While the provincial government's $20,000 Quebec ad blitz generated plenty of headlines in Manitoba and la belle province, it has only resulted in a few dozen inquiries from Quebecers asking about local civil service positions.
During a year-end fireside scrum with reporters Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister mentioned 15 to 20 people from Quebec had expressed interest in working in the provincial public sector within the past two weeks.
They were responding to a full-page advertisement the government ran in Montreal-based French-language newspaper Le Devoir at the end of November, listing "21 reasons why you will feel at home in Manitoba."
It was a one-time ad buy that also resulted in an accompanying, week-long digital and social media campaign.
Pallister acknowledged in French the response received to date was "minimal, but encouraging."
A government spokesperson clarified Wednesday the response rate from Quebecers was actually slightly higher, with nearly 6,000 website visits to the Manitoba jobs site within the past two weeks and a "few dozen" applications fielded. On Thursday, the government confirmed about 82 per cent of the website visitors were from Quebec.
"It is important to stress that recruitment initiatives don’t always happen quickly, and can take a few months or even years to complete, particularity for candidates moving jurisdictions. While the initial response is positive and promising, the impact of this campaign and other ongoing recruitment efforts will be seen in the coming months and years," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
"If they were interested in actually making an effort, then it would be more than just one ad. This really sort of smacks of a stunt because it’s the one-off." – Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont
Pallister's opponents were not impressed with the response rate, nor were they fans of the "21 reasons" ad to begin with.
"The whole episode is just something you’re going to roll your eyes at. That’s a lot of money and there has to be in Manitoba, especially when we’re facing all these cuts, a better use of that money," said NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw.
"This money was used to get the premier some national press. That’s great for the premier, but spend your own money next time."
Wasyliw also emphasized Manitoba's plan to trim civil service jobs doesn't seem to align with the government's new Quebec recruitment campaign.
Two years ago, the Tory government set a goal of reducing the civil service by 1,200 positions by the time it reached the three-year mark in its mandate. It exceeded its target by 837.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont questioned why the government isn't running the "21 reasons" ad several times, if it's serious about recruitment.
"If they were interested in actually making an effort, then it would be more than just one ad. This really sort of smacks of a stunt because it’s the one-off," he said.
The government spokesperson said the purpose of the ad was two-fold: recruiting bilingual civil servants and "advancing our support for the rights and freedoms of minorities in Quebec and across the country."
However, Lamont said the advertisement seemed designed to promote Pallister, rather than the province, on a national stage.
"If you actually look at the things in the ad, about a third of the 21 things named — at least that — were things that (the government) has cut one way or another, including French-language services," the Liberal leader said.
Among the 21 reasons the government suggested for moving "to build your career with the Manitoba public service" were craft beer, cheap housing, and "a truly four-season climate."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 9:12 AM CST: Updates that on Thursday, the government confirmed about 82 per cent of the website visitors were from Quebec