Not any more

Alberta government launches oilsands ad campaign

In Canada on August 4, 2010 at 08:45

As environmental activists performed acrobatics atop the Calgary Tower on Tuesday, Premier Ed Stelmach prepared to meet his peers in Winnipeg armed with new ads to battle back against antioilsands campaigns.

Greenpeace climbers unfurled a massive banner high above downtown Calgary calling for the provincial and federal governments to stand up to the oil industry.

The sophisticated publicity stunt closed three blocks to traffic and brought dozens of emergency workers to the scene.

But Greenpeace activists argue the weekday disruption was justified, saying neither the province nor Ottawa is closely monitoring the oilsands or making sure companies comply with environmental laws.

"I don’t think it’s fair that in the north they’re destroying huge swaths of land," said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the Stelmach government is spending $268,000 on a two-week prooilsands advertising campaign centred largely in Alberta.

Half-page ads touting the province’s environmental record are expected to run today in Alberta dailies, including the Herald, and next week in the province’s weekly newspapers. The campaign, designed to counter some of the negative publicity, also includes radio spots.

One newspaper ad will run outside Alberta in the Winnipeg Free Press on Thursday to coincide with a meeting of premiers and territorial leaders in that city. That ad encourages Canadians to embrace the oilsands and stresses the Alberta government has regulations to protect land, water and people.

"We supervise and strictly limit water use, monitor air quality 24/7 and require by law that any land used for tailings ponds be returned to a productive state," the promotion states.

The Conservative government is tapping its public affairs budget to pay for the marketing campaign. Last month, the province spent $58,000 for a half-page advertisement in the Washington Post, declaring to Americans: "A good neighbour lends you a cup of sugar. A great neighbour supplies you with 1.4 million barrels of oil per day."

The advertisement was directed at American politicians who oppose the proposed Keystone XL oilsands pipeline.

NDP Leader Brian Mason blasted the government’s latest campaign as "propaganda" and as wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

He said the Conservatives should focus on improving oversight of oilsands development, noting government documents of oilsands incidents — released last week by Alberta ecologist Kevin Timoney — show the province rarely punishes environmental offenders.

"The government is spending a lot of our money trying to convince us that they’re doing a good job in regulating the environmental aspect of the oilsands and it’s simply not true," Mason said. "Actions speak louder than ads, and so far, they have not taken the action necessary to actually, and really, clean up the oilsands."

Stelmach spokesman Jerry Bellikka said the Alberta government stands behind its environmental efforts in the oilsands. Depending on the campaign’s success, the government may run more ads in Canada and overseas.

"Since we took out the ad in the Washington Post, people have been telling us that they like the fact that the premier is standing up for Alberta and standing up for the oilsands," Bellikka said. "What we’re trying to do is get out factual information about oilsands development."

Stelmach arrives in Winnipeg today for the Council of the Federation’s three-day meeting. Provincial and territorial leaders are expected to discuss issues such as immigration, climate change and Canada-U. S. relations.

Stelmach will lead a discussion on the importance of the oilsands to the Canadian economy, job creation and North America’s energy supply.

"The benefits of Alberta’s oilsands extend well beyond our provincial borders," Stelmach said on Tuesday.

In government advertisements targeting Albertans, residents are being encouraged to "tell it like it is" and spread a positive message about the oilsands. The campaign is partly a response to anti-bitumen ads launched last month that encourage Americans to boycott visiting Alberta due to its management of the oilsands.

A new Leger Marketing poll, conducted for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, shows about two-thirds of 900 Albertans surveyed believe those American-based ads will hurt the tourism industry. However most of the respondents (54 per cent) suspect the impact will be small.

"The environmental ads are definitely a concern for Albertans," said Reynold Tetzlaff of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Tetzlaff noted the ads are one of several challenges facing the tourism industry, including a high Canadian dollar, economic struggles and increased border security.

"Time will tell what these ads and all these other factors are going to do to Alberta tourism."

Whether other factors, such as protests, are able to sway voters is another question.

David Taras, Ralph Klein chair of media studies at Mount Royal University, said in the past, Alberta and Canadian voters haven’t responded to Greenpeace tactics.

"Political stunts that are meant to get a few minutes in the news don’t add up to much politically."

Taras said the provincial government ads will do little unless the public believes Alberta is genuinely pursuing action on the environment.

"They see, in fact, there was a cutback in the last budget" for the environment department, Taras said. "Unless people see your message as being true, it’s likely to backfire."

Leger Marketing conducted the telephone survey from July 16 to 28. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

kcryderman@theherald.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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