NDP Opposition Energy Critic Irfan Sabir when he was a minister of the Crown (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Having swallowed much of the United Conservative Party’s unlikely conspiracy theory about what supposedly ails the Alberta oilpatch during its term in office makes it harder for the NDP to convincingly criticize the Kenney Government’s $30-million-a-year “Energy War Room.”

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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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 Energy Minister Sonya Savage on Dec. 11, this was an easy case for Mr. 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 Energy Ministry 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,” Mr. Sabir told the assembled media.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But what about the fact 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 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, Mr. 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.”

Postmedia political columnist Don Braid (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

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.

Mr. 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 august 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 Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.

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.

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  1. The so called “war room” as christened by Mr. Kenney, before trying to rename it with a more respectable name, makes for such a tempting and easy target. It is no surprise the NDP opposition is going after it. I only wonder why they didn’t sooner, but they probably figured it was best to let the war room and the UCP shoot themselves in the foot for a while.

    For any government, competence is one of the most fundemental issues and the war room seems to be a great demonstration of the lack of it. Yes, there are other issues around the war room, but I suspect competence is the one that might resonate best with voters, regardless of how they feel about our energy industry.

    Mr. Braid is serving the UCP well by saying unofficially what they can’t say yet officially – the war room is a mess and they may have to pull the plug on it or at least have a major reorganization. His reward for being so helpful? Maybe an offer of a good paying position with a quasi independent communications entity, which may need new staff soon. Of course, Mr. Braid may conclude he has better job security where he is now than with such a troubled entity and pass on that. Maybe something better will come up later if he continues to be helpful.

    The cozy relationship between some in the media and the government is perhaps a vestige from the time when Alberta was more of a one party state. Maybe this is why often some of the best coverage of Albertas government’s more inept or shady deals come from out of province media.

    1. “Maybe this is why often some of the best coverage of Alberta’s government’s more inept or shady deals come from out of province media.”
      Or blogs like Albertapolitics and daveberta.ca

    2. I think our host’s key point is this: is government incompetence in something it shouldn’t be doing in the first place, really something to criticize? Imagine, for example, a building being targeted by an incompetent arsonist, and the fire he tries to start fizzles out with little damage. Would you rather a more competent arsonist burns the place to the ground?

      The incompetence of the War Room should not be our biggest concern.

  2. What? The Ministry of Truth fibs!?! OMG! What will the Ministry of Hypocrisy have to say about that?

  3. A $30 million a year boondoggle is nothing to sneer at — especially if you’re a university student facing annual seven per cent tuition hikes; an AISH recipient no longer entitled to COLA; or a senior hard-pressed to pay for increases in medically necessary prescriptions because of government intervention designed to sweeten the province’s bottom line. Alberta voters should rightfully be offended by this gross political charade.

    When the Keystone Cops are in charge of the legislature and the province’s propaganda arm to boot, one can only shake their head in total dismay at the incompetence and continued obfuscation and deflection engineered to defend this boondoggle by this band of conservative cretins whose mission and raison d’être is dedicated to “disproving true facts.” Sad!

  4. For Jan 6 they tell us:
    “GHGSat-D, took flight in 2016 thanks to a collaboration between COSIA, Suncor Energy Inc. and Montreal-based GHGSat Inc”
    The oilcos had nothing to do with launching the satellite. They are merely a few of GHGSat’s many data customers around the world.

    The Jan 7 effort “by CEC Staff” (don’t their “reporters” want a personal byline?) is the puffiest yet. They really have nothing to say.

  5. My late, maternal grandmother aspired to British aristocracy, despite descending from bakers, a noble art, if not ennobling, from way back in the motherland, ancestors who only graduated to jewellers in the Canadian colonies—that is, many generations ago. Nevertheless, she had a penchant for putting on aires, stiff-upper-lip dismissals of adversity as if it didn’t exist, and the liberal use of fifty-dollar words in her somewhat contrived speech. One was “fulsome.”

    Now, her daughter (my mother who looks well on her way to matching my grandmother’s hundred years of age—or, perhaps, exceeding it as my great-grandmother was said to have done) used to fun, when I was a boy, at her mother’s expense, like my grandmother’s use of “fulsome” (she had a haughty way of saying such words as she thought were undefined in our younger minds—the quality of which she was sure were going to pot. Fairly sure, for sure).
    “She’s using it wrong, but she doesn’t know it,” my mother would snicker without her presence—for the benefit of us grandkids, I guess.

    The way DJC uses “fulsome” in the context of the UCP War Room, therefore, confused me enough to get up to the dictionary lectern to check (when I remembered these early vignettes of my mother and hers). That is, it might work ambiguously: for example, it could mean in the UCP context, “adj. 1 disgusting by excess of flattery, servility, or expressions of affection; excessive, cloying.” I suppose this definition depends on one’s point of view or opinion, but “expressions of affection” doesn’t quite jibe, at least it seems to me, from mine.

    Now, my little dictionary (Oxford Concise… Current English, 1990) does also say of “fulsome” that its use is disputed: “disp. 2 copious.”and advises that “fulsome praise [again, incongruent with UCP from my point of view]…means ‘excessive’, not ‘generous’,” the latter probably being what my grandmother mistook it for; I suppose ‘excessive’ might be applied to the War Room, again, from a certain points of view like mine.

    I have an older Oxford Concise (1950), says much the same. But I recall my mother snickering about something more puerile (like only parents can make their adult children), something more, shall I say, scatological, more like, if I may be excused, ‘full of shit’, that is, related more to “foul”, as in, ‘*foulsome’. Both the lectern and dictionary available to my mother at the time, family heirlooms, were substantially bigger and older than the ones I have today, containing many words now considered anachronisms. Anyway, my mother was fairly sure of her point, both she and her mother being crossword and Scrabble freaks (and grandmother having her lexical aires). I’m reticent to doubt her, even now (and I’m in my sixties).

    Anyways, if the somewhat ambiguous use of the word in DLC’s blog above agrees with my mother’s interpretation of it, I’m certainly good with that. Even as sarcasm, which it could also be interpreted as.

    I need not repeat what the UCP and its War Room are full of.

  6. Don Braid’s journalism career is clearly long since died, if it lived at all.

    He is no more than a talking-parrot for the UCP, presenting supposedly critical opinions that are meant to deflect controversy away from the UCP’s never ending gongshow. His column was no more than a puff piece, claiming that the government was troubled by the Centre’s endless tide of stupid and moronic missteps. The purpose of the column was to present the notion that the government intends to fix and adjust the Centre’s operations, toward improving their messaging. The reality, however, is that the government has no intention of reining in the gang of idiots and partisan hacks employed by the Centre. It’s a slush fund for UCP hacks and unemployables for their hard partisan work. They have been rewarded for being loyal Kenney acolytes, like so many that have benefited from Kenney’s largess and glad handing over his entire political career.

    Considering that Albertans are the stupidest people alive, they will go along with all these nonsense antics because…whatever. Trudeau’s worse.

  7. The cost of the amusement provided by the war room is nothing compared to the corporate tax cut Kenney’s UCP gave to the oil industry. This gift to the oil industry from the people of Alberta is estimated to be between $2.4 and $4.7 billion. This is not an inconsiderable amount, although a bit cheap compared to the Notley cave in on oil royalties.

    So aside from the general hilarity about the war room what did we get for our money? No new jobs, program and service cutbacks, and almost nothing done to clean up the mess they are leaving on farm and ranch land across Alberta. Speaking of hilarious, let’s not forget the $2.5 million the inquiry is being paid to read Greenpeace news releases.

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