EDMONTON — Alberta politicians are reaching deep into pop music’s memory bank in the hope their messages about the province’s parks stick in people’s ears.
On Monday, the United Conservative government released a social media campaign called “My Parks Will Go On,” a play on the name of the 1997 power-pop ballad by Celine Dion that became the theme song for the movie “Titanic.”
The campaign says it wants to address what it calls the lies spread by the Opposition New Democrats in their earlier campaign called “Don’t Go Breaking My Parks” — a reference to a lively 1976 dance track by Elton John and Kiki Dee.
It’s all over a plan the government announced last February to strike 164 parks and recreation areas off the provincial list and have them revert to Crown land or managed through third-party “partnerships.”
The New Democrats have said the move will reduce Albertans’ access to the province’s backcountry. They also fear it’s a prelude to some parks being sold or leased. The NDP points to policy changes that open up parts of the Rocky Mountains to coal mining as evidence.
The government has consistently denied any parks are being sold.
The UCP social media response that apes the tone and approach of the NDP’s messaging suggests the New Democrats scored a hit, said political scientist Duane Bratt of Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
“It’s clear that the New Democrats have hit a nerve here,” he said. “Previous premiers ignored the Opposition.”
Bratt calls it part of a pattern that sees a government with a healthy majority continually trying to swat away an Opposition that keeps buzzing around.
“They won the election. They’re the government, but they remain fixated on the NDP Opposition.”
The UCP campaign was paid for with public dollars through funds granted to the party’s caucus. The NDP campaign was paid for by money the party raised privately.
NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt said his party’s campaign has been successful. It has collected 23,284 signatures on a petition and has mailed out more than 8,000 stickers.
“We had to go back and order a second printing of the stickers,” he said.
“The fact they’re responding at all clearly shows they’re feeling the heat on this issue. It’s disappointing they continue to try and spin their way out of this.”
Jeremy Nixon, spokesman for the UCP caucus on the parks topic, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The NDP isn’t the only group fighting the proposed parks changes. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has distributed more than 15,000 lawn signs that say Defend Alberta Parks.
“You see those lawn signs everywhere,” said Bratt. “It’s remarkable to see signs outside an election campaign.”
It’s not the first time the government has responded on social media to criticism of its parks plans.
An Oct. 10 Twitter video quoted Premier Jason Kenney as saying, “No parks have been sold. No parks will be sold.
“If you’re getting that, you’re probably seeing NDP Facebook ads or ads by foreign-funded interest groups like, um, green left organizations that are lying to people to raise money.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020.
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Bob Weber, The Canadian Press