Province launches ad campaign to promote loosening of pandemic restrictions in Manitoba

The province is paying for billboards, social media and broadcast media ads to promote the reopening plan it has branded as "Restart Manitoba."

PC government buys billboard, TV and social media ads to promote Restart Manitoba campaign

Manitoba has launched a campaign to advertise the loosening of pandemic restrictions, which began in May. (John Einarson/CBC)

Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government has launched an advertising campaign to promote the loosening of pandemic restrictions and the gradual reopening of the provincial economy.

The province is paying for billboards, social media and broadcast media ads to promote the reopening plan it has branded as "Restart Manitoba."

Billboards promoting the brand and the slogan "ready, safe, grow" began to appear in Winnipeg last week.

The government declined to say how much money it's spending on the advertisements, other than to say the scope of the campaign has yet to be determined.

"As we continue to safely restart our economy and reopen our communities, we must learn to live with this virus," Premier Brian Pallister's office said in a statement Tuesday, echoing a phrase uttered regularly by Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer.

"We are committed to being ready for what lies ahead — ready to live with COVID-19, ready to return to school, ready to restart our services, create jobs, and grow the economy," Pallister's office said.

"The #RestartMB campaign has a strong focus on both public safety and economic growth."

Pallister is slated to speak in Brandon on Wednesday afternoon at a Restart Manitoba event.

'Pure self-promotion': Liberal leader

Provincial opposition parties criticized the use of public funds on an ad campaign to promote what they described as slogans, rather than public health messaging about the need for handwashing and physical distancing.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the campaign does nothing to help struggling businesses, patients waiting for COVID-19 test results or parents who are worried about sending their kids back to school in September.

"The idea of just putting out a catchphrase and a tagline that really has no meaning and no relevance to people right now is not a good use of funds," Kinew said Tuesday in an interview.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont compared the campaign to a victory lap prior to the end of a race.

"I don't understand why they would do this when we could be facing a second wave [of COVID-19 cases] in the fall," Lamont said Tuesday in an interview. "It doesn't really do anything. It's pure self-promotion."

Jonathan Alward, Prairie director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he would like to see government communications focus on helping small businesses understand what programs are available to them.

"A lot of the program names are similar," he said, adding business owners remain confused about program deadlines, eligibility requirements and how provincial programs interact with federal programs.

"A lot of these businesses are not used to filling out applications for government funding."

Manitoba started loosening pandemic restrictions in stages at the beginning of May.

Roussin said Monday the province is trying to avoid bringing back COVID-19 restrictions and would prefer Manitobans "learn to live with the virus" by practising social distancing, handwashing and avoiding indoor gatherings.