Photographer Ben Laird 'hearts' everything Alberta in bid to bring province together

If you're an Albertan, chances are you're familiar with the 'I Love Canadian Oil and Gas' logo that has emblazoned billboards, decorated car bumpers and silk-screened its way across T-shirts. When it nearly got people rejected from parliamentary tours, it even made headlines — and caused a boost in sales for the pro-energy apparel.

But the recognizable emblem has now been co-opted by Calgarian Ben Laird, who is reprinting it on stickers to 'heart' sectors and causes he feels are in need of attention — including public education, teachers, GSAs and alternative energy.

"The goal here, I think, is more of an awareness campaign than anything else. Right now, there is such a big push to support Alberta's oil and gas industry — which is fine, the oil and gas industry has been good to Alberta, it has supported the province for decades," Laird said.

"But the point that I want to get across is that we have other things that we need to support and fund as well, not the least of which is public education."

The original 'I Love Canadian Oil and Gas' logo was made popular by Canada Action, a "grassroots movement encouraging Canadians to ... work together in support of our vital natural resources sector."

CBC News contacted Cody Battershill, the founder and CEO of Canada Action, for comment.

Battershill said from his understanding of Laird's spin on the emblem, it seems like a positive initiative. 

"Canada Action's campaign is a very positive campaign, so making the connection to the province's social programs is fantastic," Battershill said. 

"At the end of the day, you can't have strong social programs if you don't have a strong economy. Supporting the oil and gas sector as an economic engine of our province, and social programs as a pillar of our province, are not mutually exclusive."

Battershill did want to make it clear that Canada Action supports alternative energy as well as the petroleum industry.

"We are big proponents of Canada's resources, including our wind, solar and hydro sectors," Battershill said. "We should all be proud as Canadians."

Helen Pike/CBC News

Logo co-opt 'cheeky' — but 'not a parody'

Laird is a photographer and says he noticed the "prolific" use of the logo while photographing events for the petroleum industry.

The intention behind reworking the logo's message to include more causes, Laird says, is to be inclusive. He describes the campaign he has started — named the 'I Love… Project' — as a little bit cheeky, but not a parody.

"I don't want to create any more rifts between left and right, I don't want to polarize the country or the province any more," Laid said. 

"If I was going to describe it, it would be to say that it's an equalizer … as if to say, 'We are Albertans no matter what sector we are, no matter what background we come from, and we all deserve equal treatment.'"

Though he does admit a lot of his friends are "left of centre" politically, Laird says so far, most feedback has been supportive.

Holding up his 'I Love Alberta Teachers' design, he said, "I've got 40 emails from teachers across the province, just thanking me for the support and the shout-out and … the acknowledgement that teachers are helping kids."

The campaign is gaining traction, and Laird says he's up about $400. But it's too early for him to consider whether it will be a money-making venture.

At this stage, it's limited to stickers. They're easy to print, they're portable, and they're easy to distribute, he says.

And after all, as Laird points out, "You can make a pretty bold statement on just a little five-inch circle."