Election fact-checker: The meme effect

As part of an ongoing effort to hold Alberta's political leaders and political parties accountable, CBC News will fact-check comments made and posted online at various times along the campaign trail.

A look at how parties are using social media to critique opponents in the provincial election

CBC reviewed the memes posted in the last week on the UCP and NDP social media accounts. (CBC)

Social media has become a powerful tool for Alberta's two leading political parties in the election campaign. 

CBC News examined the memes posted on the social media accounts of both the UCP and NDP in the last week and so far both parties have made misleading claims. 

  • VOTE COMPASS Find out how your views on campaign issues line up with the platforms of Alberta's major parties

Comments made by politicians and the parties online are ranked as true, false or muddy in CBC News fact-checker articles.

Memes posted to the UCP's social media accounts

Meme #1:
The UCP tweeted this photo, along with a caption, on March 20. (Twitter/@Alberta_UCP)

Source: Twitter

Ranking: False

Here's why: This meme posted on the Alberta UCP's Twitter account alleges three things:

  • Charities are forced to pay the carbon tax.
  • The Calgary Food Bank pays $35,000 per year in carbon tax.
  • The removal of the carbon tax will feed 147 families per month.

Charities in Alberta do pay the provincial carbon tax, which came into effect Jan.1, 2017. Some non-profits have voiced their concerns about the financial burden the carbon tax has had on their organization. Calgary Food Bank officials say they are no different. 

It is important to note that some non-profit organizations are eligible for grants funded by Alberta's new carbon tax to help retrofit their buildings and boost energy efficiency, according to an announcement made by the provincial government shortly after the carbon tax was introduced.

CBC News spoke to Calgary Food Bank officials for clarification on the effect of the carbon tax on the charity. James McAra, the food bank's CEO, said the $35,000 is incorrect.

"That was somebody misreading our calculations from food waste three years ago when the Government of Alberta was talking about imposing the carbon tax," he said.

McAra explains that before the provincial government announced the details of the carbon tax, the charity did their own research and calculations to get a better idea of the effect the carbon tax would have on the food bank's food waste.

The organization used carbon tax figures on food waste from the European Union to formulate their assumptions, said the food bank's CEO.

"In 2016, what we took to the government, was if a carbon tax is put on food in the same way it has been done internationally, then in the first year, it would – on just waste at the Calgary Food Bank–  cost us about $24,000," explained McAra.

  • Listen to The Ledge podcast, as CBC's legislative reporters bring you expert analysis and insiders' insight

"What we found was under the second year, food carbon tax waste would cost this organization $34,000 a year."

That number is close to the UCP's figures, however, those numbers were assumptions and do not apply to today's figures. No tax has been levied on food waste since the carbon tax was put in place in 2017, McAra said.

The food bank did pay about $12,300 in carbon tax for natural gas and vehicle use in 2018, the food bank's CEO said. Calgary Food Bank officials did not know the cost of what has been applied to any "electrical provision because that's not itemized on any bill anywhere," McAra said. 

So how many families could have been fed with the $12,300? McAra said the food bank generally doesn't track the value of their food hampers because it's hard to track how much donated food is valued at.

He said some people may have purchased in bulk, on sale or at full price. He said there are too many factors. 

Instead, the food bank uses Canada's Food Guide average of $315 as the cost of for emergency food hampers for seven days for a family of four, McAra said.  

Using the national average cost of $315 per hamper for a family of four, the $12,300 levied by the carbon tax could have (in theory) fed roughly 39 families accessing the Calgary Food Bank, according to the food bank's figures.

Meme #2
A meme posted to the UCP's Facebook page on March 24. (Facebook/UnitedConservativePartyofAlberta)

Source: Facebook 

Ranking: Muddy

Here's why: As Alberta's leader, Rachel Notley told "reporters that she has never suggested she is opposed to pipelines as a general rule." 

However, she has voiced her support for some pipeline projects over others in her first term as Alberta's premier. 

On Keystone XL:

Notley has shown both support for the project and has opposed Keystone XL in the public forum. In 2015, Notley agreed with Hillary Clinton's opposition to the pipeline project. 

"I do think we need to get our product to tidewater. I'm just not convinced that getting our product down to the gulf, where there's a whole bunch of cheap refining, is absolutely the best strategy for an industry in Alberta when Albertans want to see focus more on upgrading and refining," she said in 2015. 

But she also confirmed her support for the pipeline last year when she said the Alberta government earmarked 50,000 barrels a day for the project from some of the royalty payments it accepts as barrels of oil as a way to help the project.

Notley also applauded the pipeline clearing its final regulatory hurdle.

