeted last night: "Unhappy with the war room? So is the Kenney government."

He linked to a column, which isn't quite as definitive, but which told readers "UCP patience is fading, although not yet exhausted…"

As previously predicted in this space, it seems likely there will be a shakeup in the leadership of the war room soon.

Braid touched lightly on the war room's "terms of use" -- directing his readers to the amusing statement that "we do not warrant the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of this information."

Well, that does seem like an odd thing to say for an organization supposedly dedicated to setting the record straight. But, in half-hearted defence of the war room's effort, these are litigious times and even The Globe and Mail nowadays publishes a weasely disclaimer! ("The information on this site is for information purposes only. The Globe and Mail Inc., its affiliates and content licensors assume no liability for any inaccurate, delayed or incomplete information, nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon.")

The terms of use get weirder when they blunder into the territory of what users have supposedly agreed to do -- for example, not link to any page except the war room home page, and not say anything that damages the reputation of the Canadian Energy Centre.

Unlike the Calgary IT company site from which the terms appear to have been borrowed, however, the war room site has no acceptance button, so it seems improbable government-owned private company would have much luck enforcing terms of use to which users have not agreed.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga.

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