David Sands Ed Stelmach Public Affairs Bureau Tom Olsen

honesty is the best policy.

After reading the ridiculous/hilarious comments by Tom Olsen (Premier Ed Stelmach‘s Press Spokesperson) in regards to the infamous Northumberland beach photos, I was dreading that I once again felt the need to write about the importance of our elected officials and their partisan employees being responsible and mature in how they communicate with citizens.

I didn’t have much of a problem with the actual photo controversy. I can imagine that after sifting through thousands of photos, it wouldn’t be difficult to make that kind of a mistake. My issue was with the immediate response that came from Premier Stelmach’s spokesperson. Instead of using the honesty required to defuse what amounted to a non-issue, Olsen’s response was to automatically attempt to spin the issue.

Earlier tonight, I was happy to witness a rare moment in Alberta politics. In a post written by David Sands on the Government of Alberta’s $25 million re-branding blog, the Public Affairs Bureau admits to the photo screw up.

While neither the Government Blog writers or the Public Affairs Bureau are composed of the individuals Albertans have elected to fulfill the responsibilities of government (and to take responsibility for the actions that occur under their watch), it’s important to recognize the significance of baby steps. As much as I enjoy the sport of lambasting the shady government communicators, I give kudos to the unelected officials in the Public Affair Bureau for taking responsibility where thier political masters did not.

Honesty is the most effective way to build trust, and both honesty and trust are something that we see too little of in our politics these days.

Auditor General Fred Dunn Highwood Communications Public Affairs Bureau

auditor general delays audit into highwood communications.

Alberta Auditor General Fred Dunn has delayed or canceled 27 of the planned 80 systematic audits because of budget constraints (apparently, in Alberta, our politicians underfunds two of a government’s most important responsibilities, Audits and elections).

Among the delayed includes a recently announced audit into the now defunct Highwood Communications that has been postponed until October 2009 (for more on Highwood Communications…).

Other important audits that have been delayed or canceled include investigations into the collection process of Alberta natural resource royalties (delayed indefinitely), post-secondary education facility capacity and utilization (canceled), post-secondary program planning (canceled), Sustainable Resource Environmental Management (delayed until 2010), and measuring the effectiveness of the fiscal regime of the Department of Finance and Enterprise (delayed until 2011). A full list can be found here.

(h/t Trish Audette)

Barry Styles Ed Stelmach Highwood Communications Public Affairs Bureau Ralph Klein

auditor general investigating highwood communications.

Alberta’s Auditor General has finally begun an investigation into the Highwood Communications affair.

After receiving $41.3 million in exclusive government contracts over a 10 year period, Highwood left $5.3 million in unpaid bills and applied for bankruptcy protection before closing its doors last November. At the same time Highwood was receiving these government contracts, its owner, Barry Styles, was a key player in Progressive Conservative election campaigns.

Since the early 1990s, Styles was involved in the election campaigns of former Premier Ralph Klein, and most recently Ed Stelmach‘s election campaign in March 2008. The day before the Auditor General’s announced his intentions to investigate, Klein defended Highwood, stating that the government should “stay out of it and let the private sector deal with it.

In October 2008, Simon Kiss wrote a thoughtful explanation of precisely what happened in a guest post that summarizes the history of Highwood and its connections to the governing PCs. He has followed up on the recent news on his blog.

Alberta Oil Sands Public Affairs Bureau

Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau and the Office of the Premier have launched a new websiteFor the Record.” The website is meant to correct “mistakes” made by media outlets when reporting about Alberta.

Will this be another exercise in spin that portrays the government as a victim against the the big, bad media, or will it be an honest attempt at correcting information? Discuss.

(h/t ALC Blog)

UPDATE: It looks like this site is off to a great start. As reported by Jeremy Klaszus in Calgary-based FFWD Weekly:

So far, both entries are about the oilsands. The second entry addresses a recent report about the oilsands’ deadly effect on migratory birds, referring to a story about the report in the “Toronto Globe and Mail.” The entry links to a government PDF that assures readers that oilsands operations have “strict environmental requirements, including bird protection, and are required to collect dead birds and report the numbers.”

