The budget for the B.C. Liberal government’s “Our Opportunity is Here” advertising campaign is $3 million higher than it previously disclosed, but the costs billed to taxpayers remains secret.
The campaign was launched last November with TV spots touting the early childhood tax benefit, registered education savings grant, and seniors home renovation tax credit. They all end with the slogan “Our Opportunity is Here.” At the time, a representative of the Advanced Education Ministry said the multimedia campaign was budgeted at $5 million through March 31, the end of the fiscal year. The same slogan was also used in two spots promoting WorkBC apprenticeship grants that feature carpenter Liam Kinders and electrician Candace Whitney.
Ministry pokesman Rodney Porter refused to say how much was spent through March 31, how much was budgeted for April 1 and beyond or when the campaign is scheduled to end. He said costs would be included in the Public Accounts, which are expected to be published in July.
Whatever the costs are for the Kinders and Whitney spots (for which they were paid $2,500 and $5,000, respectively), Porter said the government would be reimbursed by federal taxpayers under the federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreement.
The contractors are the same: St. Bernadine Communications (production), Vizeum (media buying), Kimbo Design (online media buying) and Response Advertising (production and translation services). Porter did not provide the budget breakdown.
A budget document released under Freedom of Information showed that Kimbo was to be paid $1.25 million on the tax credits and grants campaign. The company, whose CEO is BC Liberal logo designer Kim Pickett, billed taxpayers $2.97 million for various services between 2013 and 2015. Response Advertising was allotted $190,000 for creative services production and translation. The ethnic marketing agency is owned by Jatinder Rai, a BC Liberal strategist and former ICBC board member.
The partially censored four pages released to BIV include a marketing brief from the Government Communications and Public Engagement department that said the primary target audiences are seniors, families and parents and influencers, with a creative approach described as “slow pan — life moments.”
St. Bernadine Mission’s creative concept and production budget was $256,739, while Vizeum’s TV, radio and print media buy was budgeted at $2.8 million. The document showed that $100,000 was set aside for a “heavy up” in the last week of March. Likewise, the government budgeted to spend almost $290,000 on a “heavy up” in the final 20 days of March through Kimbo. The accelerated spending corresponds with the fear that some government departments have that their budgets will be cut if they don’t spend their full annual allotment.
Delta independent MLA Vicki Huntington challenged minister responsible Andrew Wilkinson on April 14 in Question Period. She found that an “Our Opportunity is Here” script was eerily similar to a 2013 BC Liberal re-election campaign ad.
“You know, I support balanced budgets, but taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for government advertising that is identical to party messaging,” Huntington told the Legislature.
Wilkinson said at the time, “we are pleased and proud to do this.”
Huntington told BIV that the government, which has a $38 million communications budget, has the wherewithal to produce ads in-house.
“There’s a lot of good advertising companies out there and to have two of the four that seem to be contracted at the moment to be closely aligned with the premier’s office, it’s an obvious political interference in the expenditure of public funds,” Huntington told BIV.