Two of the four contractors hired on a new $5 million B.C. government ad campaign are longtime associates of Premier Christy Clark.
The campaign, which features the slogan “Our Opportunity Is Here,” launched after the legislature ended its fall session this week. The first two 30-second TV ads promote early childhood and seniors’ home renovation tax credits, but the campaign will expand to market other programs and services listed on the government website.
Ministry of Advanced Education spokesman Rodney Porter told Business in Vancouver that the contractors and their responsibilities are St. Bernadine Communications (production), Vizeum (TV, radio and out-of-home media buying), Kimbo Design (online media placement) and Response Advertising (production and translation).
Normally, the government must run advertised competitions for contracts worth $75,000 and up, but procurement rules require ministries to use a corporate supply arrangement whenever possible.
Kimbo, Response and St. Bernadine were among 23 companies chosen after the 2013 election to do work on an as-and-when-needed basis.
Response’s president is Jatinder Rai, who was named by cabinet to the Medal of Good Citizenship committee in October. He was appointed a director of ICBC in 2012 and briefly served as the Crown corporation’s interim chairman after the departure of Paul Taylor in 2014.
Rai’s company was paid to produce the $450,000 “Lucky Ones” video for the controversial Times of India Film Awards at BC Place Stadium, the month before the Liberals won the 2013 provincial election. Response billed taxpayers $191,389, according to the 2014-15 Public Accounts.
In 2010, Rai was co-chairman of an election readiness committee for the B.C. wing of the federal Liberal Party with Andrew Wilkinson. Wilkinson is Minister of Advanced Education, the ministry that handles government communications. Porter said Wilkinson was unavailable for comment. Wilkinson did not respond to an interview request by email.
Kimbo is located one floor above Response in a tower at 409 Granville Street in Vancouver. Its principal and creative director is Kim Pickett, who designed the logos for the BC Liberals and Vision Vancouver.
During the B.C. teachers’ strike in 2014, the government hired Kimbo to run the $335,000 BC Parent Info website. Public Accounts show Kimbo was paid $666,905 in 2013-14. In 2014-15, Kimbo billed taxpayers $2,301,982.
Both Rai and Pickett worked on Clark’s failed bid for the NPA Vancouver city mayoral nomination in 2005.
NDP leader John Horgan said the BC Liberals are “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.”
The total cost of the new provincial government campaign will be reported next summer in public accounts “once all expenditures are finalized,” Porter said via email.
“On average, over 80% of the cost of a campaign goes towards purchasing ad space on the Internet, radio or television. Information will be available on television, radio, online and out-of-home such as transit.”
The ads mark yet another communications shift under Clark, who launched the BC Jobs Plan in 2011 with the “Canada Starts Here” slogan. The NDP criticized the Liberals for spending $16.6 million on the BC Jobs Plan ad campaign in the leadup to the 2013 provincial election. The NDP proposed following Ontario’s lead where the auditor general must evaluate and approve government advertising to ensure it is not politically motivated.
Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman called the new campaign “deja vu all over again,” noting that the next election is coming in 18 months.
Bateman said government advertising programs are another way for the party in power to promote its own brand.
“BC Liberals, if nothing else, will always go back to the well,” Bateman said. “It’s something that worked for them before. It looks like they’re going to blow a bunch of our money again.”
For the year ended March 31, 2015, the Government Communications and Public Engagement department spent $35.2 million, up from $33.5 million the year previous.