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Manitoba Ads in Quebec Over Secularism Law Generated $200K in Publicity: Report

February 7, 2020 10:58 AM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Brian Pallister

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government’s advertising campaign that took a swipe at Quebec’s secularism law appears to have generated a lot of bang for the buck in terms of publicity, but has not resulted in a wave of Quebec civil servants moving west.

A report prepared for Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government says the campaign generated US$152,000 (about Cdn$200,000) worth of publicity through media reports, talk show discussions and more.

The report, prepared by media-monitoring company Critical Mention and obtained by The Canadian Press under Manitoba’s freedom-of-information law, says the coverage reached an audience of more than 6.6 million people.

The estimated monetary value of the publicity is about 10 times higher than what the Manitoba government says it spent on the ad campaign in late November — roughly $20,000 for a full-page ad in the newspaper Le Devoir along with some online and social media ads.

The campaign was aimed at recruiting Quebec civil servants who felt threatened by their province’s ban on religious symbols in the workplace. The law forbids some employees in positions of authority — including teachers, judges and police officers — from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs or turbans on the job.

The ads listed 21 reasons — the law was introduced as Bill 21 — why Quebec civil servants should consider moving to Manitoba, and said Manitobans respect public servants regardless of their faith or culture.

Some of the resulting media coverage praised Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister for taking a stand against the Quebec law, which is being challenged in court by groups who say it is discriminatory.

Other coverage was negative. Quebec Premier Francois Legault told Pallister to mind his own business. One blog in Quebec listed 21 reasons not to move to Manitoba. It characterized the province as a lonely part of the world where the only place to find a crowd is in the lineup at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.

The Manitoba government said the ad campaign had clear objectives.

“The purpose of the campaign was twofold: Manitoba is a bilingual province and we need people with bilingual skills, and we are advancing our support for the rights and freedoms of minorities in Quebec and across the country,” Olivia Billson, Pallister’s press secretary, wrote in an email.

The ads encouraged Quebecers to email the Manitoba government to inquire about job openings.

“Since Nov. 28th to date, the province has received a total of 29 resumes through the MBJobsEmplois email address — 17 of those from people residing in or using a Quebec address, the other 12 with addresses in other provinces or countries,” Billson wrote.

There was no indication as to whether those numbers are an increase from previous years.

One political analyst said the ad campaign appears to be, at least in part, an effort to promote Pallister’s image on the national stage.

“Pallister seems to have changed his approach in the intergovernmental arena from being a combative protagonist of the Trudeau government to now a broker of deals. Raising his profile and improving his image is probably part of this,” said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

“Pallister is acting on the philosophical conviction that the law infringes charter provisions and is intolerant in its treatment of visible minorities. The fact that he is publicly standing up to the Quebec government will resonate with many of his followers.

“A lot of politics today consists of symbolic gestures that engage followers.”

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