An iconic piece of Alberta’s history is about to change. Last year the provincial govern- ment finally decided that, after a quar- ter of a century, it was time to update the province’s automobile licence plate.

Granted, in a world of frightening economic headlines, problems of homelessness and geopolitical prob- lems around the globe, the effort to change the lowly licence plate may seem pretty trivial. If designing a new licence plate was the biggest challenge that lay ahead of Alberta’s provincial government in 2008, it would be lucky!

Still, it’s about time that the design of the plate be given some serious con- sideration. Image is important. Each time someone travels by car into the rest of Canada or the US, the licence plate is an ambassador for the whole province. It really isn’t all that trivial.

Motorists should ask themselves: if I were given 15 seconds to sell my province to a visitor, would I hold up my car’s licence plate? Is this the impression I want to leave? The badly designed outline of a flower looks like clip art. The only verbal message is ”œWild Rose Country.” Is this an appro- priate image for the fastest-growing economy on the continent?

Recently, the government brought the licence plate redesign project to the public through an on-line survey. Over 33,000 Albertans registered their thoughts and opinions on the redesign, which suggests a fairly high level of enthusiasm about the project. The survey did not solicit actual design submissions, but rather asked a series of questions about choice of colour, images and what " if anything " should be the motto on the plate. The official provincial motto is ”œStrong and Free,” which was one of the choic- es put before the on-line participants.

Despite the nice, engaging, ”œdemo- cratic” approach of the on-line survey, the province should be careful not to cater too much to the on-line participants’ opinions. After all, people who go out of their way to make known their preferences usually do so because they have a strong opinion. And strong opinions, as we know, never really capture the sentiment of the general population.

The province would be wise to settle on something that conveys a very contemporary attitude in the province. We’ve long since moved past agriculture as the primary industry in the province, although it certainly remains a powerful force in many communities. And the wild rose " while a beautiful flower " is hardly representative of the province’s rhythm and tempo. It should be dropped. Scenery of Lake Louise is stunning, but again, it doesn’t portray the attitude and energy of Alberta’s people in 2008. Hardly anyone even lives there.

And of course, there is no getting around the elephant in the room: the energy sector. Without question, energy is what has driven the province and the economy, and unlike agriculture, it continues to be a dominant force. But in this the day and age of a full-on, global assault on carbon, the last image that Alberta should plaster on these little portable billboards is an oil pumpjack. With oil well above $100 a barrel and gaso- line prices on the rise, it sends a nasty message. The provincial motto may as well be ”œWe’ve Got Oil and You Don’t. Deal with It.” 

Maybe the licence plate could feature an aerial view of the oil sands? Maybe not.

The energy theme could still be integrated in the motto. Manitoba snapped up a terrific promotional slogan a few years back with ”œSpirited Energy.” It seemed to anger some Manitobans because the new campaign and design ended up cost- ing the province a bit of cash. But you get what you pay for, and in this case it was pretty good. Manitoba should feature this slogan on its plates, rather than ”œFriendly Manitoba.” BORING!

So ”œSpirited Energy” is taken, but Alberta could still play on the energy theme. How about something like ”œEnergy for Today and Tomorrow” " a nod to the province’s oil and gas sec- tor, the rising alternative energy sector and also the personal energy and enthusiasm of Alberta’s people.

It is comforting to note that the provincial government has taken its time with the redesign project. Of course, the election in early March and a shuffling of key cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats have likely put the issue a bit behind schedule. But the fact that apparently some time and thought are going into the process is reassuring. Let’s just hope the clip art rose is history.