The finance department spent more than $176,000 hiring photographers and Vancouver models to pose as ordinary “heterosexual” middle class Canadians for its 2016 budget, records disclose. A photo shoot in Alberta was ruled out since “it might be heavy in ethnic people,” wrote one manager.
“Justin Trudeau’s election mantra was all about positivity, change and optimism for the future,” read department memos. “We want this budget cover to illustrate that feeling. In the past, budget covers have looked staged and emotionless.”
Finance Canada withheld details of the project for nearly five months. Memos including disclosures of the six-figure cost were obtained through Access To Information following a formal complaint to the Office of the Information Commissioner.
The draft budget originally depicted an inexpensive stock photo of a skyline with the working title Growing Our Economy Together. Previous budgets were illustrated with stock images that sell for $600 or less. However department staff ordered more elaborate illustrations in a sole-sourced contract to a Toronto photo agency, demanding a picture of a family with construction cranes, memos show.
“Do you want a real family?” asked the photo agency, KBS Ltd. Natalie Reiger, senior marketing advisor for Finance Canada, approved the hiring of professional models with specific requirements – “heterosexuals”, preferably actors posing as mother and child. The project cost $176,339 including the cost of flying a Toronto photographer to Vancouver.
The budget cover depicting a woman and child walking in sunshine was photographed at the corner of Burrard Street and West Cordova Street in Vancouver. The photo was altered to erase “cookie cutter condos”, add a photoshopped image of a construction crane, and retouched to “brighten the sky”, memos said.
“We will have to have discussions about the crane,” the photo agency wrote; “We are working on getting you two different crane options.”
“All Things Beautiful”
“The shot is of a parent and child holding hands in a downtown area,” memos explained. “Since the budget focuses on infrastructure, the environment and the middle class, it’s important to demonstrate as many of these things as possible e.g. crane, family, setting.”
“We want them to look like an everyday family,” the agency wrote; “On the 2016 cover we want to capture an aesthetic that is optimistic, bright and moving forward. Our subjects are looking away from the camera so our audience can feel as if they are part of the picture. Rather than simply being observers, the viewer is an active participant.”
Memos indicated the finance department hired a total of 16 models to pose as middle class Canadians, even hiring Syrian models to pose as refugees. The department was billed an extra $15,000 to hire actors posing as a farm family, but balked at assigning photographers to capture images in Alberta. “Will Alberta be green enough?” wrote Finance Canada’s Reiger. “Also my initial comment is that it might be heavy in ethnic people. Maybe we could introduce one or two other Caucasians.”
The marketing campaign was commissioned at a February 19 management meeting just four weeks before the Queen’s Printer March 17 deadline to publish the budget document. “We need to start the process of getting a photoshoot,” staff wrote; “The agency wasn’t able to find stock images that had a family in the forefront with crane in the background. We will have to do a photoshoot to capture specific images we are looking for once we have nailed down the cover concept we want to use.”
Staff also quibbled over the title of the budget. An original title Growing Our Middle Class was altered to read Growing The Middle Class. “Can you change the word ‘our’ to ‘the’?” the department wrote. No explanation was given.
Photographer Jason Hennessy of Toronto, the creator hired to take pictures for the budget, declined an interview. “I don’t have much time to chat on the phone,” he said. A department document said Hennessy had “an extraordinary eye for all things beautiful”; “Jason is able to handle a wide arrangement of production requirements from action to subjects, and his attention to the study of light is duly noted.”
The finance department declined an interview. The photo budget included copyright fees and imagery for “ten scenarios that will be used in future Finance Canada communications products including website, social media and future economic and fiscal updates,” said spokesperson Paul Duchesne.
By Tom Korski