Alberta launching ad campaign to win 'hearts and minds' on Trans Mountain project

Alberta has spent $1.3 million so far on a campaign extolling the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion with $700,000 going towards billboards that are already going up in British Columbia.

$1.3 million spent so far on campaign but 'no final number' available, Notley spokesperson says

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley stands beside a video monitor showing one of the ads that are part of a new campaign that has cost $1.2 million and counting. (CBC)

Alberta has spent $1.3 million on a campaign extolling the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, with $700,000 going towards billboards already going up in British Columbia.

"It is a necessary investment in the battle for hearts and minds," Premier Rachel Notley said Thursday.

One of the billboards states: "Trans Mountain Pipeline means more money for roads, schools and hospitals."

Notley said the government is also using social media and buying radio and TV spots to "provide the facts and make the case that Trans Mountain contributes to a stronger Canada."

The campaign started running April 30 and will continue until the pipeline is in operation, according to a government news release.  Kinder Morgan has indicated the Trans Mountain expansion won't be operational until December 2020 at the earliest. 

The government is unable to say how much the entire ad campaign will cost, a spokesperson said.

"We will continue to assess and re-assess the situation and (do) what is appropriate and necessary to get the project built, so I don't have a final number for you," said Cheryl Oates, the premier's director of communications, in an email. "We will do what it takes."

Speaking to reporters in Edmonton, Notley announced Alberta is also seeking full status in the B.C. court reference case, announced last month by B.C. Premier John Horgan.

Horgan wants the B.C. Court of Appeal to rule on whether the province has the authority to limit an increase of bitumen shipments through British Columbia.

"If British Columbia attains the right to throttle our resources, every other province will be given the same right," Notley said. 

"The economic consequences would be severe throughout the country. B.C. should be, quite frankly, careful about what it asks for." 

The federal government is also seeking intervener status in the case.

'Optimistic' work on project will resume

Notley plans to submit an opinion piece to B.C. media  to counter statements made this week by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

In a media interview, Robertson said the Trans Mountain expansion will never go ahead because of escalating protests in B.C.

Notley said Ottawa is in "very serious and determined" discussions with Kinder Morgan with a goal of resuming construction this summer and eliminating "a critical mass of uncertainty."

"I'm optimistic that we will be successful in that task," Notley said. She declined to provide any details.

Kinder Morgan has set a May 31 deadline for when it will decide to continue with the project or pull the plug. The $7.4-billion project would nearly triple the flow of diluted bitumen and other products between Edmonton and Burnaby.

The Alberta legislature is in the final stages of debate on Bill 12, which will give Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd power to throttle gasoline shipments to British Columbia.

MLAs agreed to an amendment by Alberta Party MLA Karen McPherson to put a two-year limit on those powers.

Notley said the bill will be used strategically, if necessary.

 "We must deploy this tool with a cool hand, not an angry one," Notley said.