Redford defends $1.7M spent on Building Alberta branding campaign

By James Wood, Calgary Herald January 7, 2014

Under fire for spending on domestic advertising and international travel, Premier Alison Redford is defending the government’s Building Alberta campaign and a series of high-profile trips by cabinet to start the new year.

On Tuesday, the official Opposition released new documents showing the province spent $661,663 on Building Alberta advertising last year.

Along with more than $1 million spent on huge signs posted on infrastructure projects, the total tab for the Building Alberta branding exercise in 2013 exceeded $1.7 million.

Speaking to reporters in Calgary, Redford maintained it’s important for Albertans to know about the government’s spending on roads and public facilities, especially after last June’s devastating flooding in the south of the province.

“We want to make sure that people know what our commitment is to infrastructure,” she said.

“People who are thinking about coming back to those (flood-damaged) communities will have confidence those communities can be rebuilt. This is an important part of that and we’re going to continue to do it.”

But Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson said the Building Alberta campaign is a cynical attempt to sell the Progressive Conservative government’s plan to borrow billions of dollars to fund construction projects — and taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for political advertising.

Documents obtained by the Wildrose Party show the government spent $287,759 on a television, online and print ad blitz, $277,538 on a mail-out sent to every Alberta home, $32,950 on the creation of the Build Alberta campaign, $21,995 on the corporate document, $25,883 on displays and backdrops, and $15,537 on video and multimedia.

“There is not one dollar in that money that was spent that was in the best interests of Albertans,” said Anderson.

“There is no point to it. It does no good . . . They are just taking taxpayer money and promoting themselves.”

Derek Fildebrandt of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose freedom of information request revealed the government’s expenditure on Building Alberta signs, said the campaign shows the need for stricter rules around partisanship in public advertising.

The Building Alberta signs are particularly egregious because they bear Redford’s name and sport the PC colours of blue and orange, he said.

“Building Alberta is becoming a punchline now . . . representing waste, representing partisanship,” said Fildebrandt.

Fildebrandt and Anderson said the government’s spendthrift ways extend to travel.

Redford embarks Thursday on a business promotion trip to India and visits the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The total cost for the trip, which includes ministers Manmeet Bhullar and Naresh Bhardwaj, exceeds $120,000.

International and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Cal Dallas will join Redford on the trip and then proceed to Singapore at a price of $56,400, while Thomas Lukaszuk, minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, is currently in China at a cost of $20,800.

Redford made no apologies for the travel, maintaining it is a vital part of the Building Alberta plan for ministers to be on the road spreading the news about the province and its resources.

“As we move forward and we think about where we need to be able to sell our products, it’s India, it’s China,” she said.

“It’s ensuring that we’re creating the story we need to tell in the United States and in Europe with respect to responsible environmental sustainable development, the way that we’re developing our energy industry.”

Anderson said he doesn’t object to the travel but he has no confidence government members are getting the best deal for taxpayers, pointing to expensive hotel rooms and flights racked up by Redford.

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