Alberta Politics
Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage talks to reporters at the foot of Parliament Hill with her Tory-blue truck sign and its ambiguously worded message in the background (Photo: YesToTMX.ca, Twitter).

Is Alberta’s ‘Yes to TMX’ campaign a sly tax-funded attack on the Trudeau Liberals?

Posted on May 30, 2019, 2:00 am
8 mins

Things are certainly different on the pipeline front now that Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party are in power in Alberta!

Yesterday, the airwaves were full of reports Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage had announced an advertising campaign urging Parliamentarians to say “Yes to TMX.” (We’ll get back to the messaging in a moment.)

Ms. Savage at the UCP’s recent Throne Speech in Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Kenney government is prepared to spend $1.6 million on this campaign in Ottawa alone, media breathlessly reported. More would be spent elsewhere in the country, although the UCP’s not ready to say how much.

Ms. Savage, a former oil industry executive, told a roadside news conference with Parliament Hill for a backdrop that, “We need to approve the pipeline without hesitation. … Our campaign will reinforce this message across the country. It’s time for a firm decision on Trans Mountain Pipeline. It’s time for a ‘yes.’”

Ms. Savage was standing in front of a cube van which, as the CBC put it in its report, was “emblazoned with messages promoting the pipeline.”

The campaign has a website, YesToTMX.ca, for those who want more emails.

Compare this to 2018 when the NDP was in power …

Oh! Wait! In 2018, the NDP was doing exactly the same thing! Who knew?

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The NDP was spending about half a million dollars a week placing full-page print and online advertisements in newspapers across the country. In addition, it was buying outdoor advertising in Ottawa, radio ads, doing national polling and running its online “Keep Canada Working” campaign.

The messaging was basically the same: The NDP campaign claimed Canada was losing $40 million a day because of the lower price fetched by Alberta crude in the U.S. and that a pipeline to the West Coast would fix that. (Both statements are controversial and disputed by many experts.) “In the 30 seconds it takes to listen to this ad, Canada will lose $15,000,” alleged one clip.

This NDP ad campaign is credited with turning Canadian public opinion around on the merits of completing the Trans Mountain Pipeline, now owned by Ottawa

The NDP’s version also emphasized the safety of pipelines compared to other methods of transporting crude. And it had a nice website, too, KeepCanadaWorking.ca.

If you click on KeepCanadaWorking.ca today, you’ll go straight to YesToTMX.ca, so you can’t compare and contrast very easily. The new UCP website slips in Mr. Kenney’s oft-repeated sotto voce threat that not letting Alberta have its way will put national unity at risk. The UCP campaign also repeats the claim not having a pipeline costs Canada money every day.

But there is another difference that should be more evident.

Part of the NDP’s ad campaign saying pretty much the same thing in Ottawa last fall (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The NDP campaign was designed to do what it purported to do, sell Canadians on the need to get to work on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project as quickly as possible. You could argue the merits of that case, but that’s all it was.

The UCP campaign, in a shade of bright Tory blue reminiscent of the Harper Government’s branding, is promoting more than a pipeline. It has a subtext – or maybe it’s a supertext, since it seems to get more prominence on the mobile advertising in the nation’s capitol than what is supposedly the main message.

Media images of Ms. Savage’s news conference show the smaller panel on the back of the truck, in French and English, saying “Yes to TMX pipeline June 18.” But outside Alberta and circles obsessed with the debate, who even knows what TMX means, in French or English?

The main message, on the truck’s side panel, reads: “Ottawa, we have a problem.”

There’s some palaver about the TMX and June 18 below that, but it’s not what viewers of the ads will see when they whiz past the sign, or it whizzes past them.

Is this a plea to say yes to the TMX, or a sly effort paid for by Alberta taxpayers to attack the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? Is it designed to boost the fortunes of the blue team, led by the Andrew Scheer, the guy who’s been described as Stephen Harper with a nicer smile?

Will the campaign continue after June 18, and if it does, will the pro-Tory messaging get less subtle after that, regardless of the federal government’s decision?

So what’s this really about? According to Ms. Savage, “if there is any delay, we could lose an entire construction season and that’s going to have an unbelievable detrimental impact to Alberta.”

That’s a debatable proposition on both counts, of course, but it’s fair to say Mr. Trudeau has a serious political consideration to make when pondering his cabinet’s June decision. After all, he’s not going to gain any votes by doing what Alberta wants, and he may just lose a few by appearing to knuckle under to Mr. Kenney’s demands.

On the other hand, his government bought the broken pipeline, so he now may feel he must abide by the political version of the fictitious Pottery Barn Rule.

As we learned from Ontario Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s recent childish gas-pump sticker stunt, there are no restrictions on provincial campaign activities during national campaigns.

