Redford under fire for $1.3M ad campaigns

Wildrose party cries political electioneering

The Redford government is under attack from opposition members over spending more than $1.3 million of taxpayers' money on advertising campaigns - including $425,000 promoting the 2012 budget - just weeks before an election call.

Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier charged Tuesday that many of the advertisements constitute blatant political electioneering that should be paid for by the Progressive Conservative party rather than taxpayers.

Boutilier drew attention to a new campaign to assure Albertans there are no new taxes coming this year.

"This government ad isn't about a new program or project," Boutilier told the legislature. "It's not a public service announcement. It's a purely political ad using Albertans' hard-earned tax dollars."

He said the campaign contains lines like: "No new taxes means you can keep spending money on things that matter to you."

But Redford contends the advertising is a legitimate use of taxpayers dollars.

"We want Albertans to be informed with respect to the budget," she said Monday before heading to Washington. "We want them to clearly understand how optimistic we are with respect to the future of the economy, that we have made no decisions and will not make decisions that would suggest we would make cuts in services."

According to a script tabled in the legislature, the ad features various people talking on the street about how they want to spend their money, with an announcer concluding: "We're keeping money in Albertans' wallets."

Boutilier said he believes using taxpayers dollars to convey such a message on the eve of an election is "unethical."

"It's fundamentally wrong and it doesn't pass the smell test."

Deputy premier Doug Horner accused the Wildrose party of "political grandstanding.

"Every year we do a budget," he said. "We spend dollars on informing Albertans what is contained in that budget and what it means to their lives. Albertans want us to do that."

Premier's spokesman Jay O'Neill said the government is spending $425,000 on a radio, online and newspaper ad campaign that runs from Feb. 10 to March 15 to promote the budget. It is spending an additional $260,000 on advertising to promote its recentlyannounced review of electricity pricing mechanisms.

"Just because there is an election coming doesn't mean government stops business," O'Neill said. The government is also running a $270,000 ad campaign to promote traffic safety and its new distracted driving law and a $377,000 ad campaign against family violence, but those ads haven't been the focus of the opposition criticism.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said it is "outrageous" the Redford government is using taxpayers money to promote itself on the eve of an election call.

"You should not be able to use taxpayer dollars for blatant partisan advertising in advance of an election," she said.

Manitoba has a law that bans government advertising 60 days in advance of the election being called, Smith said. She pledged to set a fixed election date so a similar election advertising ban could be imposed in Alberta to prevent the abuse of taxpayers dollars.

Saskatchewan, which also has a fixed election date, also has a ban on government advertising 30 days before the writ is dropped.

But Redford said the advertising informs Albertans her government is not going to raise taxes and that "the budget we're going to pass is the fiscal plan for the future of the province."

Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson accused the Tories of using taxpayers money as their own campaign "piggy bank."

NDP Leader Brian Mason said his party would be in trouble with the Legislature Assembly Office if it attempted to use money set aside for caucus research on such partisan advertising before a vote. He said legislature officials "would come down on us like a ton of bricks."

"They are using their position as government to spend taxpayers money to convince people to vote for the Progressive Conservative party," he said.

He also criticized the premier for doubling her communications office staff with the addition of five employees seconded from the province's Public Affairs Bureau.

Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 7 2012
Byline: Darcy Henton

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