Have you ever seen an advertisement that makes you go, huh?
Consider the Alberta government’s “Yes to TMX on June 18” ad campaign.
A casual observer would have to do a Google search to figure out what the ad is all about.
TMX, of course, stands for the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, which would carry Alberta crude to Burnaby, B.C., on the Pacific coast.
But, no, there isn’t a national referendum next Tuesday on whether to go ahead with the project. No one wants your vote – not even Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
June 18 is the day the federal cabinet decides whether to give the go-ahead to an expansion of the pipeline, following court-mandated consultations with First Nations.
Even MPs don’t get a say on this one. Just 35 cabinet ministers.
And it’s not like there is any doubt about what the cabinet will do. The federal government bought the pipeline last year from Houston-based Kinder Morgan for the sole purpose of getting it built. Government lawyers have fought in court to overcome the last remaining legal hurdles. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others in cabinet have repeatedly said they want the pipeline built.
Strange, then, that Alberta would spend nearly $3-million on billboards and newspaper ads across the country, including a series of two-page ads in The Globe and Mail, which feature cryptic lines such as: “Another delay, another hospital unbuilt.”
Don’t get us wrong, Mr. Kenney. Given the difficult economic environment for newspapers, we’re grateful for your financial support. But it might have been quicker and cheaper to pick up the phone, and reach out to those 35 ministers. Or if you’re too busy, robo-calls.
Alberta’s ad campaign has little to do with June 18. It’s about winning the pipeline debate next month, next year and beyond.
And to do that, a solid majority of Canadians will have to rally around the notion that pipelines to get Alberta oil to foreign markets are in the national economic interest.
And for that, Mr. Kenney does want your support.
Several polls, however, suggest he’s preaching to the choir. A solid majority of Canadians support the construction of new oil pipelines, including TMX. Even in B.C., a still-healthy majority backs the pipeline.
It makes some sense for Alberta to sell the benefits of the pipeline in the Vancouver area, where opposition to the pipeline is fiercest. And it is.
Alberta has been running billboards in and around Vancouver with the pointed message: “Want cheaper gas? Try more supply. Tell Premier [John] Horgan to support TMX pipeline.”
Perhaps Mr. Kenney also fears that Ottawa will drag its feet on getting shovels in the ground, after the cabinet approval.
That’s the rational explanation for all the advertising elsewhere in the country.
But the “yes to TMX” message is also for consumption in Alberta. Canada is increasingly a country of two solitudes – Alberta, and the rest. And many Albertans have bought into the ridiculous conspiracy that Ottawa only bought Trans Mountain pipeline to make sure the expansion never gets built.
If true, it would be a very expensive and convoluted scheme to kill the project. The federal government spent $4.5-billion to buy the pipeline, and is poised to commit at least another $9-billion to nearly triple its existing capacity.
That kind of money would buy many hospitals, or schools.
Surely, a no-vote by cabinet next Tuesday would be a much easier way to kill the project, if that’s what Ottawa wanted.
Of course, that is not going to happen. The cabinet will give an unequivocal thumbs-up to TMX this week.
Mr. Kenney can claim victory, telling Albertans that his get-tough stand on pipelines is delivering results. He’s set himself up as the pipeline’s saviour, and its staunchest advocate.
And by default, he can tar Mr. Trudeau as the bad guy, determined to thwart Alberta’s economic interests at every juncture.
But he’s not fooling anyone in the rest of the country. The ads aren’t likely to change the minds of Canadians, or the federal cabinet. It appears they’re already made up.
This is more about political theatre, not advocacy.