Redford’s Keystone Ad in the New York Times: The St Patrick’s Day Blunder

So it’s come to this has it?  Premier Redford has officially abdicated responsibility for the Canadian natural resource strategy to her communications director, Stefan Baranski, who persuaded Ms Redford to place an ad in today’s New York Times.  

The ad, entitled Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason, was meant to counter the Times “just say no” editorial that urged President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline*.

The Times’ position in a nutshell was this:  A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.*

Mr Baranski advised Ms Redford to go with the Keystone ad after the Times turned down the government’s request for a guest column similar to the one Ms Redford posted in USA Today. 

This is an extremely risky move on Ms Redford’s part—and that’s why pipeline and oilsands executives who woke up this morning expecting to celebrate St Paddy’s day with green eggs and ham are on their blackberries instructing their communications departments to prepare a statement in case the media calls for a reaction.

The ad was a really bad idea.  Here’s why:

One:  The ad will not persuade the Times to soften its position.  The fact that the only way Ms Redford could get the government’s position into the Times was through a paid ad proves that this issue is no longer open for debate as far as the Times is concerned.

Two:  The ad is pitched to the wrong audience.  Rather than changing the minds of Times readers, it gives the 346 readers who commented on the Times editorial another kick at the can.

Three: The ad is a sanctimonious mishmash that is both offensive and patronizing to Americans and Albertans alike.  Its headline: Keystone XL: The Choice of Reason implies that those who oppose the pipeline are unreasonable (I’ll give Mr Baraski credit for resisting the urge to call them “demonizers”—a term used by pipeline supporters to trivialize those who dare voice an opinion contrary to their own).

Four:  It refers to Alberta’s strong environmental policy, ignoring the fact that Alberta has seriously undershot its annual greenhouse gas emissions targets and is allowing oilsands producers to proceed with 27 high-risk and experimental end-pit lakes in the Athabasca boreal region.**

Five: It lauds Alberta’s development of clean technology but sidesteps the elephant in the room—coal, not hydro or natural gas, generates over 70% of Alberta’s energy.

Six:  It hits a quasi jingoistic note by urging Americans to buy from a “neighbor, ally, friend” and not “unstable foreign regimes”, while blithely ignoring the fact that the Redford government vigorously supported the CNOOC takeover of Nexen notwithstanding the US government’s reservations.

Seven:  The Redford government wraps itself in the American flag by highlighting pipeline-related job opportunities for the middle class (did you get that Mr President, we like the middle class) and returning war veterans (that one made my dad, a WW2 war veteran, laugh out loud).

The Keystone ad is a really bad idea because instead of communicating the right message (whatever that may be) to the right audience (US senators, congressman, and regulators) it has communicated a half-baked message to the wrong audience.

As a result, people will re-read the Times editorial, the 346 commentators and their friends will have another opportunity to voice their concerns, and the oilsands producers and TCPL, the owner of the Keystone pipeline, will hunker down in their glass towers waiting for the all-clear siren to sound.

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-2011 Photo Credit: Josh Lopez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the government’s job to develop a natural resource strategy and use the tools it has at its disposal—the ability to make laws and to form critical relationships with other federal, provincial and state governments—for the benefit its citizens.  These tools help grease the wheels of commerce.  As an aside, a good government will balance the benefit of greasy wheels for some against the cost of greasy wheels for all.

It is not the government’s job to stamp its tiny foot in a fit of pique and run an ad in a newspaper when the editorial board refuses to let it run a guest column.  The “so there!” strategy may make Mr Baraski amd Ms Redford feel better for a nanosecond but it does nothing to serve the greater interests of the people of Alberta.


**Pembina Institute quoted in Daily Oil Bulletin, Mar 14, 2013

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8 Responses to Redford’s Keystone Ad in the New York Times: The St Patrick’s Day Blunder

  1. Oh dear. If I were an Albertan I would be really really embarrassed…calling on President Obama. Seriously? Question, who`s money did she use to fund the ad? The tax payers?

    • You guessed it Joanna, the $30,000 to place the ad came out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Add to that the time and effort spent in fact checking (which they didn’t get right), crafting the words, reviewing the ad and sending it up the bureaucratic chain for further review before the Premier signed off on it and you have a pretty good idea where all our wealth has gone—down the drain.

  2. Midge says:

    It is embarrassing to watch MY government shill for big industry with MY public dollars. For very-large-profit corporate businesses should pay for their own marketing. And I HATE the patronizing term “middle class”.