On Northern Gateway:

The NDP leader's support of the Northern Gateway pipeline waffled over the last few years. 

Her focus often defaulted to the Trans Mountain pipeline when speaking about Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects in public. 

"There are opportunities for new proponents to go the Northern Gateway route if they do it right," she told Power & Politics.

On Trans Mountain: 

The NDP leader and her government pushed hard for this pipeline project, fighting a federal court ruling  and fighting neighbouring B.C. when the premier and government publicly opposed the pipeline project.

On Energy East:

Following TransCanada's decision to cancel Energy East, Notley publicly claimed her government's disappointment in the decision.

"Our government has supported Energy East since the project was proposed," she said in 2017

Memes posted to the NDP's social media accounts

Meme #1: 
The NDP posted this photo to their Facebook page on March 21. (Facebook/Alberta's NDP)

Source: Facebook

Ranking: False

Here's why: This meme, posted to the Alberta's NDP's Facebook page, does not specify when Jason Kenney spoke about pipelines and equal marriage beyond specifying "while he was in Ottawa." 

It's important to note that Kenney was first elected as an MP in 1997 and continued to serve in various roles in parliament for almost 20 years. Therefore, it is difficult to check every speaking engagement, reporter scrum or public appearance. 

But here's what we found. 

It is correct that Jason Kenney mentioned the word "pipeline" three times in the Hansard database, the official transcript of the House of Commons.

Here are the two Hansard records of when he mentioned the word "pipeline" for a total of three times in Ottawa (with transcripts):

However, it is important to note that although Kenney does not specify the word "pipeline," he also mentioned Northern Gateway by name, according to Hansard records.  

Also, he did mention the word "pipeline" several times when he spoke to CBC in 2014 about the impact of falling oil prices when he was the federal employment ministerKenney also spoke about the impact of the fuel tax while in Ottawa.

For the meme's claims about the mentions of "equal marriage," it is important to note that it is primarily referred to in the Hansard transcripts as "same-sex marriage." 

CBC was able to find 18 incidents of Jason Kenney speaking to the topic of same-sex marriage in the official federal documents. Here is a list of when he spoke to the issue:

CBC was also able to track down an additional five references to the topic of "same-sex marriage" and Jason Kenney while he was a federal politician.  

Meme #2: 
This image was posted on Alberta's NDP's Twitter account on March 24. (Twitter/@albertaNDP)

Source: Twitter

Ranking: Muddy

Here's why: The Alberta NDP posted this collage of photos on Twitter earlier this week. Context is needed in terms of this meme so here is a breakdown of when and what Kenney said about wine, Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger and golf.

On wine

Kenney did mention the word "wine" four times in Hansard transcripts. In three of the four occurrences, wine was mentioned by Kenney when criticizing his opponents. Here's when he mentioned the word:

On Hollywood

In his former life in Ottawa, Kenney did mention the word "Hollywood" six times on March 27, 2001, reads the Hansard document.

"The Hollywood movie actors have been shedding crocodile tears about this unfair tax treatment by Canada. The same government which cannot find the fiscal room to help out single-income familie has decided to give millionaire Hollywood movie actors a tax break in the bill. Lo and behold, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis will be at the front of the line when it comes to tax relief from the government," he said in one instance found in official transcripts.

On Arnold Schwarzenegger

CBC was not able to find any official transcript record that states Jason Kenney mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger while sitting in Ottawa.

There were two Hansard records (one in English, one in French) where a speaker mentioned the former California governor. But it was not Kenney speaking at that time.

Jason Kenney did however mention the Terminator in a tweet when he attended an event featuring Schwarzenegger as a speaker. 

One of the NDP's ministers, Shannon Phillips, also shared a video of Schwarzenegger on Facebook criticizing Trump. She mentions Jason Kenney in the Facebook post.
A screenshot of a post from Shannon Phillips' Facebook page referencing Jason Kenney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Facebook/ShannonPhillipsLethbridge)

On golf

There was one instance in the Hansard documents where Jason Kenney referenced the word "golf."

"In September 21, 2000, Pierre Tremblay, then chief of staff to former Minister Gagliano, held a retreat at a Quebec golf course with advertising company executives, including Mr. Boulay of Groupe Everest and Mr. Brault of Groupaction, to discuss a strategic communications plan regarding sponsorships because of the internal audit," said Kenney on Feb. 26, 2004.

As part of an ongoing effort to hold Alberta's political leaders and political parties accountable, CBC News will fact-check comments made by politicians and photos posted online at various times along the campaign trail.  

  • Sign up to get our election newsletter The Scrutineer delivered directly to your inbox twice weekly


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.