BC Liberal government launches new phase of taxpayer-funded pre-election ads

Government refuses to release budget for latest “Our Opportunity is Here” campaign

Still from "Our Opportunity is Here" campaign

Is the BC Liberal government on the way to racking up another $16.6 million pre-election advertising bill? 

That’s the amount the BC Liberals charged taxpayers for the “BC Jobs Plan” campaign before their 2013 re-election. They may be halfway there after they launched a new ad promoting the province’s updated school curriculum, with eight months to go before the May 9, 2017 election

“This is the BC Liberal playbook,” BC NDP leader John Horgan told Business in Vancouver. “They don’t distinguish between public money and partisan money. To them it’s all the same, as long as they can cling to power.”

In last July’s public accounts disclosure, the government revealed it more than doubled ad spending from $5.67 million to $12.45 million in the space of a year. That was driven by $7.6 million spent on the November 2015-launched “Our Opportunity is Here” ad campaign. Another phase began late last month with a science fair-themed ad promoting the new curriculum for 600,000 B.C. schoolchildren. The same four contractors are involved, including two longtime supporters of Premier Christy Clark.

Advanced Education Ministry communications director Rodney Porter said the new spot launched August 30 and will run through October 31. Porter, however, refused to disclose the budget or the schedule of additional ads planned to air beyond October 31.

“The campaign includes a television and digital component,” Porter said via email. “The total costs will be reported as part of public accounts once all expenditures are finalized.”

Public accounts are traditionally released in July, after the government’s March 31 fiscal year end.

A request to interview Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson was not fulfilled.

“The public’s right to know is buried in three inches of public accounts in July long after the election, rather than right now when [the BC Liberals are] trying to buy votes,” Horgan said.

He said the B.C. government should follow Ontario’s lead and seek statutory approval of the auditor general to ensure government ads are non-partisan in their content, style and timing.

The latest “Our Opportunity is Here” ad launched nine days after the BC Liberal Party released its first pre-election, party-paid ad. Titled “Foundation,” it shows Clark telling women at a kitchen table that “controlling government spending is really the foundation, it’s the bedrock of what we are trying to do.”

Delta independent MLA Vicki Huntington, a critic of government advertising, said the latest “election propaganda” is evidence that Clark is failing to control government spending.

“This is a perfect example of why they will not shift the election to the fall, as I have suggested a number of times,” Huntington said. “The budget hasn’t been passed and they can manipulate it any way they wish.”

Porter said the contractors are the same as the first phase: St. Bernadine Communications (production); Vizeum (TV, radio, out-of-home media placement); Kimbo Design (online media placement); and Response Advertising (production and translation services).

Kimbo principal and creative director Kim Pickett designed Clark’s 2011 leadership campaign logo and redesigned the party’s logo for the 2013 election. Pickett also designed the Vision Vancouver logo. Response CEO Jatinder Rai is an adviser for the party’s 2017 re-election campaign. Both Pickett and Rai worked with Clark on her failed bid for the Vancouver NPA mayoral nomination in 2005.

Kimbo billed taxpayers $4.25 million between April 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016 for work on seven projects, including “Our Opportunity is Here.” Response billed $1.1 million last year.