There were 13 people behind the camera for the controversial B.C. government back-to-school ad starring Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The crew included on-site school administration and support staff, according to a representative for the Ministry of Health. The $15,000-budgeted ad was produced in-house by Government Communications and Public Engagement with contractor Gab Films. Trapeze Communications of Victoria and PostPro Media of Vancouver did post-production. The seven children in the classroom scene were “chosen through a network of parents,” according to the ministry.
In the ad, shot at a Victoria school, Henry addresses schoolchildren about washing their hands, wearing masks when necessary and staying home if sick during the upcoming school year.
The Ministry of Education told reporters that in order to shoot the ad, the number of students in the classroom was limited for health and safety reasons and the children were placed safe distances from each other.
That prompted a Tweet from B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring, who said the small group of children cast for the ad “proved her point.”
“I respect the fact that physical distancing was required to film this ad. We’re asking for the same with students in real classrooms in September,” Mooring said.
Just in time for the new school year, Henry diluted her two-metre physical distancing guideline to one metre in some circumstances, such as classrooms.
The ad was also widely criticized on social media for politicizing Henry and casting an Asian girl as the only mask-wearer in the class.
“That was not a commercial about what a classroom was going to look like,” Henry told reporters on Aug. 31. “What that was was me as the public health officer talking with children and their parents about the things that they can expect in the new school year about some of the public health issues and it was a conversation that I had, with there were more than six children. We had it in a classroom, because that’s what the children wanted.”
Although Henry characterized it as a “conversation,” none of the students has a speaking role in the 30-second ad.
The $1.24 million ad campaign launched Aug. 20 with an animated 30-second spot by NDP ad agency Point Blank Creative, whose clients include the Alberta and federal NDP, CUPE, United Steelworkers, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and B.C. Federation of Labour. The budget for animation, radio and digital assets was $150,000.
Point Blank billed taxpayers almost $380,000 in the previous two fiscal years.
B.C. government advertising contractors are chosen from a roster of companies compiled by politically appointed Government Communications and Public Engagement bureaucrats after the NDP came to power in 2017.
Point Blank donated $1,000 on June 9, 2017 to the NDP. Co-founder and managing director Nathan Lusignan gave $400 last year.
Other contractors include Captus (translation and production) and Vizeum and Jungle (media buying). The campaign runs through Sept. 20.
The province’s back-to-school plan is subject of a legal challenge from two fathers who say parents should be given a choice to send their children back-to-school or learn at home remotely during the pandemic. Mooring has voiced her support for parents who want to continue online courses, which were instituted late last spring.
The province says up to 60 students will be in “learning groups” in elementary school and up to 120 in high school. Individual school districts and private schools have their own variations on the plan. Teachers and staff will have two days of training after Labour Day before students get two days of orientation. Sept. 14 is the beginning of the first week of instruction for the school year.
Simon Fraser University Prof. Caroline Colijn told CTV News Vancouver that 5% of elementary schools and 20% to 40% of high schools in Metro Vancouver would have at least one coronavirus infection on day one.
The ad controversy comes on the heels of a report by the Ombudsperson on the Ministry of Education’s exam marking scandal from 2019. The Course Correction report found the Ministry deliberately misled the media and public about the incorrect tabulating and reporting of more than 18,000 Grade 12 course exam marks.
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