Two advertising agencies and a polling company intimately connected with the NDP are poised to receive B.C. government contracts, theBreaker has learned.
In October, the NDP government sought applicants for a three-year roster of pre-qualified suppliers of advertising and advertising research services. Companies chosen from the list will work individually or collaborate with others “on an as, if and when requested basis.”
The Jan. 1 list of 16 companies, obtained by theBreaker, includes Vancouver-based Now Communications Group, Point Blank Creative and Strategic Communications. No contracts are guaranteed, but history, who their executives are and what they’ve done for the party position the three NDP companies for a patronage payday from the public purse.
Now was formed in December 1991 by Ron Johnson and Shane Lunny from Mike Harcourt’s campaign team. It was at the centre of the Harcourt government’s first scandal in March 1992 when the fledgling shop was chosen for the $165,000 Commission on Resources and Environment ad contract. The contract gained national scrutiny through Marketing, the Canadian advertising and communications trade magazine.
The first promise in the 1991 NDP platform, co-written by Johnson, 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. Morfitt surprised the ad industry by finding no pattern of favouritism, but he was “perturbed” that Now concealed the names and amounts paid to some of its subcontractors from the U.S.
Marie Della Mattia, Now’s president from 2003 to 2016, was Premier John Horgan’s campaign advisor in 2017. Horgan named her a special advisor to the Premier’s office in July. Her sister, Michele, remains Now’s vice-president of operations.
Robb Gibbs, Marie Della Mattia’s husband, was Now creative director until July when he became assistant deputy minister of strategic communications in the Government Communications and Public Engagement department. His boss at GCPE is Evan Lloyd, who was also in charge of the department in the 1990s when it was called the Government Communications Office.
Point Blank produced the “Game Over Christy” campaign ad for the B.C. Federation of Labour. Its clients also include the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, CUPE and United Steelworkers. Point Blank’s senior campaign director Michael Roy is a former B.C. NDP communications director and national digital director.
Strategic Communications, also known as Stratcom, is the NDP and Vision Vancouver polling company, run by former Greenpeace fundraiser Bob Penner. Stratcom was initially backed by Vision bagman Joel Solomon.
Lloyd told theBreaker that the process was managed by the government’s procurement bureaucrats, but claimed that he did not know who was on the selection committee. theBreaker asked for an interview with Finance Minister Carole James, whose ministry is responsible for government advertising. Neither James nor her staff responded.
Contracts worth $75,000 or more are normally publicly advertised. There will be no such competitive bidding for advertising contracts, because the “standing order” system is the same method employed by the previous BC Liberal government.
A preferred suppliers list made after the 2013 election included 23 companies. Three of them got the lion’s share of the work in the final two years of Premier Christy Clark’s term on a government ad campaign designed to give the BC Liberals a boost at the polls.
Kimbo Design, Response Advertising and St. Bernadine Mission were contracted for the controversial “Our Opportunity Is Here” ad campaign that cost taxpayers more than $20 million. Both Kimbo president Kim Pickett and Response president Jatinder Rai worked on campaigns for Clark’s leadership and the party’s 2013 re-election. St. Bernadine is the only one of the three on the new list.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer said some of the BC Liberal government ads were political. Lawyers Paul Doroshenko and David Fai filed a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit last March, before the provincial election, hoping a judge will order the BC Liberal Party to reimburse the public treasury for the campaign. A hearing on the case is scheduled for late February.
While in opposition last year, the NDP tabled the Banning Publicly-funded Campaign Advertisements bill. It proposed referring government advertising to the Auditor General, for approving only non-partisan ads, and banning government ads during the four months before a provincial election.
The NDP 2017 election platform stated bluntly: “[BC Liberals] treat your money like theirs, running millions of dollars in partisan ads with your hard earned tax money,” it said. “We’ll end partisan advertising with your tax dollars.”
No such bill was tabled in the fall sitting of the Legislature. The Legislature resumes Feb. 13.
Other advertising companies on the prequalified suppliers list are: Trapeze Communications, Grey Vancouver, Camp Pacific, R.A. Malatest and Associates, Insights West, Environics Research, DDB Canada, Captus Advertising, Suburbia Studios, Viewpoints Research, Traction Creative Communications, and Ipsos Public Affairs.
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