It appears that the Government of Alberta spent between $14,000 and $20,000 buying targeted advertisements on Facebook to promote Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement last week that the Alberta government was donating Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators to British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to information publicly available through Facebook’s Ad Library, the three ads ran on April 11 and 12, 2020. A French-language ad targeted users in Quebec, a smaller English ad targeted Alberta users, and the largest ad buy targeted users across Canada but primarily located in Ontario and British Columbia.
Similar ads are reported to have been seen on Twitter as well.
The PPE and ventilator donations were widely reported on by the mainstream media in Alberta and across Canada, so the unusually large purchase of targeted social media ads suggests that the Alberta government very much wanted Canadians in other provinces to know about their gesture of goodwill.
The Alberta government has advertised in other provinces in the past, but in most cases it was a concerted campaign over a number of weeks or months. The current and past governments have launched out-of-province advertising campaigns promoting oil pipelines and the oil industry.
But this particular two-day ad buy is unusual for other reasons.
While it would be nice to believe the donation was a genuine gesture of solidarity by Alberta’s government to its provincial brothers and sisters, it is easy to be cynical about the politics behind it.
The out-of-province Facebook ads and Kenney’s focus during his announcement on reminding Canadians about the challenges faced by Alberta’s oil and gas sector suggests there is a motive beyond pure generosity.
That motive was essentially confirmed by Matt Wolf, the Premier’s Director of Issues Management, who tweeted today in response to the Facebook ads that “If we learned nothing else in recent years, Alberta needs allies. When Alberta steps up to help the rest of Canada, best to let the rest of Canada know.”
Kenney has frequently spoken about the need for “allies” in the context of his government’s opposition to the federal carbon tax and its enthusiastic support for oil pipeline expansion in the face of “foreign funded radicals.”
In his search for “allies,” it appears as though Kenney might be attempting to build a “social license” for a post-COVID-19 pipeline agenda. There would be some irony to this effort considering tomorrow marks one year since the 2019 election in which the United Conservative Party effectively attacked Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party government for its attempts to use the Climate Leadership Plan to build social license to support oil pipeline expansion across Canada.
Fair Deal Panel report was due on March 31
It was not long ago that the Kenney government was taking a much less conciliatory approach to defining Alberta’s role in Confederation.
The panel was created following an announcement at the November 2019 Manning Centre conference and was tasked with making recommendations that included whether Alberta should withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and whether the province should form its own police force.
With the price of oil in collapse and a pandemic sweeping the country that is demonstrating the importance of the Alberta government being able to work closely with the federal government in Ottawa and other provinces, there is likely little public appetite for this report at the moment.
Expect the report to be shelved in some dusty warehouse until the next time the federal and provincial government’s get into a public squabble.