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Tourism officials in northeastern England are both pleased and baffled by a new $25-million Alberta rebranding campaign that features a photo of children frolicking on one of its North Sea beaches.

While the tagline on the advertisement reads: "Alberta: Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve.", the Alberta government has confirmed the photo was taken near the English village of Bamburgh in Northumberland. The photo also appears in an Alberta promotional video that has been posted on YouTube.

"If it helps Northumberland and the U.K., we are really happy about that," Sheelagh Caygill, a spokesperson for Northumberland Tourism Ltd., said in an interview yesterday.

However, despite all the free and unexpected publicity for Northumberland, Ms. Caygill, who used to live in Alberta, is surprised the province would use an English beach photo. "Alberta is a beautiful province and it's got lots of fantastic scenery. I don't think it needs to look to Britain to promote itself."

When the story about the controversial photo was first published earlier this week in an Edmonton newspaper, the Alberta government stood by the use of the images.

"There's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta," Tom Olsen, a spokesman for Premier Ed Stelmach, told the Edmonton Journal.

"There's no attempt to mislead. That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do."

However, in an interview yesterday, Mr. Olsen said the still advertisement was "an error" and was quietly yanked a few weeks ago. The Premier's office wasn't notified about the decision to pull it until yesterday afternoon, he explained.

Mr. Olsen said the government still supports using the image in the promotional video. "It's symbolic of the future children and the world," he said.

In the video, the text on the Northumberland beach photo reads: "And the future. Not just our own, but of the world."

Alberta opposition politicians quickly ridiculed the government's explanations surrounding the photo flap.

"Most lame spin ever," Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said.

Mr. Mason said the rebranding campaign should exclusively showcase Albertans and "real" Alberta scenery.

Tourism Minister Cindy Ady told reporters that her department wasn't involved in the rebranding campaign (it was spearheaded by an Edmonton-based public-relations firm). However, she noted the government has thousands of images of the province socked away in a photo library.

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