STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Conservatives Reward Friends with Tar Sands Denial Contract

Posted by mhudema on July 4, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Alberta Conservatives pay off buddies with tax money.

Rebranding Alberta contract awarded to Tory-friendly ad firm
Link downplayed, but opposition parties say money best spent elsewhere
Published June 26, 2008 by Trevor Howell

There is no end to the crap this outfit goes into.

On June 20, an advertising firm with ties to Premier Ed Stelmach’s campaign team was awarded a $25-million contract to “rebrand” Alberta. With little fanfare and no official announcement by the Alberta government, Calder Bateman Communications and Identica (a division of Cossette Communications Group) were given the lucrative contract. Margaret Bateman, a co-founder of Calder Bateman, is a former managing director of the government’s Public Affairs Bureau, the department that awarded the contract. She is also listed as a member of Stelmach’s election campaign team.

The awarding of the contract comes just six months after the NDP requested the Alberta auditor general investigate another Tory-connected ad firm. Highwood Communications Ltd., owned by Barry Styles, has received more than $41 million in government-related advertising contracts in the past decade. Styles is also listed as a member of the Conservative election campaign team.
According to Public Affairs Bureau spokesperson Sonia Piano, a committee of representatives from different government ministries and members of the Public Affairs Bureau conduct the selection process. More than 80 advertising firms initially applied for the new $25-million contract that will see $5 million paid out the first year and $10 million the following two years.
Frank Calder, co-founder of Calder Bateman Communications, downplayed the link between Bateman and the premier as a reason for being awarded the contract, adding other firms with “very strong Tory associations” were unsuccessful with their own bids. He was unable to provide any specific details on how the campaign will be run by the two ad firms, saying, “It’s generally not our place to discuss what priorities the government might have.”

According to NDP leader Brian Mason, while there is no doubt Calder Bateman has connections to the Conservative party, he says the ad firm is very reputable. What concerns him is that the government is ignoring the impact of the oilsands on the environment, which leaves Alberta’s economy vulnerable to an environmental backlash that may result in fewer investments in the province. “Unless there’s a real effort on the government’s part to actually clean up the tar sands and adopt more environmentally friendly practices [the rebranding campaign] is not going to work,” says Mason. “It’s like the tobacco companies taking out ads to convince people that cigarettes are safe. People just won’t buy it.”

“It’s business as usual with our provincial government,” says Liberal MLA Hugh McDonald. “They think they can buy political goodwill through public relations and this is another example of it.”

According to the government, the $25-million, three-year campaign is intended to promote the province as a “great place to live, work, visit and invest in,” and to polish Alberta’s environmental record. The premier rationalized the need for the rebranding campaign because of “misinformation” spread by the opposition parties and environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club about Alberta’s environmental record. He also accused the opposition of trying to damage the reputation of the Department of Environment and oil companies after being asked if the money could not be better spent protecting the environment. “Twenty-five million dollars is well spent in ensuring that we protect the integrity of this province not only within Canada but within North America and around the world,” said Stelmach in the legislature on April 30.

The opposition Liberals labelled the campaign as nothing more than taxpayer-funded propaganda. With U.S. politicians increasingly opposed to the use of fuel derived from Alberta’s oilsands, McDonald says taxpayer money would be better invested in new technologies like carbon capture and storage.

“The $25 million could be spent actually cleaning up the environment, rather than this propaganda campaign to convince people there’s no problem, when everyone knows there’s a problem” says McDonald.

U.S. politicians are increasingly opposed to the use of unconventional energy sources that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. Regarding Alberta’s oilsands, Henry Waxman, U.S. congressman and co-author of the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, was quoted as saying, “It is important to ensure that the [U.S.] federal government does not subsidize or promote the expanded use of these fuels through government purchasing decisions.” Earlier this week, the oilsands were the target of U.S. presidential candidate Barak Obama and a number of big city U.S. mayors. Both called for the U.S. to reduce its addiction to “dirty oil.”
“American consumers are going to be quite skeptical because they already know our environmental track record,” says McDonald. “And it hasn’t been a good one.” He adds that taxpayer money would be better invested in new technologies like carbon capture and storage. “The last thing we need in this province is another propaganda campaign funded by the taxpayer.”

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