    • Absolutely right Midge. Redford’s government has had ample opportunity to get its message out by way of intergovernmental visits, trade delegations and media interviews. Resorting to paid advertising is simply bizarre and pitching the ad to the “middle class” and “returning war veterans” is pathetic.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    This is sounding like the Federal Government ‘Action Plan’. If you are not familiar with this amazing program I can summarize it with a story Wayne Dyer use to tell the audiences in his peak years in the 80s and 90s. He said that his youngest daughter (we will use the name Mary) use to ask her elder 13 year old sister (we will use Joana) the following ‘Do you think that a person without feet would wear shoes?’. Joanna very matter of factly replied ‘Of course not, what a silly question’, to what Mary replied ‘So why are you wearing a bra?’.

    Alison Redford and her supporters cannot understand why the Americans do not approve or comprehend why this pipeline is so important to them. The reason is very simple. She does not have a clue of what environmental protection means, she does not even know that the US has now enough oil to be self sufficient even if it means contaminanting the whole country, and is increasing its production of wind energy at a rate that has allowed them to close some coal power plants and that could in the near future turn on a light at the end of their energy tunnel. President Obama is trying to do one other thing that Alison Redford does not have a clue about and that is protecting the interests of Americans rather than the Oil companies, which I agree is not the norm in that great Democracy. She is now clearly the salesperson for these major corporations here in Alberta. I thought conservatives truly believed that government should not be involved with the private sector. Why is Alison Redford so worried about selling more and more oil without any concern for the consequences? She should be concerned with fair taxes, fair royalties and the wellbeing of Albertans, not how much oil we sell. Experience has shown me that the more we produce, the more the government cuts coporate taxes and royalties going into a vicious cycle of having to produce more to balance off the cuts. It is absurd and pathetic.
    What is more bizarre is that at the same time we have these spin speeches of caring for the elderly and education and how Albertans have told her over and over that along with Heath Care these are the areas most important in this province. What a great actress she would become if only was given an opportunity.

    Your article explains the situation clearly and I agree with you. The best part is of course ‘The Strong Environmental policy’. I can accept a person not believing in climate change or the need for environmental protection, but if that is the case just come out and say it and let us make the final decision in the next election. This abhorrent, Neo-Conservative hide your thoughts and spin people to believe they are actually doing something right is to say the least criminal. A strong environmental policy? What policy? Along with their Federal cousins, they have NONE.

    • Lots of excellent points here Carlos. What I find really disturbing is that Ms Redford insists that Alberta does indeed have a “strong environmental policy”. In the Mar 19, 2013 Hansard at p 1653 she defends the ad by saying “we told the facts about our environmental record, the fact that we’re having a positive impact and that we can be proud of our record with respect to environmental sustainability”.

      She also said that she placed the ad “…because we have the leader of the NDP in Washington spreading mistruths with respect to our environmental record.” Given that Alberta isn’t remotely close to meeting its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (the target is a reduction of 50 megatonnes/year by 2020 but we’ve only averaged 5 tonnes/year since 2007), you have to ask yourself who’s guilty of spreading “mistruths”, Mr Mulcair or Ms Redford.

  4. Ryan Dunch says:

    Late to comment on this, but the ad bothered me, and also puzzled me on a strategic level. Especially that incredibly bizarre and clumsy line about “middle class and returning war veterans.” I lived seven years in the US and I read the NYT pretty regularly, and I could not imagine this ad persuading anyone not already persuaded. Thanks for the excellent exegesis and analysis.
    Then regarding the quote from Redford in your March 21 response, which I had not noticed before. There is no word “mistruth” with the meaning Redford gives it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “mistruth” as a Scottish term, obsolete, meaning “Disbelief, unbelief; unfaithfulness” (in a religious sense), with example sentences from 1480 and 1485.
    How fitting that a premier specializing in “truthiness” would invent a new word for falsehood!

    • Ryan, your final sentence says it all! How fitting indeed that Ms Redford, the beacon of veracity and transparency, should stoop to PR mumbo jumbo to push her agenda. I subscribe to the government newsfeed. Every press release issued since the debut of the “bitumen bubble” contains the same final paragraph: “Our government was elected to keep building Alberta, to live within its means and to fight to open new markets for Alberta’s resources. We will continue to deliver the responsible change Albertans voted for.” The only release I’ve found without this partisan puff piece was Redford’s congratulations to Christy Clark on her re-election as BC premier. No doubt the PR folks decided the word “fight” cut too close to the bone in light of the Redford/Clark dust-up over Northern Gateway.

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