How much did all those pre-election B.C. government ads cost?
Y’know, the ones that the BC Liberals denied were taxpayer-funded campaign ads, but instead “necessary” for the public to know how to access services. Opposition politicians weren’t buying the spin and even the auditor general, Carol Bellringer, said the ad specifically hyping a balanced budget was political.
This, from a government headed by Christy Clark, the outspoken opponent of NDP government advertising waste in 1999, who said the following in Question Period: “People don’t want the government to spend 700 grand of their money so they can find out how to access services; people want this government to spend their money so that those services are there for them to access, that’s what British Columbians want.”
theBreaker knows that central government advertising doubled to $12.5 million for the year ended March 31, 2016, and that the BC Liberal cabinet decided last December to spend another $15 million by the end of March 2017, just before the official kickoff of the election.
The actual numbers and the details are hard to come by. Nobody in the Government Communications and Public Engagement office would disclose them on a routine basis; they were under orders to refuse to tell reporters the approved budgets and told reporters to wait until the annual Public Accounts release for the final costs. The government loves to bury advertising costs inside the annual, cross-government document dump that is the Public Accounts.
Governments stretching back to the Social Credit days of the 1980s have been under fire for spending on ads that boost the image of the ruling party and its politicians. Behind the scenes, the admen and adwomen are often handpicked for contracts based on their service to the party and friendships with those in high offices.
Getting the numbers didn’t get any easier when Vancouver lawyers Paul Doroshenko and David Fai went to B.C. Supreme Court earlier this year to take the first steps toward a class action lawsuit. They ultimately want the BC Liberals to reimburse the public treasury. Goverment lawyers are resisting, but Doroshenko and Fai hope that will change if the NDP and Green alliance replaces the BC Liberals.
theBreaker has been able to access some of the spending lists and invoices involving the four main contractors for the Our Opportunity Is Here ad campaign, yet the government has only disclosed information about the so-called “Services” sub-campaign which promoted the main government website, the budget and various tax breaks for seniors and families. The government is also fond of exploiting weak freedom of information laws and weak enforcement by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Several of the documents were not sent to theBreaker until after the election.
Vizeum is the government’s advertising buyer for TV, radio, outdoor and newspapers. Between April 1, 2016 and March 15, 2017, documents show that it billed the government $5,484,771.98.
Much of that was spent in binges. From late April to the end of May last year, it charged $750,000. There were four invoices dated Nov. 25, 2016 and Dec. 1, 2016 totalling $1.3 million. During the first two weeks of March 2017, it spent another $1.5 million.
But that was all the government was willing to tell theBreaker, which wanted to see a breakdown of ads and dollars by media outlet and company.
“Please note as per standard process, invoices are reviewed for accuracy to ensure receipt of service/product,” said the government’s FOI response. “As always, a breakdown by campaign / project will be available at Public Accounts. Further to your request for a detailed breakdown of advertising by broadcast media outlet, that information is not readily available.
Between Dec. 16, 2016 and March 16, 2017, Vizeum invoiced $1,749,357.91. During the same three-month period, Kimbo Design charged taxpayers $1,179,699.08. The latter company is run by Kim Pickett, the designer of Christy Clark’s leadership branding, and logos for the BC Liberals and Vision Vancouver.
Kimbo worked on the government’s anti-B.C. Teachers’ Federation social media campaign in 2014, a gig worth $335,000.
Between Sept. 1, 2015 and April 22, 2016, Kimbo also invoiced for $1,115,172.01. Kimbo charged taxpayers another $200,000 for April 23, 2016 to June 7, 2016, much of that was spent on Facebook.
Creative agency St. Bernadine Mission ($461,156.15) and Response Advertising ($109,700) were the other contractors. Response president Jatinder Rai is a longtime Clark backroom advisor who scored directorships on the ICBC and B.C. Pavilion Corporation boards thanks to Clark. Between Sept. 1, 2015 and April 22, 2016, Response billed $509,950.39.
But, back to Kimbo. It was paid $4.13 million for all of its government work for the year-ended March 31, 2016. Compare with the $666,905 during 2013-2014, the first year Kimbo worked on government projects.