That’s one expensive message track

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It’s hard to believe it’s what they intended. In fact, I’m absolutely certain it isn’t what they intended. But for some reason, having plotted a course, the federal Conservatives can’t seem to change it, regardless of the fact that they may well be doing themselves political damage.

There’s sidewalk work being done on my street this week. First, it was an unseen worker with a can of orange spray paint, marking the places where work was to be done, then, the notices in mailboxes up and down the street saying to expect early morning work and an absence of parking spots. When the concrete saws arrived, any doubt that it was a practical joke was over.

It is what governments are actually elected to do: spending taxpayers’ money to repair infrastructure in a timely way.


Your money at work

Funny, then, that governments so clearly want to take credit for it, and that the desire for credit could rankle so.

Down at the end of the street, there’s a heavy buzz of activity: the stone slinger gravel truck is slinging stone, the compacters are compacting it, and the concrete’s probably coming this afternoon.

Also down at the end of the street, there’s a big green and blue and white “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” sign, the years-old buzzwords the federal Tories insist must accompany every project they deign to fund, right down to regulations about the size of signs and the colours used to make it.

Should I know, perhaps, that the federal government is involved in the effort? Sure. But the provincial government has signs up proclaiming their involvement in the project, too, and I have nowhere near the same visceral reaction to their signage. And it’s not because I harbour a particular dislike for the federal Tories (although, with relation to a number of their efforts, like the destruction of Canada’s once-formidable scientific presence, I certainly do).

Perhaps the problem is that the Economic Action Plan advertising program is absolutely everywhere — it’s outside rinks and tourism signs, scattered along roadways so completely that a master propagandist like Joseph Goebbels would be impressed.

And it’s not just tagged onto each and every project.

Watching a bit of pre-season hockey on the weekend, I was treated, once again, to the federal government’s media buy in some of the most expensive advertising real estate in the nation: an encomium, funded by us, about what a wonderful job our federal government is doing.


Not hitting home

The thing is, the government already knows that the Economic Action Plan ads are a wretched failure, because they’ve used more of our money to do marketing studies that show clearly that the ads are ignored, and that no one — literally, no one — is calling the 1-800 number or logging onto the federal website to find out more.

Part of me has to grudgingly admit that governments will always indulge in self-promotion; I think what troubles me most is that the feds are marching on with this particular program, even though an ever-growing number of people in the market research are saying they dislike the advertisements.

Spending, while wilfully ignoring the waste of money the advertising project has become, seems a lot like adding insult to injury to me.

In the early 2000s, it was really popular for young women to get tattoos from side to side across their lower backs. It was popular, that is, until the tattoos were given a widely known nickname that stuck as well as the tattoos themselves: tramp stamps. Suddenly, they weren’t so popular anymore.

That’s pretty much the point the Economic Action Plan ads and signs are now at; meant to do one thing, their message has been overtaken by a whole different meaning.

The strangest thing is that a federal government that prides itself on knowing its audience is still looking at itself in the mirror and admiring its own ink.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Conservatives, The Telegram

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • W Bagg
    October 01, 2013 - 08:11

    you were lucky Russell, my street had no warning about sidewalk work or a lack of sidewalk work. We just woke the noise of heavy equipment and concrete workers one Monday moring