Natural Resources Canada is spending $185,000 to hold focus groups to vet millions of dollars worth of advertisements promoting responsible resource development, according to documents obtained by CBC News.
The government's supplementary budget estimates document shows the resource development campaign will cost $4 million.
That's on top of the $5 million already budgeted for Natural Resources advertising that has promoted pipelines, safety measures such as double-hulled oil tankers and changes to environmental laws as part of the government's 2012 budget.
This year's total of $9 million for advertising is the most this department has ever spent on advertising during the current Conservative tenure.
A ministry document, obtained by CBC News under Access to Information, acknowledged that Ottawa's new energy policies were attracting a lot of public and media attention.
"It will be important in this environment to increase public awareness and understanding of the Government's balanced approach to energy policy," stated the document signed by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
The Conservatives focus on resource development and energy policy comes with overhauls of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act.
"We are presenting facts about environmental protection and about responsible resource development and about our new legislation to Canadians. We think it's very important that they have those facts and that's why we're doing it," explained Oliver in response to a question from CBC News.
Compared to other departments, the Natural Resources ad buy is small. The Finance Department regularly spends eight to 10 times as much promoting its budgets. But NRCan is not generally a big spender in the ad world. The most the department ever spent was $21 million in 2002-2003 raising awareness about climate change.
At least two of the commercials are playing on TV already. They will play on radio and online as well. One lists a host of benefits resource development brings to Canadians. The other lists ways the government is making sure the environment is protected when resources are developed.
Communications strategy may be flawed
Communications expert Allan Bonner says the spots are on "the right track" because they show the benefits. But he does see some problems with their potential effectiveness.
First is the laundry list approach.
"There is research that shows a microcosmic story will be more memorable. Perhaps this could be a story of one town, one person, a community centre heated with oilsands oil or the oil that's exported that comes back as a finished product from another country," says Bonner.
Second is the size of the campaign.
"One has to spend a lot of money and repeat for a long time to make a dent in public opinion," he adds.
Finally, he explains there is often a gap between the way scientists and industry view a topic and the way the general public does. NRCan has to work hard to bridge that gap or risk a failing campaign.
Opposition calls campaign 'Orwellian'
Regardless of whether the campaign is effective or not from a marketing standpoint, the opposition thinks the whole campaign is deeply cynical.
"I think the problem here is that ... they have cut environmental protections. They've cut the environmental assessment process and at the same time they are injecting millions of dollars in order to convince Canadians that this is a good thing," argues NDP Natural Resources Critic Peter Julian.
"It's almost Orwellian. What they're doing is taking bad practices and telling Canadians that somehow that's good."
But the industry doesn't feel that way at all.
"We need all the help we can get. Evidence would suggest that the oil and gas industry is not well understood. I would even argue that in some sectors and circles we are not all that well liked," says Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers spokesperson Janet Annesley.
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Fact 1: George Orwell isn't his real name
Born Eric Blair in 1903, the writer used the pen name George Orwell for most of his professional career. IMAGE: AP/Press Association Images
Fact 2: He wasn't just a journalist and a novelist
Poetry isn't usually connected with Orwell, but he wrote 17 well-received poems.
Fact 3: 'Down And Out...' was based on real experience
Orwell's novel was the result of his spending several years in poverty, doing itinerant work and occasionally being homeless. He eventually found work as a schoolteacher. The ill health he contracted during these years contributed to his early death at the age of 45. IMAGE: <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Blue_plaque_George_Orwell%2C_22_Portobello_Road%2C_Nothing_Hill.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a>
Fact 4: He was a big fan of England
Orwell's pen name is constructed from the name of the Country's patron saint and the River Orwell. IMAGE: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewilkybarkid/" target="_hplink">The Wilky Bar Kid</a>
Fact 5: He was a teacher's pet
The young George Orwell (then known as Eric) did so well at school that he won a prestigious scholarship to a successful prep school and then to both Wellington and Eton colleges. Here he is playing with some friends at Eton in 1919. IMAGE: Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images
Fact 6: He predicted the concept of Spin Doctors
Although never using the words "spin doctor", Orwell imagined the idea ahead of its time. IMAGE: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/milesdeelite/3804182563/" target="_hplink">Flickr/Jens Lumm</a>
Fact 7: He never went to university
Instead, Orwell went to Burma to join the imperial police force, where he had experience of colonial rule. IMAGE: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eguidetravel/" target="_hplink">Flickr/eGuide Travel</a>
Fact 8: He invented Big Brother
Not the reality TV show, but the omnipresent dictator in the well-known novel <em>Nineteen-Eighty-Four</em>. IMAGE: Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images
Fact 9: He contributed to the anti-Communist movement
In 1949, Orwell compiled and submitted a list of 37 writers and journalists to the Information Research Department of People on the suspicion they were Communist. IMAGE: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/8867029@N07/" target="_hplink">Flickr/bollilaurent</a>
Fact 10: He came close to death
While fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell was shot through the neck and nearly died. IMAGE: Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images
Fact 11: He lived in isolation
Orwell moved to this house on Juna, a remote island on the Inner Hebrides, for several years. IMAGE: <a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Barnhill%2C_North_Jura_-_geograph.org.uk_-_939595.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia Commons</a>