UCP may well be ‘strong,’ but just how ‘free’ is it?
Choose Alberta’s Future.You might remember that eyerolling snore of a slogan used by the Progressive Conservatives in the 2015 provincial election.It was one of the worst campaign mottos in recent memory, remarkable only for the stunning piece of irony it became for the illfated Jim Prentice government.Voters did indeed Choose Alberta’s Future, but it certainly wasn’t in favour of the PCs, who were decimated down to 10 seats.While the Prentice team should have tried harder, campaign branding and advertising tends to be a no-win exercise.Get too aggressive with your messages, and you are accused of negativity. Stick with colourless platitudes, and be prepared to hear the boos of apathy.And no matter what you do, voters typically see what they want to see.Take the latest effort of the United Conservative Party, which released a pair of pre-election campaign ads Monday under the slogan Alberta Strong and Free. Though the words are most commonly known as lyrics in O Canada, the party says it built the phrase from Alberta’s official motto, Strong and Free (fortis et liber).“Alberta will be a strong voice in the federation and a place where people are free to pursue their aspirations and to live their values,” UCP campaign director Nick Koolsbergen wrote to supporters in an email Sunday.While the “strong ” part of the slogan is self-explanatory, the “free” part begs a few questions.Such as, is the UCP allegingthat Albertans are not free to “pursue their aspirations and to live their values?” If that’s the implication, then what constraints is the party targeting?The UCP’s slogan also carries a whiff of hypocrisy, considering the party doesn’t always practice a high level of freedom within its own ranks.UCP MLAs certainly didn’t seem free to debate or vote on Bill 9, which created bubble zones around abortion clinics.Most caucus members have also not been free to do media interviews and, when they are permitted, they generally aren’t free to stray from pre-approved talking points.Those sorts of restraints have dogged UCP Leader Jason Kenney in recent months with accusations of a dictatorial style that is an affront to the “grassroots guarantee” he initially promised would guide the UCP.It’s the reason cited by a handful of disgruntled party members, including former MLA Ian Donovan, for their decisions to leave the UCP recently.The other fascinating feature of the UCP ads is how many women are shown.Of the 23 faces that are visible in the first ad, 21 are women.The second has five women featured alongside three men.Watching the ads, you’d get the impression the UCP has a large contingent of female candidates, when that isn’t the case.The party’s website lists 25 women on the UCP slate of the 79 nominees approved to date.The disparity in the UCP’s caucus is even starker, with three women among its 26 MLAs.Based on those numbers, the commercials smell like false advertising.Still, it’s not surprising that the party is trying to reach women, who I suspect are generally more skeptical than men that the UCP is indeed the “broad, diverse coalition” the ads claim.It should be noted the UCP’s president and executive director are both women.And though the slate of candidates is far from a 50-50 split, the 25 nominated women include a number of strong nominees. Party officials suggest most of the 25 will win their seats, which would give a UCP government a healthy contingent of women in its caucus and cabinet.Whether a fair campaign or not, it’s refreshing to see the UCP running positive ads that offer an optimistic message. But the real test for Kenney will be if he can influence pro-UCP political action committees to do the same. After all, it’s easy to run positive when you know there are PACs to do the dirty work for you.Speaking of positivity, another politician who might need a refresher is former Wildrose leader Brian Jean.After a joyous announcement last week in which he revealed that his wife is pregnant, Jean did a complete about-face Monday when he released a scathing opinion article.While Jean described Alberta’s place in Confederation as an “abusive relationship” and demanded the province seek a better constitutional deal, he also lamented that none of the parties seemed up to the challenge.Does Jean plan to run for office again? Is he trying to head a constitutional movement? Was he advocating for a particular party to take up the cause?If we’re to take anything from his article, it’s that the upcoming campaign will be fought under a fractious climate.In that context, forget trying to Choose Alberta’s Future. For this election, it’s more important to ask Who Is Alberta’s Future?
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