'No nukes' sign removal politically motivated: critics

Alberta Transportation ordered the removal of anti-nuclear signs in the Peace River area after the local Progressive Conservative MLA raised the issue with the minister and the department's regional manager, internal government documents show.

Government e-mails obtained by CBC indicate political interference

The prospect of a nuclear power station in northeast Alberta had residents putting up signs in opposition, some of which were taken down by Alberta Transportation. ((Lydia Neufeld/CBC))

Alberta Transportation ordered the removal of anti-nuclear signs in the Peace River area after the local Progressive Conservative MLA raised the issue with the minister and the department's regional manager, internal government documents show.

The documents, obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information legislation, include an Aug. 26, 2009, e-mail from the transportation department's Peace River regional manager, Wayne Franklin, to the assistant deputy minister. In it, Franklin describes statements made by Peace River Tory MLA Frank Oberle during a meeting in August at a public function in Peace River.

"Frank Oberle raised the issue of advertising signs again yesterday when we were with the minister," the e-mail states. "Frank's comments were that we don't seem to have taken any action against the 'no-nukes' signs."

Many of the no-nukes signs were subsequently torn down because Alberta Transportation said they were illegal. But as a CBC investigation confirmed in February, other signs that violated provincial regulations on where they could be placed were ignored. In fact, in some cases, highway workers walked right past other illegal signs to tear down the no-nukes signs.

Frank Oberle, the Progressive Conservative MLA who represents Peace River, says he did not pressure government workers to take down no-nukes signs. ((CBC))
Anti-nuclear activists in February accused the government of targeting their signs in an attempt to suppress their right to free speech, an allegation the transportation department denied.

CBC showed the internal e-mail to Oberle on Tuesday. He said he couldn't recall meeting with the minister. And he dismissed the allegation that he pressured the department to remove the no-nukes signs. He said he raised the issue because of a complaint from a constituent, with a different type of sign, who felt he was being harassed by the department.

"I made a representation to whoever I met with that I thought we should treat everybody the same," Oberle said. Franklin confirmed that was the context in which Oberle raised the issue with the minister and himself.

But two months after CBC first raised the issue publicly, both Oberle and Franklin still could not explain why the no-nukes signs were removed, while other illegal signs were ignored.

After viewing the e-mail, Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith said she had no doubt about the intent of Oberle's meeting with the minister and the district manager.

"It seems pretty irrefutable that there was some political involvement in trying to eliminate these signs from being on display," she said.

Smith called it another example of a worrisome trend within the government of Premier Ed Stelmach.

"It seems like anybody who disagrees with a track that they're on, they end up getting bullied and intimidated, and in this case, they get shut down," Smith said.

The documents obtained by CBC also show that after Oberle complained to the minister, the department undertook an extensive survey, photographing every no-nukes sign and measuring its distance from the roadway to see if it breached regulations.

Farmer and anti-nuclear activist Lorraine Jensen doesn't believe Oberle was simply seeking parity for his constituents. She questions why the government would expend all that time and money surveying the no-nukes signs after ignoring other illegal signs for decades.

"It's very disheartening," Jensen said. "It definitely makes me wonder about their integrity and the measures they are willing to take. We're supposed to be living in a democratic society with rights and freedoms, and I feel like they're being jeopardized."