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Robo-gaffe: What do you do when caller-ID says it's a PC on the line and you get the NDP?

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Offending Phone

Memo to politicians: Make sure -- really, really sure -- that when you send out a robocall alerting your constituents to something you’d like them to know about, it says it's from, you know, you.

On Wednesday, Alberta's New Democratic Party sent out an automated voice message on behalf of Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Nicole Goehring inviting her constituents to take part in a "telephone town hall" about the government's planned cap on electricity prices and other issues.

What could possibly go wrong?

What did go wrong was that when the phone messages were sent to 10,000 or so households on Edmonton’s north side, instead of saying "Nicole Goehring" or "Edmonton-Castle Downs Constituency," the caller-ID on many phones read … "Thomas Lukaszuk."

Lukaszuk, of course, is the former Progressive Conservative MLA for the riding, unseated by Goehring in the May 2015 provincial election. A high-profile politician, he was once premier Alison Redford's deputy premier.

This has sparked a tempest, although whether it belongs in a teapot depends a bit on whom you're talking to.

Lukaszuk, who enjoys the limelight, is still very much a public figure, an avid social media user currently engaged in a public scrap with PC leadership front-runner Jason Kenney, the former Harper Government cabinet minister who once famously called Lukaszuk a "complete asshole,” and then hit reply-all on his email application. Lukaszuk has his flaws, but in your blogger's estimation, Kenney's assessment back in 2012 was not accurate.

Getting back to the matter at hand, no one is certain just who is responsible for Wednesday's robo-gaffe -- except for a few conspiracy theorists in the riding, that is, who think the NDP did it on purpose to get Lukaszuk supporters to pick up the phone. Everyone else was apparently mortified.

"Of all the names they could've picked, mine probably wasn't the best one," Lukaszuk observed sardonically yesterday.

"He wouldn’t have been my choice," agreed an embarrassed Garret Spelliscy, the NDP Caucus outreach director, who was responsible for organizing the automated call.

At any rate, it didn't take Lukaszuk long to Tweet out the news about the misidentification. He complained that his voicemail was full of calls from annoyed residents, some of them wondering what the heck he was doing helping out the NDP.

I suppose we can forgive Lukaszuk for being unable to resist suggesting the NDP isn't up to rewriting the province's electricity policy if they "can't set up a phone call." After all, not so long ago it was Lukaszuk who was taking flak for running up a $20,000 cell phone bill -- although it certainly wasn't the NDP that leaked the information to a newspaper in 2014 when he was running against Jim Prentice for the PC leadership.

Count on it, both the NDP Caucus and the civil servants employed by the Legislative Assembly Office, which is responsible for MLA telephone services, will now be hot on the trail of whoever was responsible for leaving Lukaszuk's name cached as the caller ID for the constituency line.

There are theories. Even a Conservative-linked robocall service provider jumped to the NDP's defence on this one. Matt Meier -- associated with Edmonton's RackNine Inc. voice message provider, a name familiar to those who followed the tangled Pierre Poutine robocalls story back in 2012 -- took to Facebook to say he didn't think the NDP could be responsible. The problem was probably the call recipients' telephone carriers, who may not have updated cached identification information, Meier suggested.

This explanation would account for why "Thomas Lukaszuk” seems to have shown up on some phones in the riding, but not others.

Regardless, since automated voice technology is not going to go away, look for a new provincial government policy saying all constituency offices must be identified on caller ID by riding title, not an MLA's name. And watch for the government to take more care in future to prevent similar glitches with the potential for major embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Lukaszuk, who was eventually beaten by Prentice, was also exchanging sharp Tweets yesterday with Kenney's supporters, who announced after the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC Constituency Association’s leadership delegate vote Wednesday night that they had captured all the riding's 15 delegates.

Patent nonsense, said Lukaszuk and many others. The Kenney backers won only three delegates, or at best five if you count two who wouldn't say who they plan to support. Other candidates won the remaining 10 delegates’ support, Kenney's opponents insist.

Of course, as blogger Dave Cournoyer pointed out, in the end they will all go to one candidate or another anyway, rather like the U.S. Electoral College.

In the mean time, however, Lukaszuk accused Kenney's forces of claiming a victory they don't deserve to dishonestly give the impression of momentum.

Lukaszuk would certainly agree with the view that a man who can't even use email properly shouldn't be entrusted with the keys to the premier's office!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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