When he was the leader of the opposition and the BC Liberals gave advertising contracts to friends of Christy Clark, John Horgan slammed the governing party for “padding the pockets of their political pals.”
Horgan’s premiership is barely nine months old and the NDP has given a second patronage gig to the Vancouver ad agency that helped the party regain power last year.
Now Communications Group is one of three shops behind the $725,000 “Working for B.C.” campaign that promotes taxes on foreign home buyers and speculators, as announced in the February budget. Captus Advertising and Trapeze Communications are the other two. Vizeum and Jungle were the media buyers.
Now also had the contract on the $600,000 budget ad campaign.
The Government Communications and Public Engagement department put Now and nine others on a preferred suppliers list, to avoid publicly tendering every contract worth $75,000 or more. The NDP-appointed bureaucrat who oversees the government’s advertising and marketing office is Robb Gibbs, the former Now creative director and husband of ex-Now CEO Marie Della Mattia.
Della Mattia quit in 2016 to become Horgan’s campaign advisor. Her sister (and Gibbs’s sister-in-law) Michele Della Mattia remains Now’s vice-president of operations.
Now was launched at the end of 1991 by Ron Johnson and Shane Lunny from the team that helped Mike Harcourt become B.C.’s second NDP premier. Now’s $165,000 contract in March 1992 for the Commission on Resources and Environment was the Harcourt government’s first scandal.
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 May 1995, Auditor General George Morfitt reported that the NDP government spent $21.3 million on contracts with 10 ad agencies over four years, but Now was the top supplier at $4.8 million. Despite Now’s close ties with Harcourt, Morfitt surprised the ad industry by finding no pattern of favouritism. He was, however, “perturbed” that Now concealed the names and amounts paid to some of its subcontractors from the U.S.
From November 2015 to March 2017, the BC Liberals spent $20.5 million on the controversial “Our Opportunity Is Here” B.C. services campaign, which sparked a class action lawsuit that ultimately wants the party to repay the public treasury. Agencies owned by Clark cronies Jatinder Rai and Kim Pickett were among the four main contractors for the campaign.
Paul Doroshenko, one of the lawyers behind the lawsuit, Tweeted on March 31 that NDP government ad campaigns paid for with tax money were “as bad as the BC Liberals.”
“It’s condoning the dirty theft of tax money by the BC Liberals,” Doroshenko wrote. “It’s an insult to British Columbians.”
The NDP promised it would ban partisan advertising by the government and that it would empower the auditor general to approve or reject ad campaigns. But the Horgan government has done neither so far.
The “Working for B.C.” ad includes several slogans, including a repeat of the 10-year goal of building “114,000 new homes” that appeared in the 2017 election platform.
The NDP budget ad campaign is the most-important, so far, from a strategic standpoint. But it is not the most-expensive.
The StopOverdoseBC ad campaign through Traction Creative, Vizeum and Jungle Media is costing $2 million. The NDP government also ran a $300,000 campaign through St. Bernadine Mission and Captus Advertising to promote the “How We Vote” public comment period for electoral system reform. Meanwhile, ICBC has spent $800,000 on ads about its troubles, despite being close to insolvency. BC Hydro hiked rates 3% on April 1, but is in the middle of a $1.3 million ad blitz about household energy saving.
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