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Publc Affairs Bureau Politicization 3

Publc Affairs Bureau Politicization 3

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Published by Charles Rusnell
Reaction to earlier stories about the blatant politicization of the PAB. Includes calls for a public inquiry into PAB, which were, of course, ignored.
Reaction to earlier stories about the blatant politicization of the PAB. Includes calls for a public inquiry into PAB, which were, of course, ignored.

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Published by: Charles Rusnell on Mar 03, 2013
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06/04/2014

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Inquiry needed to clean up bureau, sayLiberals: Agency being used as a Torypropaganda machine, says Taft
Edmonton JournalMon Aug 2 2004Page: A2Section: NewsByline: Charles
Rusnell
, with files from Allyson JeffsDateline: EDMONTONSource: The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - The taxpayer-funded
Public Affairs Bureau
has becomeso blatantly politicized that an independent inquiry is needed to investigateits role and its misuse of public money by the Conservative government,Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said.
 
"The only way to get to the bottom of this is to have a judicial inquiryheaded by an out-of-province judge to do a complete review of the whole
Public Affairs Bureau
," Taft said.Taft was reacting to a story in Sunday's Journal that revealed the existenceof a communications manual and website produced by the
Public AffairsBureau
exclusively for Conservative members of the legislature. A panel of four political scientists who reviewed a copy of the manual saidit verged on propaganda, was a partisan misuse of taxpayers' money, andit provided Premier Ralph Klein's government with an unfair advantage.The professors said the manual is more proof the traditional line betweenthe civil service and the Conservative party has been erased by the Kleingovernment.Several of the professors said Alberta's auditor general should look at the
Public Affairs Bureau
's use of taxpayer money for partisan purposes. A public inquiry into the
Public Affairs bureau
is needed for the sake of democracy in Alberta, said University of Calgary communicationsprofessor David Taras.Gordon Turtle, managing director of the
Public Affairs Bureau
, wouldn't
 
comment on the Liberal Opposition's call for an inquiry. But he saidSunday that it's unfair to characterize the bureau as a partisan entity.Turtle said the bureau's 130 employees perform a broad range of services,including running information campaigns about West Nile virus and healthylife choices; publicizing research grant programs; as well as promotinghistorical sites and the Alberta Summer Games."When there is an emergency, like a tornado in Alberta, it is the
PublicAffairs bureau
staff who work with emergency response experts ingovernment to set up the public information lines and the mediainformation lines," he said.Bureau employees also run the Queen's Printer bookstore and the Service Alberta switchboard that fields hundreds of thousands of calls annually tothe government.The manual that attracted such criticism represents a "sliver" of thebureau's work and is simply designed to enable ministers and MLAs to"answer questions about seniors programs or the government'senvironmental policy or its directions in health care," Turtle said.Other staff from appropriate departments contribute to the informationpackage which provides one-page "message in a minute" summaries of issues.The 184-page manual contains 20 sections of "key messages" for everygovernment department.The political scientists said the messages were political "talking points"designed to provide Tory MLAs with positive "sound bites" for the mediaand their constituents. The bureau also provides a website exclusively for Tory MLAs at which they can get updated talking points on various issues.Klein is the
Public Affairs Bureau
minister. His spokeswoman, MarisaEtmanski, has said the manual is an objective and apolitical document butshe couldn't explain why it, and the website, are produced only for ToryMLAs.She also couldn't explain why a similar service wasn't offered to theLiberals and New Democrats. But she insisted there was a "totalseparation" between the Klein government and the bureau.Taft said that was an insult to the intelligence of anyone who possesseseven a cursory knowledge of how the bureau operates.
 
Before Taft was elected and became Opposition leader, he wrote abestselling book called Shredding the Public Interest, which contained achapter on the bureau. Based on his research, he said there isoverwhelming evidence the bureau has been politicized.Turtle, for example, was Klein's former political spokesman. "There is analmost complete integration between the senior levels of the
PublicAffairs Bureau
and the Tory communication team," Taft said."The
Public Affairs Bureau
is to the Klein government what the Tassnews agency was to the old Soviet government in Moscow. It's apropaganda machine whose primary function is to influence what thepublic thinks about the Tories and deflect criticism from the opposition. Andthat's a cancer on democracy."New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said he received a blunt lesson on thepower and partisanship of the bureau during the recent debate over theKlein government's mad cow compensation package. Mason wanted toknow whether $400 million in government aid had gone to ranchers andfeedlot operators, or, as some suspected, to three large packingcompanies, two of which were American owned.Mason said several bureau staff attended public accounts committeemeetings at which he and other opposition politicians were grilling Agriculture Minister Shirley McClellan and senior department officials."These members of the
Public Affairs Bureau
were monitoring what wasgoing on and providing spin for the minister," he said.McClellan received this so-called "spin" in a document of "key messages,"a copy of which was obtained by the New Democrats. The document titlesays it was produced in response to a motion at the public accountscommittee calling for Alberta's auditor general to conduct a "value for money" audit of the province's BSE compensation plan.The document contains 11 key messages. Several appear to be political."Our producers qualified for these programs on the basis of their cattleinventory," one message reads. "We're not going to ask them to open their books just because the NDs don't know the first thing about the agriculturalsector." According to another statement, "The NDs' constant talk of price fixingshows how little they understand the way our cattle industry -- and the freemarket-- works."

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