The American multi-national 3M hired heavyweight Progressive Conservative insider Rod Love to lobby the government for new licence plates.
The provincial lobbyist registry shows Love, former premier Ralph Klein’s chief of staff, began lobbying the government as early as Jan. 29, 2013 in relation to “licence plate branding.”
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“I think this puts a whole different light on what we have been told and what has been done at the government level,” said Laurier Mandin, president of Graphos, an Edmonton design firm. Mandin has been critical of the process that excluded Alberta design firms.
But in an email to CBC News, Love denies he was hired to lobby in connection with the new plates.
"I have never had anything to do with any 'branding' activities with regard to Alberta licence plates," Love said.
"My sole role with the 3M Canada is to help them better understand the decision-making process within the Government of Alberta."
Love said his lobbyist registration is "entirely incorrect," when it says he is involved in licence plate branding and it will be corrected. The registration however has been listed since January 2013.
Love said he saw the latest three options for the new licence plates at the same time as the public, when they were unveiled this summer.
At a much-hyped news conference in July, the Conservative government announced new licence plate designs. All three feature a stylized mountain in the background. The traditional phrase, “Wild Rose Country” had been dropped from the plate.
The government said 3M had provided the designs free of charge. In a news release, 3M said it had been approached by the government to provide some designs because of its “expertise in the area of traffic safety and plate design.”
New Democrat leader Brian Mason said, “It is pretty clear that while 3M said in the first place that they were approached by the government of Alberta, it is obvious that they hired Rod Love, a well-connected Tory insider, to pave the way for the licence-plate design to be accepted.
“And then of course, then there is a lucrative contract manufacturing reflective material for the plates that 3M may be in line for after that,” Mason said. “So this is not just an act of philanthropy on the part of 3M. They have a vested interest and they have gone after this, using a Tory insider.”
The three new designs have been panned by critics as unimaginative and lacking diversity. Graphic designers in Alberta were angered they were not allowed to compete for the design business.
Wildrose party MLAs and supporters accused the government of using the new licences as a pretext to drop the Wild Rose Country slogan from the licence plate, an accusation strongly denied by Tory politicians. The Wild Rose is Alberta’s official flower.
Graphos produced its own design and urged the public to lobby the government not to accept the American designs. Mandin wonders what happened to the Tory’s oft-cited preference for a “made in Alberta solution” to various issues.
The lobbyist registry shows Love registered to lobby the government’s communications branch, the Public Affairs Bureau.
Carla McFarlane, 3M Canada’s spokesperson, said “Rod Love is retained by 3M Canada to provide us with a better understanding of the Government of Alberta’s decision making process.”
The licence plate design process is being managed by Service Alberta. Its minister, Doug Griffiths, is still recovering from injuries suffered in a water-skiing accident and was unavailable for comment.
Both Kathleen Range, the press secretary to Griffiths, and McFarlane stressed that no competitive bid process has begun for supply of the new licence plates.
“When it does, 3M Canada will not be directly involved in related procurement activity since we are a supplier of reflective material for licence plates, and not a manufacturer of licence plates,” McFarlane said.
Liberal leader Raj Sherman said the insider lobbying again shows the Tories “can’t be trusted with taxpayer dollars.
“We need to get Albertans value for their taxpayer dollar and full transparency to ensure there are no inside deals,” Sherman said.
On Wednesday, the government announced the result of an online survey to choose one of the three designs. The winner, option 2, is a realistic blue and yellow illustration of the Rocky Mountains, prairies and sky. More than 164,000 people cast votes.
Mandin said the whole process is tainted and should be scrapped.
“I think that it needs to start from square one, or at least look towards an Alberta solution because what we have now is a bit of a disaster.
“If this was a choice made because of the work of a lobbyist, then it is really unfair to my industry and to Albertans,” Mandin said.