However, there is no paper called the Toronto Globe and Mail; the publication is a Toronto-based national newspaper called The Globe and Mail.

Despite its insistence on accuracy, the government isn’t admitting its mistake. “It’s the Toronto Globe and Mail — don’t kid yourself,” says Tom Olsen, spokesperson for Premier Ed Stelmach. “We don’t see that as an error. We see The Globe and Mail as the Toronto Globe and Mail.”

Olsen, a former columnist for the Calgary Herald, says the site was created “to get the best factual information to Albertans as possible.”

Alberta Royalty Review Ed Stelmach Public Affairs Bureau

how ed stelmach compromised on royalties and might get away with it.


Dear Premier Ed Stelmach,

Please find below six-easy steps on how to compromise the interests of Albertans on the royalty review.

1) Appoint a friendly-voice such as Bill Hunter to chair a committee to review and make recommendations on Alberta’s natural resource revenue framework.

2) When Bill Hunter releases the report, do not give details but react to the report as if it will include radical and dangerous changes to Alberta’s economy (focus on dangerous).

Stay quiet on the royalties issue and give the opposition parties and oil companies time to post their opposition or support of the report (this will keep us from compromising the $15,000 annual donations to the Alberta PC Party from the oil industry).

The tone of the report should be critical of Ralph Klein’s Tory government, but the recommendations should be fairly moderate and tame (DO NOT bring up the fact that you were a central member of Klein’s cabinet for a decade).

3) After weeks of silence, muse about responding to the report during your ‘State of the Province’ address. If you change your mind and decide to announce the next day, don’t worry about it, the prime-time address will only cost $145,000. We have lots of money in the PR budget, so we can do both.

Respond to the report by only adopting some portions of the report (you will know which ones to adopt when we get the speech from the Public Affairs Bureau).

This will allow you to appear as a moderate who is balancing the interests of Albertans and the oil industry. Though you will deny it, you will clearly be compromising the interests of Albertans to the oil companies by not collecting a reasonable share of royalties (remember of those $15,000 annual political donations, Premier!)

Important! stay stern, Premier. DO NOT be as obvious as to tell the media to “please don’t call this a compromise“.

4) Use the Public Affairs Bureau to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising in all the major Alberta newspapers (including a full-page ad in the front-section of the Globe & Mail). The ads should reinforce the idea that you did not compromise (see 3 for explanation). Ads should include blue and orange colours.

5) The fallout from your announcement should overshadow smaller and more damaging issues such as Auditor General’s report slamming Ralph Klein’s government and the Department of Energy for failing to collect billions of dollars in royalty revenues since the 1990’s (AGAIN, DO NOT bring up the fact that you were a central member of Klein’s cabinet for a decadethis is critically important!).

Also, stick to your guns and don’t fire the Minister responsible for the Department of Energy, Minister Mel Knight. He supported and delivered votes for you in the PC leadership race. You owe him. Think about sending him out of the province for a couple of weeks after the review to let things cool down.

6) Stand proud, sit back, and enjoy your heroic glory, Premier Stelmach.

Albertans won’t have a clue what happened.

Ed Stelmach Media Paul Stanway Public Affairs Bureau Tom Olsen

the media becomes media affairs.

Not to totally regurgitate an Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau media release, but this is somewhat significant news:

Edmonton… Two veteran journalists will join Premier Ed Stelmach’s office in key communications roles. Premier Stelmach announced the appointment of Paul Stanway as Director of Communications and Tom Olsen as Director of Media Relations.

Tom Olsen and Paul Stanway are two well-known very predictably Conservative columnists from conservative Calgary newspapers. Olsen’s brother worked as part of Ralph Klein’s communications team back in the 1990’s. Other than bringing in two right-wing media pundits into his inner circle, it’s too early to tell how this move will turn out for Stelmach. I guess it may depend on how good of a relationship these two actually have with their soon to be former collegues.

It should also be interesting to look up what Stelmach’s two new spin-doctors have written about him in the past. Google is both a wonderful and dangerous thing.