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Alberta Wastes Over $1 Million on Promotional Road Signs in 2013

By: Andrew Woodbury - @A_W10 - Jan 6, 2014, 5:34 pm
Each Alberta sign, like this one, cost an average of CAN$3,560 in 2013.
Each Alberta sign, like this one, cost an average of CAN$3,560 in 2013. Source: Sun Media.

What can you buy with CAN$1 million of taxpayer money? That’ll be 293 road signs, if you’re Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

Redford, the Progressive Conservative Party leader and premier of the Canadian province since October of 2011, is under fire. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) released a report last week showing that her provincial government spent more than $1.04 million in 2013 on signs touting building projects in the province as part of her “Building Alberta” campaign.

As the report illustrates, spending on the signs skyrocketed in 2013 — increasing 377 percent from 2012 — with each sign costing an average of $3,560.

The idea behind the signs, according to Redford’s government, is to publicly show Albertans where and how their tax dollars are being spent. Every sign references a specific government project being worked on, in addition to the premier’s name. With devastating floods that displaced over 100,000 people last June, more signs were needed in 2013. At least that’s what Christine Way rationalized, as a member of the Transportation Department, in response to the report.

According to Way, each and every infrastructure project involving provincial money got a sign to show the population that projects were being worked on.

But Canadian Taxpayers Federation Alberta Director Derek Fildebrandt, like most, is seeing right through the party line. In saying what most are thinking, Fildebrandt stated “The cost of these signs is clearly wasteful, especially when you consider the fact that the government is borrowing money to buy them.”

“They are partisan propaganda with Premier Redford’s name emblazoned across them.”

Alberta premier Alison Redford has come under fire for wasting taxpayer money. Source: National Post
Alberta premier Alison Redford has come under fire for wasting taxpayer money. Source: National Post.

While justification for the signs will be much more difficult after the CTF report, it is the second recent blow to the project. A leaked September 4 email from inside Redford’s party may have shown alternative motives for many of the signs.

The September email from the premier’s director of political operations, Darren Cunningham, told the staff to put all signs up as soon as possible. As per the CBC, Cunningham is quoted from the email as stating: “I don’t care if an RFP [Request for Proposals] is ready or not. We need a very visible commitment that the government is rebuilding.”

“The signs are designed. We just need to push these out over the next 7 days to 2 weeks.”

Though the flood recovery effort is still ongoing, the urgency for the signs in Cunningham’s email raised eyebrows. But with Redford up for a leadership review in November, the rush for flood signs a few months prior — which also meant a cost of $6,000 per sign instead of the average $3,000 to $4,000 — affirmed what many had already thought.

“This was never about informing Albertans about anything meaningful,” said Rob Anderson, a finance critic for the official opposition, The Wildrose Party, in a statement last Thursday. “It was about boosting the premier’s image at taxpayers’ expense.”

The real question is how can a government frivolously spend over a million dollars of taxpayer money on signs that are purely symbolic, while at the same time continuing to make cuts in crucial areas like education and health care? As Anderson noted, that money “could have done some real good by funding 20 new teachers, or over 30 hip replacement surgeries.”

There’s no discounting the projects the government is actually working on. But spending taxpayer money on symbols to show where else taxpayer money is being spent borders on insulting.

Somehow, the government continues to defend the signs and the use of Redford’s name.

“These signs often include the names of elected officials and in this case the name of our premier,” Christine Way furthered last Thursday. “These signs are about ensuring Albertans know about how their tax dollars are being spent.”

With 293 signs, there’s no arguing that.

Andrew Woodbury Andrew Woodbury

From Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is a Young Voices advocate, editor, and educator at the International Language Academy of Canada. Follow him @A_W10, and read more of his featured PanAm Post column, “Connecting the Dots.”