With Mr. Ford’s bromantic partner in Alberta now appearing to cook up more sophisticated ways to use tax money to support the federal Conservatives, Ottawa may need to close that dangerous loophole.

9 Comments to: Is Alberta’s ‘Yes to TMX’ campaign a sly tax-funded attack on the Trudeau Liberals?

  1. Dave

    May 30th, 2019

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but Mr. Trudeau has already said yes to TMX a number of times. It is the BC government and some courts, which neither Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Kenney can control, who have at times said no.

    As usual Mr. Kenney is clever in his choice of words and slogans, but not quite accurate. A more accurate slogan would be “Oh god, please say yes again”. It is not so much an attack on Trudeau, but a plea with a hint of fear and desperation behind it. Of course Kenney often picks his battles so he can win either way. If Trudeau does say yes again, Kenney will claim all the credit and tell Albertans his ad campaign worked, although in reality the previous Alberta government laid most of the ground work and did a lot more work on this than him. If Trudeau does not say yes, Kenney will probably zip off on an anger trip across Ontario where he will connect with more Federal Conservative supporters than Scheer ever will meet so coincidentally or not his aspirations for higher office will be funded by Alberta taxpayers.

    Kenney and Ford have something Scheer does not right now – access to a lot more government funds to get their message across. As someone who remembers all those seemingly endless ads for Canada’s economic action plan by the previous Harper Conservative government, I have observed Conservatives are not shy when it comes to government spending to get their message across. They seem to spend more Liberally on this than, well Liberals. However I am not sure how helpful it will be, in the end it didn’t help Harper win.

    I think voters may be even more annoyed if the spending is to attack another level of government. Ford’s popularity seems to be falling even faster than Trudeau’s now. Mr. Kenney should be careful with his ad campaigns, unless he wants to suffer the same fate as Ford or Harper.

    Reply
  2. Political Ranger

    May 30th, 2019

    First, the existing TMX is fully booked up and will remain fully booked up. The new TMX has no bearing on the owners of the existing TMX.
    It was a complete bonehead decision for the feds to buy the TMX but it pays for itself. The construction of the new pipeline is a whole new and different set of decisions.

    Secondly and mainly, why wouldn’t the Kenney mob spin the pipeline debate in their political favour? There is not, and never was under the Notley banner, any truth to the blatherings and protestations that form the basis of this argument.
    If people are blind and foolish enough to buy one brand of snake-oil, why not the other?

    Reply
  3. ronmac

    May 30th, 2019

    I hope the person or persons holding the domain rights to keepCanadaWorking.ca cut themselves a nice hefty slice of that war room cheese.

    Reply
  4. Expat Albertan

    May 30th, 2019

    Someone on Twitter noted that the color scheme the UCP chose bares a striking resemblance to Naomi Klein’s book that served as the basis of the Leap Manifesto. Judge for yourself:

    https://images.app.goo.gl/L8tuv64fCdWfaTrc8

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 31st, 2019

      The difference, of course, is that Mr. Kenney’s campaign changes nothing. DJC

      Reply
  5. David Grant

    May 30th, 2019

    This obsession from the NDP and UCP to try to revitalize the dying oil industry is quite exhausting to listen to. The incessant complaining that Ottawa doesn’t care even though they bought this stupid pipeline is also very hard to deal with. The news that the UCP had to cancel their announcement of killing the carbon tax because of the smoke that has the air does make me smile. This can’t be created by even the best writers in the world.

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    May 31st, 2019

    Personally I would sooner see pictures of Northern forests burning and Central Canada flooding with a caption “Ottawa, we have a bigger problem.”

    Reply
  7. Farmer Brian

    June 1st, 2019

    What amazes me is this belief that if we implement a carbon tax, all drive electric cars and quit increasing oil production that we will no longer have forest fires or floods. Alberta implemented a carbon tax on large emitters in 2007, B.C. implemented their carbon tax in 2008 and yet unfortunately we still have forest fires and periodic floods. A quick look at Wikipedia shows how insignificant we really are, this quote refers just to China. “Based on analysis of satellite photos in 2018, environmental NGO Global Energy Monitor claims that 259 GW on new coal capacity in under construction including plants that central authorities had cancelled, postponed or slowed.” To put this in perspective, the sum total of Alberta’s coal generation capacity is 5.723 GW or just over 2% of what China has under construction, also remember China already had 960 GW of electricity being generated by coal in 2016. So when the new builds are completed they will have over 1200 GW coming from coal. Now I certainly believe in using our resources efficiently and striving for a healthy environment but promoting that if we don’t make drastic changes the world will become uninhabitable by 2030 is fear mongering and irresponsible. If people like Justin Trudeau truly believed this wouldn’t he change his jet setting lifestyle? Enjoy your day.

    Reply

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