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HomeNewsExclusive: Costs rose for UBC’s NDP-inspired ad campaign

Exclusive: Costs rose for UBC’s NDP-inspired ad campaign


Bob Mackin

The bill for the University of British Columbia advertising blitz that recycled the NDP’s 2017 campaign slogan was significantly higher than what the university told theBreaker in January. 

Documents released under the freedom of information law also indicate that the university’s use of the “For a Better B.C.” slogan was not a coincidence. 

UBC budgeted $1.55 million over two waves (January to March and April to May), which is 64% higher than the $945,000 figure that the university’s communications office originally provided to theBreaker

Scenes from University of B.C.’s “For a better BC” ad campaign, including Okanagan student Tim Abbott (UBC)

A “strategic summary” of what the university called the Provincial Tactical Positioning Campaign said “it is imperative that UBC invests in its profile and reputation — locally, nationally and globally.”

The “For a Better B.C.” campaign launched Jan. 29, and was “designed to build UBC’s social capital and demonstrate the positive contributions UBC students make to the province and its people.” The campaign profiled four UBC students from diverse backgrounds. One of them is an environmental engineering doctorate candidate from the Okanagan campus who appeared before cameras sporting an orange toque, like the NDP’s signature colour.

Among the goals of the campaign was to create “positive perceptions regarding the mission of the university to the benefit of industry, government and NGO partnerships and projects.”

The campaign was developed last September and October by Taxi Advertising. Another agency, Mediacom, arranged the ad space and time, including online video, social media, radio, out of home, and print. Prominently listed atop the Mediacom plan are full-page ads in the Heliject Inflight Review and BC Business, specifically because it doubles as the Harbour Air in-flight magazine. Government officials rely on the floatplane and the helicopter company to commute between the capital and the mainland. The Vancouver cabinet office at Canada Place is near both terminals.

“UBC is the University of British Columbia,” the document said. “A successful communication campaign putting forward UBC’s value to the province should help encourage community engagement and garner support for initiatives within the strategic plan.”

Among the university’s initiatives is the five-year capital plan, which was presented at a UBC board of governors’ finance committee meeting on June 5. It showed $331.5 million of the $605 million bill for five capital projects is sought from the province’s Advanced Education, Skills and Training ministry, including a new chemistry laboratory complex ($140 million), mathematics building and Klinck Building replacement ($106 million) and community health sciences, recreation facility and War Memorial Gym ($80 million). 

theBreaker asked UBC spokeswoman Leslie Dickson to set-up an interview about the ad campaign, but she responded with this emailed statement instead: “As a publicly funded institution, it is important that UBC demonstrates how it contributes to the public good, including through a core role as an educator of B.C. students. Advertising is just one way that we share this message, along with public events, and through media coverage and social media.”

Dickson did not respond to a follow-up phone call from theBreaker

Examples of how the NDP used the “Better B.C.” slogan, before and after the 2017 election. (NDP/BC Gov)

Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC questioned why a university aiming to attract students and faculty from around the world would choose not to “spread its wings,” but instead focus its advertising strategy on a relatively narrow geographic area.

“It adds weight to the theory they’re just trying to curry favour with the provincial government,” Travis said. 

Travis also said that when public money is spent to benefit a public agency, the public is owed a full explanation of the instructions for that spending. 

“UBC hasn’t had a very good time over the years managing damage control, it hasn’t learned anything,” he said. “It should satisfy a reporter’s questions.” 

The B.C. government appoints 11 of the 21 members on the board of governors. Last December, the NDP appointed longtime Vision Vancouver backer Joel Solomon to the board. The university is within Attorney General David Eby’s Vancouver-Point Grey riding and the University Endowment Lands are ultimately governed by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson, because there is no municipal council. 

At the end of June, the NDP cabinet appointed two more new governors to one-year terms: consultant Alison Brewin and lawyer William Sundhu. Ex-provincial court judge Sundhu was an NDP candidate in the 2015 federal election in Kamloops. Brewin is the daughter of former NDP politicians John and Gretchen Brewin.

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