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Alberta Government

From Bigfoot to Nanaimo: Alberta’s Ads to Influence Other Governments

While Alberta champions its energy interests with taxpayer dollars, critics question the transparency and label the efforts as 'propaganda.'

We all know about the power of advertising, and many of us have succumbed to successful ads, ending up with items in our homes that we never use.

The UCP government proactively uses taxpayer dollars to create ads to promote its interests, particularly defending the province’s oil and gas industry. Below is a list of how your tax dollars are being used to promote the government’s “agenda.”

The not-so-funny thing is Premier Smith’s government is not just promoting her agenda to Albertans; she’s trying to push her views on other provinces and other countries. 

What’s wrong with that? 

Doesn’t our Premier pride herself on telling Ottawa and other provincial leaders to keep their noses out of Alberta’s business?

I guess she thinks there are different rules for her. 

The War Room’s Past Spending Spree

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), known as the “war room,” was established by Jason Kenney’s government to counter what it perceived as misinformation about the province’s oil and gas industry.

One of the ‘projects’ the war room used its money on was to launch a website and petition in 2021 against the Netflix animated children’s movie Bigfoot Family. The online petition created a form letter entitled “Tell the Truth Netflix” addressed to Netflix Canada’s Head of Communications. 

The form letter asked Netflix to use its “powerful platform to tell the true story of Canada’s oil and gas industry, and not contribute to misinformation targeting your youngest, most vulnerable and impressionable viewers.” To date, only 3,577 supporters have filled out the form.

The Bigfoot Family controversy—Bigfootgate—received provincial, national, and international media attention

It made Alberta – or at least the Alberta government – look like a bunch of yokals. It led many to question the value and effectiveness of the Canadian Energy Centre, which had a budget of $12 million for 2021–2022

Screen capture of the Tell the Truth Netflix website
The Tell the Truth Netflix page that is part of the supportcanadianenergy.ca website

New Funding For More War Room Campaigns

The war room got a significant increase in public funding last year. In its latest annual report, 2022, the Centre disclosed a $22-million contract for a media campaign. 

The new funding was for ad campaigns for audiences in the US, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada. 

However, specifics on the $22 million campaign and its outcomes need to be clarified. 

The US Foreign Agent Registry provided some insights documenting that Alberta spent over $159,000 on ads in the Wall Street Journal and allocated $1.7 million from a $3.8 million budget to persuade Americans of the province’s commitment to a well-regulated and safe oil industry.

And the war room is getting even more cash this year. Smith’s government increased funding for 2023 to $31.8 million.

Targeting Nanaimo

The war room budget is focused on responding to anything it perceives as an ‘attack’ on oil and gas.

For instance, the city of Nanaimo recently decided to ban FortisBC’s natural gas hookups in new buildings. 

Alberta’s tax-payer-financed war room immediately initiated a local political campaign to overturn this decision.

To counter Nanaimo’s decision, the CEC has urged oil and gas supporters in the city to inundate the Nanaimo City Council with letters through its associated Support Canadian Energy website

That doesn’t feel like sticking to your own lane. Weren’t similar efforts directed at Alberta’s government the subject of Kenney’s bungling Public Inquiry into anti-Albertan Energy Campaigns? 

This move by the Alberta agency came after Nanaimo’s city council decided to expedite the phaseout of FortisBC gas hookups to align with BC’s climate goals.

This campaign was the first of its kind where the CEC has targeted a municipal government for a local political decision that might be contrary to the interests of major oil companies.

Nanaimo city councillor and former Green Party MP Paul Manly criticized the CEC’s campaign, stating it goes beyond mere lobbying and is an affront to the democratic process. He expressed concerns about provincial interference in local governance, especially from another province.

Screen capture of the Support Canadian Enery website
The landing page of supportcanadianenergy.ca

“Tell the Feds” Campaign

The Smith government–who constantly is warning Ottawa and other provincial leaders to keep their nose out of Alberta’s business–is now running a cross-Canada campaign to try to influence political decisions in other provinces.

It recently launched an $8-million campaign titled “Tell the Feds” ad campaign that has ads run not only in Alberta but also in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

It’s not clear if this campaign is funded by the CEC or through general tax revenues.

Premier Danielle Smith introduced this initiative to counter Ottawa’s draft clean electricity regulations, which she claims will make provincial electricity more expensive and less stable. 

The campaign, which runs until November 2, 2023, encourages citizens to voice their concerns to their respective members of Parliament. 

While some laud these efforts as necessary to defend a vital industry, others question the transparency and efficacy of such expenditures and the use of taxpayers’ dollars for what many call, ‘propaganda.”

As with many ad strategies, the test of success is engagement and action by the audience.

Are these ads the best use of taxpayers’ money? 

And if Premier Smith really believes in “Fortress Alberta” and provincial sovereignty, why is she running expensive ads in other provinces? 

So the next time you hear Premier Smith complaining about Ottawa or BC, perhaps someone should remind her of the old proverb, ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.’

photo of a truck with a billboard on the side
Part of ad strategy for the Tell the Feds ad campaign. Alberta Government

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