When asked about the motivation behind a recent sponsored post on MP Mark Gerretsen’s Facebook account, Gerretsen was quick to dismiss the idea he was trying to end employment opportunities for those in Alberta.
“Of course not. And I think it is an extremely misleading thing to say,” Gerretsen said, noting that he finds the accusation ironic, given that “if you actually dig down into the economy of Alberta, you’ll see that there are more people working in the renewable energy sector now than there are in the (fossil) fuel industry.”
“For me, it is extremely disingenuous to think that my motive would be based on trying to kill jobs. My motive is based on my great concern for our environment and what we’re doing to it. My motive is based on the environment that we are responsible for creating for our children and grandchildren. It might sound cliché, but… that’s what motivates me when it comes to anything related to the environment topic,” Gerretsen continued.
“Of course I’m not interested in getting rid of anybody’s jobs. If anything, I’m up on my feet talking about transitioning economies and helping Alberta diversify their economy so that it’s not just in the fossil fuel industry at any opportunity I have. I think it’s a bit of a cheap shot to suggest that that would be my motive. Why would I want to do that? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Gerretsen posted a petition, started by the Queen’s University Liberal Association, calling for the federal government to reject the proposal to build the Teck Resources Frontier Oilsands Mine in Alberta, which states that the project is “not in the best interest of Canadians.” The petition was posted on Wednesday, Feb.12, 2020, and has since generated just over 800 comments. Many of those comments accuse Gerretsen of pushing this petition in an attempt to squash job opportunities for those in Alberta, a theme writer Brian Lilley picked up on and prompted him to pen an article entitled ‘Ontario Liberal MP pays for ads to shut down Alberta jobs.’ It’s Lilley’s assertion that Gerretsen finds problematic, not the fact that people are commenting negatively about the petition on the post, he explained.
“Are we concerned about the fact that people are having a discussion? More people on there seem to be upset with the petition than seem to be in favour of it. It started a discussion, and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. I look at that as what my job is: to get people talking and to help inform my position,” Gerretsen said.
In Lilley’s article, he also asserts that Gerretsen “paid for clicks” when he boosted the Facebook post (which is what a Facebook page has to do in order for posts to appear as ‘sponsored’ posts). Gerretsen said that boosting the post is not something that is uncommon for his office to do with posts that are aimed to generate dialogue, both between himself and constituents, and between constituents themselves.
“When I’ve been asked about it, my response has just been ‘Yeah, it’s about generating discussion and unfortunately, in today’s world, sometimes on social media, you need to spend a little bit of money to get people talking,’” Gerretsen said, noting that boosting a post means that post will be seen by more than just the people who follow an account, therefore reaching a larger audience.
The MP pointed out that, just a couple of weeks prior, he had posted another petition regarding the rising water levels locally, and that he had boosted that post, as well. The funds to boost both posts come from Gerretsen’s advertising budget through the House of Commons resources.
“All Members of Parliament, all 338, are assigned a budget that they can use. To date, I’ve used a quarter of my budget, so that gives you an idea of how much I actually use of that advertising budget. But, I mean, people use it for different reasons. A lot of people use it for social media, some people on Facebook, some people on Instagram, some people on Twitter,” he said, acknowledging that the advertising budgets afforded to MPs through the House of Commons are, indeed, created through taxpayer dollars.
“Our advertising budgets are discretionary. There’s obviously a cap to them, it’s budgeted. Some people spend that on running ads in newspapers, some people do things in community magazines, some people do things on YouTube… people spend them in all different sorts of ways. One of the ways that we spend some of the advertising money that we do is through boosting posts on Facebook.”
Gerretsen also said that it is not uncommon for MPs to post petitions from their constituents on their social media accounts, nor is it uncommon for MPs to sponsor petitions from their constituents.
“There’s a reason why very few actual MPs are calling me out on this, as opposed to using Sun Media to do it. It’s because they all do it themselves, and they know that they would be labelled a hypocrite if they suggested that I was doing something that’s unorthodox,” he said, noting that, on any given day, there are probably a dozen or two dozen petitions presented by MPs in the House, some of which aren’t entirely well laid-out, and some of which simply call Prime Minister Trudeau names and the like.
“This is a well thought out petition that was done by some people at Queen’s University, and I’m proud to sponsor it because I also feel passionately about the issue,” he said.
“There has been a lot of discussion about the Teck Resources mine in Alberta, and so through dialogue, the association at Queen’s decided that they wanted to put forward a petition. I have a standing policy that any petition that comes forward from someone in my riding – providing it’s not hateful or hate speech – I will sponsor it, so I agreed to sponsor that.”