Cabinet yesterday defended spending $212,234 on photos and artistic themes for its 2017 budget. The Department of Finance said the work was intended as a fresh, creative way of explaining its annual spending plans.
“This fresh, new digital creative material continues to be a key part of outreach to Canadians, and how the government informs them about changes that could have a major impact on the way they make decisions,” wrote staff. Details of the spending with the McCann ad agency were obtained through Access To Information.
Images used on the cover of the March 22 budget Building A Strong Middle Class depicted models hired to illustrate budget themes, including a schoolgirl playing an air guitar that was intended to depict “fairness”, according to staff memos. “Very dynamic shot, lots of potential,” wrote one staffer. “Love the little girl with the guitar. I think that’s our winner for the largest cover shot!” said another.
The department said the photos would be “repurposed for various communications initiatives”, but did not explain. “In addition to the budget cover, photos were used for the budget website, budget documents, social and digital media, as well as a paid internet campaign,” staff told Blacklock’s.
MPs yesterday questioned the expenditure in Commons Question Period. “$200,000 for a book cover,” said Conservative MP Alupa Clarke (Beauport-Limoilou, Que.); “$200,000 for a piece of paper.”
Conservative MP Mark Strahl (Chilliwack-Hope, B.C.) noted total spending on budget art in the past two years, including photo and talent fees for models, surpassed $388,000. “Even this finance minister and this Prime Minister can appreciate $400,000,” said Strahl. “That represents a downpayment on a French villa or half a Mercedes Roadster. How can the Liberals justify sticking taxpayers with $400,000 for two years’ worth of budget cover pages?”
Liberal MP Joël Lightbound (Louis-Hébert, Que.), parliamentary secretary for finance, said total spending on budget promotions was less than in past years. “I just want to remind everyone that the previous government spent millions on flashy television advertising to promote and brand itself,” said Lightbound. “They spent twice as much as we have.”
“We are taking a much more focused approach, which is very responsible with the public purse,” said Lightbound. “That is precisely what we did with the last two budgets.”
Total ad spending peaked at $136.3 million in 2010, according to Treasury Board’s Annual Report On Government Advertising Activities. Spending in the 2015-16 fiscal year totaled $42.2 million, but only because of a three-month election campaign. Government ad buys are restricted in campaign periods.
No data for 2016-17 have yet been released. The previous Conservative cabinet illustrated its annual budget with stock photos sold through commercial distributors for $150 to $600.