$8M Alberta advertising campaign against federal net-zero rules rolls out in 4 provinces

The Alberta government’s $8-million campaign to “educate Canadians and Albertans” on the impacts of new emissions regulations proposed by the federal government has begun rolling out across the country.

The campaign, involving a wide range of television, web, social, billboard and other forms of advertising, will run just a little more than a month, until Nov. 2, when the federal government’s public input period on net-zero rules is set to conclude.

It’s running in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, chosen because they are the regions “most impacted by the regulations,” a spokesperson with the province said.

“The campaign is intended to educate Canadians and Albertans on the impacts of these unaffordable regulations, and encourage the federal government to make changes needed to keep Canada’s electricity affordable and reliable,” wrote Ryan Fournier, a spokesperson for Rebecca Schulz, Alberta’s minister of environment and protected areas, in a statement.

Last week, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said her government was preparing a Sovereignty Act motion in an effort to push back against Ottawa’s planned emissions reductions. The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), the organization responsible for operating the province’s power grid, had said the clean electricity regulations could lead to blackouts. 

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has said his government shares the goals of AESO to achieve decarbonization while maintaining affordability and reliability.

Text is shown on a black screen that reads, "No one wants to pay more for power than they have to."
A still from an Alberta campaign focused on pushing back against federal net-zero rules. (Government of Alberta)

It’s a fight that is likely to play out over months and even years, and the advertising campaign signifies how much of this debate isn’t being fought over technical arguments, said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

“It’s a political fight between the government of Alberta and the feds. I think that regardless of what numbers you put on the table, they can be spun one way or another,” Béland said.

“It’s part of a broader debate about climate change and how to address it.”

Ads hit the airwaves

In one of the radio advertisements, an unidentified woman’s voice is heard right off the top.

“When Ottawa’s proposed electricity regulations make electricity unreliable, the things you rely on won’t work when needed,” the woman says, who proceeds to list off various amenities and tools, dramatic sound effects following each one.

“Your hot water. Computer. Washer and dryer. Electric car. TV. Lights. Mobile phone. Stove. Your heat in –30.”

LISTEN | Two radio advertisements produced by the government of Alberta focused on federal net-zero rules:

CBC News Calgary1:04Alberta radio advertisements on federal net-zero rules

Featured VideoTwo radio advertisements warn against federal net-zero rules. They’re part of an $8 million campaign from the Alberta government on a wide range of television, web, social, billboard and other forms of advertising.

The campaign has already begun. Matthew Bowen, who grew up in Alberta, moved out to Halifax six years ago. He heard the campaign while driving.

“The ad came on, and I was like, ‘This sounds really aggressive. Where’s this coming from?'” Bowen said. “I was expecting it to be some sort of like, I don’t know, private campaign company or something.

“And then, at the end, it was like, paid for by the government of Alberta. I was like, that’s a really strange ad to be running all the way over here.”

A man with a brown beard and a hat and a blue jacket is on a boat, surrounded by water.
Matthew Bowen, who lives in Halifax, heard the recent campaign from the Alberta government while driving last week. (Submitted by Matthew Bowen)

It made sense that the campaign was focusing on provinces that may find it harder to meet the new regulations, said Béland.

But he also said the government may be trying to send a political message to the base of the United Conservative Party.

“The goal is to put more pressure on the federal government to rally people from other provinces behind that fight, but it’s also to send a message to Albertans that Danielle Smith is picking a fight with the federal government,” he said.

“That is something that is consistent to her approach.”

The ad spend and the complexity of the message

Although $8 million is being concentrated in four provinces, it’s not a substantial amount of money for such a campaign, according to Ken Wong, a distinguished professor of marketing at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

“What that means is, they probably aren’t going to be able to tell what I’ll call the whole story — pros and cons. The $8 million will basically be presenting a very one-sided message,” Wong said. 

A man wearing a suit looks at the camera and smiles.
Ken Wong, a distinguished professor of marketing at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., isn’t sure how effective an Alberta campaign against net-zero rules will be. (Submitted by Ken Wong)

It will be an “extremely difficult” campaign to pull off in provinces outside of Alberta given the spend and the complex issues involved, in Wong’s view. There may be a belief already that this is “just another Alberta versus the feds issue,” he said.

“The Alberta government will have great success, I’m sure, in Alberta, but much less success in the other provinces they’re targeting, unless they target specific ridings or specific individuals,” Wong said.

“It is, at most, but a call to action for those who are already predisposed against what the federal government is trying to do.”

The lead advertising agency for the campaign is DDB Worldwide.

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