A city-produced, pro-Light Rail Transit (LRT) video which features three citizens voicing support for an expanded LRT system actually used known LRT supporters recruited by Mayor Don Iveson’s office.
“It is kind of disappointing,” Coun. Mike Nickel told CBC News. “People can look at the video and get their own assessment of it. But my impression was, these people were kind of spontaneous, on-the-street interviews.”
Other people to whom he showed the video also believed the participants were randomly selected from citizens on Edmonton’s downtown streets, he said.
Nickel believes the video should have included a disclaimer which revealed these were not ordinary citizens expressing extraordinary support for an expanded LRT.
Reached by phone Friday in Ottawa, Iveson defended the legitimacy of the video and denied anyone might be misled by the fact that the people appearing in the video were recruited because of their strong support for an expanded LRT.
“I don’t think it was misleading at all,” Iveson said. “I think it reflects what Edmontonians are thinking.
“I think if these people were being told to say something that they didn’t believe, which isn’t what happened, then there would be a concern,” Iveson said earlier in the interview.
“But these are Edmontonians, these are their views about LRT, and I think it is good to capture those and broadcast them whenever we can.”
Video part of pro-LRT campaign
The video in question is the second of two videos produced by the city as part of a $275,000 multi-media campaign aimed at building support among Edmontonians for an expanded LRT. The campaign also includes newspaper ads, billboards and other forms of advertising.
In the first video, seen below, Iveson rides the LRT and has conversations with people who were actually randomly approached and selected.
The mayor insisted the second video’s use of recruited, known LRT supporters, including one who financially supported his election campaign, doesn’t detract from the authentic message of both videos.
“That doesn’t change the fact that the conversations I had directly with the people in the first video were passionate and supportive of the LRT,” he said.
“The overall message of the campaign is that this is what Edmontonians want to do. And that is the view that we hear from Edmontonians in the second video.”
Nickel said the campaign, approved in-camera by council, is bluntly political. It is designed to encourage people to pressure their members of the legislature and parliament to approve critical funding for an LRT expansion.
The videos feature Iveson, and members of the public, talking about why the LRT must be expanded. Posted on YouTube, the videos have already garnered thousands of views.
"In the first video, I spoke to people on the LRT,” Iveson said at a news conference last week. “Then in the second video, you will see every-day citizens who aren't on the LRT."
LRT supporters recruited
But the first three “every-day citizens” in the second video were recruited by the city to appear in the video, a fact confirmed by city spokeswoman Carol Hurst, who helped produce the video. The three are not actors, were not paid and their statements were not scripted.
CBC News identified two of the three. They both said they were not told what to say on camera, although they conceded the mayor’s office knew they strongly supported LRT expansion.
Mildred Richardson is the third speaker on the video. She said she couldn’t remember who contacted her from the mayor’s office, but said she is friends with John Brennan, the mayor’s strategic advisor with whom she previously worked.
Municipal election finance disclosure records show Richardson also donated to Iveson’s mayoral campaign.
“I just think that I was asked to share my opinions, which I did freely, and they are my opinions and I am happy to stand behind them,” Richardson said in an interview.
Yuri Wuensch is the video’s second speaker. He told CBC News he was contacted by the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Ryan Kelly, and asked to participate in the video.
During the municipal election, Wuensch created Vote Zombie Wall, a campaign to promote the benefits of urbanization to younger voters.
One element of the campaign promoted the importance of growing Edmonton’s public transit network.
“As such, I gladly agreed to participate (in the video), met downtown for five minutes of filming and that was that,” Wuensch told CBC News in an email.
Coun. Mike Nickel strongly supports an expanded LRT and the campaign to encourage government funding for it, but he said the video was a misstep.
“I just hope we don’t get off track and send the wrong message,” he said.