NDP calls on UCP to scrap contentious energy war room

By Catherine Griwkowsky January 7, 2020

NDP Energy critic Irfan Sabir called on the government to disband its $30-million energy war room, following a series of gaffes he says undermines its credibility.
Since the war room formally launched as the Canadian Energy Centre in December, it has been criticized for one plagiarized logo, another potentially plagiarized logo, its employees identifying as reporters and the performance of its content on social media.
“The so-called Canadian Energy Centre spends $82,000 of Alberta taxpayers’ money every single day, but hasn’t created anything but ridicule,” Sabir told reporters at a news conference on Monday. “It’s done nothing to advance the cause of Alberta’s energy sector and has only, if anything, created a new platform for opponents of our oil and gas industry.”
Kavi Bal, press secretary to Energy Minister Sonya Savage, defended the CEC’s ongoing work. “The full development of an organization of this nature takes time,” he told AB Today in an emailed statement that also took jabs at the NDP’s record on the energy file. 
“They sat on their hands while foreign funded special interests attacked Alberta’s reputation — even appointing the likes of Tzeporah Berman to co-chair their Oil Sands Advisory Group,” Bal said. “This government was elected to defend the interests of Alberta and its energy sector. The Canadian Energy Centre will continue to work to fulfill that commitment.”
Sabir said he doesn’t have a problem with government standing up for the energy industry, but he criticized the CEC for its secrecy and for lacking metrics of success.
The war room has also attempted to intimidate critics, Sabir alleged, pointing to activist Steven Lee, founder of the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship, who says he was contacted by the CEC ahead of a talk he was scheduled to give at a Calgary high school. Lee said it was “intimidating” that a government-funded body would go after his work.
Writers for the CEC are also facing scrutiny for identifying themselves as reporters and not disclosing the organization’s purpose when requesting interviews. 
For one of the website’s stories, a freelancer interviewed B.C.-based Donald Gyurkovits, president of the Canadian Culinary Federation. Gyurkovits said he felt betrayed when he learned the interview was used for political purposes.
The Canadian Association of Journalists called CEC employees’ use of the term reporter “Orwellian.”
Social media accounts run by the CEC have received considerable online scorn. Videos posted to YouTube were heavily downvoted and have since been deleted.
The CEC’s official Twitter account has roughly the same number of followers (4,923) as one parody account @ABWarRoom (4,934).
Sabir also called out inconsistencies in the terms of use on the CEC’s website, noting the CEC is mandated to be a “rapid response unit,” but its website claims its online materials may be out of date at any given time. The terms of use also say the CEC does not stand behind the “accuracy, completeness or usefulness” of the information it provides. “Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk,” the site ads. 
“That’s a lot of failure to pack into three weeks,” Sabir said.
The CEC did not respond to a request for comment.