EDMONTON — Premier Jim Prentice heaped scorn on former premier Alison Redford’s seven-figure signature Building Alberta branding campaign Thursday – and then he drove a stake through it.
Prentice criticized the 300 Building Alberta signs that now crowd the Alberta landscape, announcing everything from road repairs to building start-ups and always including Redford’s name.
“You know, 300 signs staked out in the ground isn’t a good measure of performance – and you’re not going to see my name on any signs,” Prentice said to applause in a speech to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.
“What you’re going to see is the minister of finance and the minister of infrastructure standing up in the seat of democracy … tabling a report card on where we are on the capital build.”
Prentice, speaking later to reporters, confirmed the campaign will be shelved, but not at added cost.
“I’m not prepared to invest dollars removing (the signs),” he said, adding he got an earful from Albertans on them while on the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign trail this summer.
He said the government may still put the signs to use, such as affixing new information on them to deliver updates and timelines on the progress of the construction.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said that means Building Alberta will live on in some fashion.
“It sounds like (Prentice) wants to keep signs on highways, but he just wants his message on there, rather than Alison Redford,” he said.
Building Alberta was a branding program that at its height touched every piece of good news information that emanated from the Redford government.
Besides being on the signs (at a total cost of $1 million), it was on government business cards, help-wanted ads, brochures, Twitter hashtags, jackets, Internet and broadcast ads and as a tagline on every announcement made by the government.
The dominant colour scheme of Building Alberta was orange and blue – the same colours of the governing PC party.
Often the events came with cheering crowds, balloons, dancing mascots and smiling children, prompting critics to say Redford was using Building Alberta events to campaign on the taxpayers’ dime.
Building Alberta was not seen at controversial news gatherings, such as when the government responded to reports of covering up the deaths of children in care or when it revoked the right to arbitration for its largest public sector union.
Building Alberta was seen as so critical to Redford, it played outside the rules.
Last year, the Wildrose party revealed a leaked email from a frantic Redford aide ordering staff to ignore tendering rules if necessary to fast-track construction of Building Alberta signs in the hard-hit flood zones of Calgary and southern Alberta ahead of a crucial PC party vote on Redford’s leadership.
“The premier would like to ensure that Building Alberta signage is up and in front of every flood-affected road, bridge, school, etc.,” wrote Darren Cunningham, Redford’s political adviser.
Redford, at the time, said the ads were critical to combating societal anxiety in the flood zone.
“Putting up those signs shows the commitment we have to the Building Alberta plan,” said Redford. “That is hope.”
Redford quit as premier in March as revelations surfaced she had abused the government air fleet for personal reasons.
It was later revealed she was also using public dollars to build a lavish suite for herself on top of a government building, and that government flight manifests had been doctored with bogus passengers to allow Redford to fly alone.
Redford’s chief of staff, Farouk Adatia, was found to be making $357,000 a year in salary and benefits, more than the chief of staff to U.S. President Barack Obama.
When Redford resigned, her staff took home more than $1 million in severance pay.
Prentice has promised to clean up the entitlements of the Redford era and is to introduce a new Accountability Act this fall.
Redford has never publicly accounted for the scandals of her administration except to say “mistakes were made.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014