Government ad spending more than doubles, while BC Liberal insider benefits

BC Liberal government public accounts show advertising expenditures ramping up as 2017 election approaches

Finance Minister Mike de Jong during the ministry’s July 21 release of the provincial government’s public accounts | Government of BC

The company that designed the BC Liberal Party’s logo billed taxpayers $4.25 million over a 13-month period as B.C. government advertising expenditures more than doubled year-over-year.

Kimbo Design worked on at least seven projects during the year ended March 31, according to a Ministry of Finance chart released on July 21. The Public Accounts list of suppliers to government showed Kimbo was paid $4.13 million during the fiscal year, and it received another $121,839 for the month of April.

By comparison, Kimbo billed $2.27 million for work on seven projects for the 2015 fiscal year, including $1.27 million for online advertising bought to promote the WorkBC jobs portal. Kimbo’s billings to taxpayers have increased by 519% since 2013-14, when it invoiced for $666,905.

The government’s total information and publication expenditures were $12.45 million last year, up substantially since it reported spending $5.67 million in 2014-15. The 2015-16 spending included $3.7 million in funding received from the federal government under a jobs promotion agreement.

“It’s no secret the closer you get to election the more governments spend on advertising,” said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “The Liberals played this game in 2013 very successfully and [are] going back to the well.”

Bateman said the government should subject its advertising spending to the auditor general for approval.

“It is a simple fix, it could be brought in by regulation tomorrow and they could avoid these criticisms,” he said. “It’s about politics and politicking on the taxpayer dime and that’s why we don’t have that kind of law in place.”

Kimbo principal Kim Pickett worked on Premier Christy Clark’s failed bid for the Vancouver NPA mayoral nomination in 2005 and later designed her logo for the 2011 BC Liberal leadership and the party’s 2013 election rebranding as “Today’s BC Liberals.”

Pickett has also performed similar work for Vision Vancouver.

The Kimbo contracts were not individually tendered. The government instead chose Kimbo from a list of preferred suppliers that was created after the 2013 provincial election.

More than $1.55 million of Kimbo’s 2015-16 work was for Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training campaigns; $973,268 went to online advertising for the B.C. Services campaign, which employed the slogan “Our Opportunity Is Here.”

Vizeum, the government’s media buying contractor, was paid $3.05 million for the fiscal year, and the suppliers list shows that it billed another $2.88 million in April, for a 13-month total of $5.93 million.

Another familiar BC Liberal name, Jatinder Rai, is president of Response Advertising, which billed $1.1 million during the fiscal year.

St. Bernadine Mission was also part of the “Our Opportunity is Here” campaign. It billed $1.3 million for the fiscal year and another $207,219 in April.

The chart showed funds for the so-called B.C. Services campaign were drawn from Government Communications and Public Engagement ($2.347 million), Advanced Education ($1 million), Education ($773,000) and Finance ($773,000) for a total $4.89 million. The ad campaign was launched last November, scheduled to run through March and originally budgeted at $5 million. The WorkBC subcomponent cost $2.741 million.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong took questions from Victoria Press Gallery reporters, but did not take any from the two reporters, representing CKNW and Business in Vancouver, who attended a boardroom at the cabinet’s Canada Place office to listen to the news conference. The Vancouver-based reporters were told that de Jong would be available by phone after the news conference. When it was over, however, they were told that de Jong had to attend meetings.

“Spending public dollars on suspect program advertising which mirrors campaign brochures is a complete abuse of the public dollar,” said Delta independent MLA Vicki Huntington. “It is undemocratic and smacks of the continued, old-fashioned, dinosaur political practice that have become synonymous with this government and this party.”

Until July 21, the government has refused, through both its communications office and Freedom of Information office, to disclose how much it had spent on the “Our Opportunity is Here” advertising campaign.

It also claimed that compilation of a list showing the names of contractors and amounts paid since April 1 would  “unreasonably interfere” with government operations.

The fifth anniversary of Clark’s openness edict to the public service passed on July 18.

Clark had urged the government to release information and data to the public because, “After all, it’s taxpayers’ money and it’s taxpayers’ information.”

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has released a series of reports critical of the government for hiding and deleting public information.