A public relations fight has broken out in Alberta on two fronts.
In one battle, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives announced Tuesday that they are sending out a glossy, full-colour, eight-page “Report to Taxpayers” touting government initiatives amid tough times.
On another front, an Alberta Federation of Labour commercial titled “Fat cat thanks Albertans for making him soooo wealthy” that has been attracting applause – and laughs – in movie theatres across the province is also attracting clicks on youtube.com.
But the government’s budget brochure hasn’t proved as popular and came under attack in the legislature during Question Period on Tuesday. The document, which cost taxpayers an estimated $350,000, features a blue- and orange-hued cover, which critics complained are PC Party colours and, they say, contains “partisan” information.
This year, the Tories unveiled a controversial budget, which included cuts to services, showed a $1.975-billion deficit, and planned to borrow $11.6-billion over three years for infrastructure.
The government brochure details the most recent budget and also how the province has been hit by declines in oil revenues.
In the legislature, Official Opposition Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith held up the document and described it as “a PC-branded propaganda piece disguised as a government brochure.”
“How much more of [these] blatantly partisan political stunts are taxpayers going to have to pay for?” she said.
Ms. Redford, whose popularity has been sliding in recent polls and who has been attacking the Wildrose in campaign-style speeches including those attended by school children, responded by holding aloft a Wildrose budget document and suggesting it contains misrepresentations and was also paid for by taxpayers.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’re going to deliver that fact-based document to 1.2 million households this week,” Ms. Redford said in defending her own brochure.
Finance Minister Doug Horner also weighed into the debate, saying the government won’t apologize for “communicating to Albertans” at a cost of 29 cents per household. He said it was needed to show Albertans the “mistruths” being spread by the Wildrose document, which he also held up.
(Ms. Smith said her party’s document cost $100 and is available online.)
Meanwhile, the labour federation’s anti-government video, which cost $50,000 to produce and another $185,000 to place in every first-run theatre, is an openly partisan ad featuring a man in a palatial office pouring libations and dining on ice cream drenched with gold sprinkles.
“Hello Albertans!” the actor says, “I would like to thank you personally for making me so incredibly wealthy. Charging me next to nothing in taxes and royalties to dig your oil really helped out. And, your province’s government’s underfunding of health care and education, so I could make even more millions.”
The ad, which began its six-week run last month as part of the Better Way Alberta campaign, ends by saying: “Alberta shouldn’t be running out of money for essential services.”
“It’s a tongue-and-cheek attempt to engage Albertans in a conversation about a very serious issue,” explained AFL president Gil McGowan. “Budget cuts and how we pay for our vital public services.”
Mr. McGowan said taxes on the rich and corporations as well as royalty rates the government receives from resources are too low.
Political scientist Duane Bratt with Mount Royal University in Calgary said there’s a difference between the two approaches: “AFL is an interest group. [The] Alberta government is supposed to be government, and not a branch of the PC Party.”
Partisan material masquerading as government information happens in all jurisdictions, he added.
“Fancy an Economic Action Plan update?” Prof. Bratt said, pointing to continuing federal Conservative government communications. “But Alberta has always been worse.”