Premier Jason Kenney posted to Facebook and Twitter on April 6.
The posts, which promoted Ottawa-based e-commerce site Shopify, saw some backlash online.
9️⃣0️⃣-day free trial
🎁 Sell gift cards online
🚚Local pickup & delivery options
Check it all out here:https://t.co/EpWU5c187O
— Jason Kenney (@jkenney) April 7, 2020
They quickly made the rounds on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, with many people commenting on the perception of such a promotion.
“I was annoyed and angry. Governments should not be picking private enterprise winners during a time of global crisis,” said Calgary physician Jillian Ratti in an email to Daily Hive.
“It appears to be a trend and I find it repulsive and hypocritical given that the Premier prides himself on being a ‘free market conservative.'”
Ratti stated that, upon the discovery that a former Kenney staffer was employed by Shopify, she was particularly outraged.
“Every time I see a government official speaking highly of anything private or for-profit, I wonder if they have a personal interest in it,” wrote Ratti.
“It simply verifies and provides more evidence that this Premier is quite happy to use his immense power in ways that are morally and democratically inappropriate.”
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The staffer in question, Kaz Najatian, is currently the VP and GM of Financial Solutions for Shopify, a company he joined in 2019.
He worked for Kenney in 2011 before leaving in 2012 to work in the tech sector.
“The Premier has no relationship with Shopify. Mr. Nejatian last worked for then-Minister Kenney way back in 2012. More recently, Mr. Nejatian was working for Facebook,” stated the Premier’s Office in an email to Daily Hive.
“Shopify is a well-established Canadian firm that has helped many small [businesses], including those in Alberta, set up online sales operations. Nobody is obliged to use this service […] The Premier is happy to promote options that help Albertans during these very difficult times.
“This was not an ad.”
A spokesperson for Shopify was able to confirm that the premier’s office was not compensated for the endorsement.
“Shopify was asked by the Government of Alberta if we had any tools or resources to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19,” read the statement provided to Daily Hive by Shopify.
“We responded with a link to the relief measures we issued on March 20. We did not pay or request for any promotion.”
While the standards for influencer marketing and the Competition Act call for the disclosure of any sponsored or ad-related content, the premier’s posts do not appear to fall under legislation, as there is no personal or material connection to be found.
Daily Hive was unable to reach Mr. Nejatian for comment.
Legalities aside, some have stated that the formatting of the posts make them appear to be commercial.
The commercial connection perceived by some to link the premier and the platform has caused Calgary artist Heather Buchanan to re-evaluate her outlook on using Shopify to host her own store.
Buchanan currently sells prints and pieces of art on the platform, donating portions of some sales to fundraise for local LGBTQ+ initiatives and organizations.
“I do my best to use my small business to support the things I believe in, and try to avoid giving my business to places that conflict with my ethics,” said Buchanan.
“I try to be an ally to the LGBTQ2S+ community, for example, donating a portion of the proceeds from a few of my items to Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality, but Kenney’s first priority in office was to roll back rights for LGBTQ2S youth, not to mention his heartbreaking past advocating for AIDS patients to die without the presence of their loved ones.
“Any connection with Kenney is in direct conflict with what my work stands for.”