The NDP campaign mastermind who runs the government’s $29.3 million-a-year communications department says she was not involved in choosing her sister’s ad agency for a recent campaign.
When David Eby became premier in November, he named Marie Della Mattia as the Deputy Minister of Government Communications and Public Engagement.
Della Mattia left her job as CEO of Now Communications Group in 2016 to run John Horgan’s NDP election campaign and later advised the Office of the Premier. Last November, she replaced Don Zadravec, who was paid $242,747 a year plus a $432,381 severance.
One of the biggest campaigns was the March 6-31 round of the NDP’s signature StrongerBC, part of a $1.3 million program by media buying agency iProspect Canada and creative contractors Captus Advertising, Viewpoints and Now Communications Group.
One of Now’s three partners is Marie Della Mattia’s sister, vice-president of operations Michele Della Mattia.
Neither Della Mattia sister responded to interview requests.
Marie Della Mattia, via a subordinate, said she had not been a shareholder at Now since 2016 and referred questions about procurement to assistant deputy minister Sage Aaron.
“I have formally declared my conflict and do not participate in decisions related to contracts awarded to qualified advertising creative vendors,” Marie Della Mattia wrote.
In another statement, Aaron said the StrongerBC campaign contract was awarded to Now in December 2019 through the standing offer proposal request process.
Government procurement rules normally require open, public tendering for contracts $75,000 and up. Agencies that work for government ministries are chosen by GCPE for work as-and-when needed from a preferred supplier’s list that was originally created by NDP-appointed political aides after the NDP came to power in 2017.
“As per Marie’s note, I am responsible for decisions directing advertising and marketing,” wrote Aaron, who was director of communications in the Office of the Premier from July 2017 to September 2021.
Between 2017 and 2021, Now billed taxpayers $2.49 million for work on ministry campaigns. In 2021, Now also billed $145,606 to the Legislative Assembly. Disclosures after the 2020 provincial election showed Now charged the party $1.78 million, some of which was picked-up by taxpayers under post-2017 campaign finance reforms.
GCPE is running five other campaigns under a total $3.2 million budget. The WorkBC campaign by PS&Co is the next most-expensive, at $1.275 million.
Meanwhile, BC Hydro is in the middle of a $2.2 million, March 13-April 23 campaign to promote heat pumps with contractors Georgia Street Media and Rethink Communications through iProspect Canada.
WorkSafeBC said it was spending $480,000 in the first quarter of the calendar year via Cossette Communications, while ICBC was running $150,000, of ads, mainly to combat distracted driving, on radio, social media and online video with PS&Co and iProspect.
The B.C. Financial Services Authority refused to provide information about its brand-building campaign and B.C. Lottery Corp., one of the province’s biggest advertisers, did not respond.
Now was established by Mike Harcourt’s campaign team after the NDP defeated Premier Rita Johnston’s Social Credit Party in the 1991 election. Its $165,000 contract in March 1992 for the Commission on Resources and Environment became that government’s first patronage scandal.
Now co-founder Ron Johnson, ironically, co-wrote the party’s 1991 platform, which bluntly stated that a “Harcourt government will put an end to secret deals and special favours for political friends.”
In 1995, Auditor General George Morfitt reported the NDP spent $21.3 million on contracts with 10 agencies over four years, but Now led the pack with $4.8 million. Despite that, he found no pattern of favouritism. Morfitt was critical of Now hiding the names and amounts paid to U.S. subcontractors.
A third Della Mattia, Marie’s daughter Emily Della Mattia, is the senior research and communications officer at the NDP caucus, which recently ran radio ads promoting Eby’s first 100 days in office.
The caucus has not revealed how much it spent out of its Legislative Assembly budget. It could legally keep the amount secret from taxpayers as long as the party fails to fulfil a 2019 promise to expand the freedom of information law to cover the Legislative Assembly.
In February, Eby defended using taxpayers’ money on ad campaigns to promote his agenda.
“It’s absolutely vital that British Columbians know what their government is doing,” Eby told reporters.
“It’s important to communicate to British Columbians, and we’re going to continue to share with them the work that we’re doing on their priorities.”
During its 16 years in opposition, the NDP was harshly critical of the BC Liberals for using taxpayers’ money to polish their image.
Before the 2013 election, leader Adrian Dix vowed to seek auditor general approval for every government ad. In late 2015, Horgan slammed the BC Liberals for a $5 million campaign whose suppliers included workers on Premier Christy Clark’s 2013 campaign. Horgan accused Clark and her cabinet of “padding the pockets of their political pals.”
“They spend countless dollars, time and energy withholding information that the public asks for, but when the public’s not looking for information, they’ve got mountains of money to spend, to bury us in self-congratulatory promotion,” Horgan said in an interview at the time.
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