Natural Resources Canada consulted with oil and mining companies it regulates to cast just the right image in government TV ads, according to records. However the department agonized over what type of actors should depict resource-loving Canadians, and dithered over how many jobs to credit to the industry.
Accounts of the department’s production of Action Plan advertisements promoting the last federal budget are detailed over 819 pages of emails and reports released through Access to Information.
The department asked corporations for help or hand-out footage for TV ads, including Exxon Mobil video of a Hibernia oil rig. “We’d prefer to shoot our own footage of the rig if it avoids the perception of private sector endorsement…but if your company contacts means access to filming – then I guess that’s fine,” Michael Jacino, Natural Resource’s communications manager wrote in an Aug. 13, 2012 memo to a consultant.
Unable to find image of a pipeline inspector – the only commercial video for sale was filmed in Iceland – Natural Resources agreed to ask one of Canada’s largest pipeline operators for help: “Kinder Morgan is working on a pipeline inspector for us,” a consultant wrote Sept. 2.
Even more vexing was the search for images of mine reclamation for use as proof of the government’s environmental stewardship. “Of most concern is the mine reclamation shot as we really don’t know what to use there,” wrote the department’s ad agency, which complained it could not even fake the imagery: “At this point we’re looking at aerial shots of a mine followed by aerial shots of a field, but it is virtually impossible to find two shots that look like they were the same property.”
Instead the government contacted Goldcorp Inc. for hand-out footage, drawing a stern warning from the mining giant that the ads must be good publicity: “We are pleased to provide you with permission to use the footage, with the caveat that the footage be used with an associated soundtrack and voiceover that portrays Goldcorp positively,” the corporation cautioned Natural Resources staff in an Aug. 31 memo; “We are not supportive of being associated with any anti-pipeline or anti-extractive sentiments…We’d like to review the final product before it’s aired to ensure it is respectful.”
Natural Resources’ Jacino assured Goldcorp Inc. that cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office would okay the final ads: “These are premier Government of Canada television advertisements,” Jacino wrote; “I am quite confident that if we end up using Goldcorp footage you won’t be disappointed with the end product nor the association. These ads are intended to support the government’s budget priority, responsible resource development.”
Troubles On The Set
The department had more trouble in casting actors to play typical Canadian workers.
In a July 16 memo consultants suggested Natural Resources hire visibly different performers to depict “ordinary Canadians” – “For example, the four spokespeople could be a white man, an Inuit woman, a black man and an Asian woman”. Later a proposed August 1 casting list narrowed the roles to a pipeline worker (male, Caucasian); a parent and child hiking along a coastline (Inuit mother and son) and a lab technician (Asian). The department subsequently approved yet more casting changes, substituting the Inuit hikers with a Caucasian mother and son, and hiring an East Indian woman to play the role of lab technician.
More problematic was an image of a typical Canadian classroom.
“Content must be 100 percent Canadian,” Jacino wrote consultants on Aug. 26; “If this is not available (hard to believe), then we may have to cast talent and shoot this scene.” The ad agency had suggested buying video of an American classroom – “a preferred choice due to colour and ethnicity” – and crop the image to remove the U.S. flag. Consultants solved the dilemma with stock footage from the National Film Board: “Even some French on the wall beside the teacher,” enthused Jacino; “Looks great!” replied Greg Johnston, senior ad analyst with the Privy Council Office.
With ACTRA fees for unionized peformers estimated at $150,000, consultants suggested the department use “actual people” instead: “They are paid non-union fees so there is a slight savings,” read an Aug. 1 memo.
However officials fretted over ensuring non-actors for one video shoot at the Port of Vancouver did not include convicted criminals. In a search for imagery of a double-hulled tanker, a video team was assigned to a Seaspan Inc. tugboat as it escorted a Turkish-owned tanker, Yasa Golden Horn. TV producers lamented they were forced to work with a genuine tug crew: “I explained that we need them nicely dressed and to be well-groomed,” a consultant explained; “Of course all personnel on board the Seaspan tugs have background checks and are upstanding citizens, so I feel we should be fine there.”
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Oil and gas development created more and more jobs – at least in revisions to TV scripts as officials redrafted wording over a period of four months.
Original claims of “countless jobs” were quickly rejected: “We need to replace ‘countless jobs’ with numbers”. Subsequent TV scripts read, “New projects will create more than 200,000 new jobs across the country over the next ten years.” By July 16 the claim was changed to read, “Pipeline expansion and oil production increases will likely generate 700,000 jobs over the next 25 years.” On July 24 the tally was upped again to “more than one million jobs”.
The Department of Natural Resources agonized over other statistics and details. An original scripting claim was found to be untrue: “400,000 tonnes of fuel are shipped safely in and out of Canadian ports every day”. Consultants admitted the number was false, and advised the issue was too complex for TV viewers to understand.
“We selected this fact from the information provided, but it will likely need to be revised because it was an aggregate from the ports listed in the information, probably not all Canadian ports,” an ad agency wrote. “We think that tonnes of fuel may be too obscure for the average Canadian to grasp. It may be worth considering a measurement that is easier for people to relate to such as ‘1000 ships carry fuel safely in and out of Canadian ports every day’”.
Producers spotted one embarrassing gaffe: an official discovered Aug. 24 that large pipes used as imagery were actually for water, not oil and gas. And the department stressed authenticity in video of a woman actor playing a water tester: “I’d like to ask a casting question,” Jacino wrote in an August 26 memo: “So the water tester is in steel-tied boots (sic), jeans, protective vest and hard hat, potentially hip waders?” Natural Resources’ Earth Sciences Sector was pressed: did water testers really wear safety vests or life jackets? “For fresh water like a river, there are no regulations about life jackets or safety vests,” the agency replied; “If there are suspected hazardous materials in the water (like radioactive materials), then gloves and a safety vest are required.”
Costs of the Natural Resources ads were not divulged. Budgeting on all Action Plan promotions totaled $13.8 million in 2012, according to accounts tabled in Parliament
By Tom Korski