OTTAWA—The Conservative government is beefing up a multimillion-dollar international public relations campaign promoting the oilsands and other Canadian resources, despite research suggesting the ad blitz has been ineffective.
Advertising at subway stations in the U.S. capital region in the last year featured a variety of images such as the national flags, a green mountain with a river running through it, and a pipeline construction project. Each had a series of messages that either praised Canada’s environmental record or its oil industry.
But people in the Washington area remembered little about the ad content, apart from a message about Canada and the United States being friends and allies, according to new research, funded by the government and conducted by Ipsos Reid.
Despite these results, the Stephen Harper government has extended the contract of an international public relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard, by a year, paying it about $5.7 million, including taxes, to continue managing the campaign in the U.S., Europe and Asia. The entire campaign has a budget of $22.7 million over two years.
Natural Resources Canada, the federal department that is paying for the public relations efforts, told the Star that it was “satisfied” with the ad campaign’s early results that show it “reached many with the message about the importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship, especially on energy.”
An American environmentalist, Danielle Droitsch, said the Canadian government failed to understand that the Obama administration, which released a report this week warning that delayed action on climate change would result in dire economic consequences, is concerned about the environmental impacts of the oilsands and wants action instead of advertising.
“Canada is the only foreign government blanketing Washington D.C. Metro (subway) stations and bus stops to promote a certain industry,” said Droitsch, who directs the Canada project at an American environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It’s unfortunate the Canadian federal government still seems to believe issues around tarsands will be solved by an expensive taxpayer-funded advertising campaign.”
Natural Resources Canada spokeswoman Jacinthe Perras said the campaign was “designed to raise awareness” and “ensure a fact-based dialogue” about Canada being a responsible supplier of oil and other resources.
Following an open competition, the department gave Fleishman-Hillard a contract last December worth about $1.7 million to plan the first phase of the public relations campaign.
Fleishman-Hillard didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Perras said the firm didn’t design the initial ads that ran in Washington subway stations.
Among those who said they remembered at least one of the ads in Washington, 17 per cent said they believed the main point was about Canada and the U.S. being friends and allies, according to the Ipsos Reid research, dated March 3, 2014.
Only 11 per cent believed the message was about building the Keystone XL pipeline.
The rest saw a variety of different messages about Canada’s energy. That included three per cent of respondents who believed the ads were meant to inform and educate people, and two per cent who believed the message was about improving conservation and protecting the environment.
The Ipsos Reid research, which cost $49,393, said the survey would have a margin of error of 7.5 percentage points.