Friday, July 09, 2010

HST ad-cost secrecy a Liberal self-inflicted wound

Poor Colin Hansen. Being the front man for the harmonized sales tax is a wretched job that seems to get worse every day.
Now that the anti-HST petition signatures are being counted, the government is launching its ad campaign to try and sell the tax. It's running radio ads around the province over the next three weeks and plans to mail flyers to every one of B.C.'s 1.7 million households.
But as the campaign lurched out of the starting gate, Hansen was back on the defensive.
What will the radio ads cost, reporters asked. I don't know, he said.
What about the flyer? I don't know that either, Hansen responded.
He was involved in planning the strategy and the messaging, Hansen acknowledged. But he doesn't know what it is costing taxpayers.
Which leaves the public to consider two options. Hansen doesn't pay much attention to how their money is spent. Or he's determined to keep it a secret in case people get angry about the expense.
The second is the correct answer, I'd say. As health minister, Hansen was amazingly well-informed on all aspects of the ministry, including the financial ones.
If he doesn't know what these campaigns cost, it's because the Public Affairs Bureau, finance ministry staff and Hansen decided it was best that he didn't. That way, he could avoid questions about the costs.
So as they met to develop the marketing plans, Hansen was careful never to say, "hey, what's this going to cost, anyway?" And the staff took care not to volunteer the information.
It's a dumb strategy. The Globe and Mail headline was "Liberals refuse to disclose costs of HST ads." A National Post online column was headlined "B.C. Liberals' HST amateur hour routine." Critics were quick to suggest Hansen was either not being honest or irresponsible in approving campaigns costing millions of dollars without knowing the price tag.
The Liberals have, despite all the open and transparent talk, always refused to reveal the cost of ad campaigns. The information would be available in the annual financial reports, they said.
So a year from now, taxpayers might be able to figure out how much they paid for the ads and the flyers about the HST.
It's hard to see how refusing to provide the information helps the Liberals. If they came clean, some people might be angry at the cost. But this approach means people can be angry about the cost and the secrecy.
This is also about what's right. You would expect a government, spending taxpayers' money, would be open.
That's what Gordon Campbell demanded in opposition. Ads promoting the NDP governments and their policies were "disgusting," he said.
When the government was slow to say what the campaigns cost, Campbell was furious. "The taxpayers who are funding this latest exercise in NDP election propaganda deserve to know the full cost, in terms of preparation, production and distribution," he said.
But that was then. Now secrecy is OK. (It is worth noting that the NDP lost, spectacularly, the next election.)
Hansen said he wasn't interested in the cost, as long as the Public Affairs Bureau stayed within its budget for the year.
But two days later, he announced a lower-than-forecast deficit for the last fiscal year because the government, thanks to "unprecedented" spending scrutiny, had spent $833 million less than projected.
But the scrutiny apparently doesn't extend to PR campaign costs.
Meanwhile, the anti-HST battle is also moving to the courts with a legal challenge to the tax.
The government passed a bill eliminating the provincial sales tax. But, unlike other provinces, there was no debate or vote on the new tax.
I might have been inclined to dismiss the challenge. But the lawyer is Joe Arvay, former general counsel for the attorney general's ministry. Arvay is recognized as a top constitutional lawyer.
Footnote: The public accounts this week revealed the government spent $37 million on the "You gotta be there" Olympic ads. Bob Mackin of 24 Hours obtained government documents that said "voting age" British Columbians were a key target audience and the campaigns were to include "special Premier-focused promotions." Which sounds much like Liberal party advertising, paid for by taxpayers.


Stuart said...

Thank you so much for your professionalism Paul, something I'm sad to say seems to be missing from most major news sources. I've followed B C politics over the years, but I have to say I've never seen anything quite as disgusting or disapointing as this latest bunch. They seem to want to take society back to the stone age. Makes me feel sad for the human race.

kootcoot said...

" Stuart said...
Thank you so much for your professionalism Paul,

I'm not sure just what Stuart is referring to as when I was in school I would have got poor grades for this piece, or any of your pieces Paul, for the simple reason that you don't seem to be aware of that little structural facet of prose called a paragraph.

Now old school (my day) we indented the first word of a paragraph FIVE spaces. New school, which I tend to use now, as I'm not a frozen fossil, no indentation but a space between paragraphs - actually very easy on the eyes and gives form to the prose.

You Paul, do neither, and I would expect a "professional" journalist to actually use basic grammar, spelling, syntax and formatting.

It isn't as if you are above criticizing MY "amateur" efforts as nobody pays me for writing. I just try to format, use grammar etc. as a matter of personal pride, not that I don't let errors slip by - due to either slipshod or non-existent (at times) proof-reading.

I'm not trying to give you a hard time. As I've said here before, I find much of your writiing (other than about your buddy Les) interesting and of value - but plain text w/o any sign of paragraphs makes me loathe to read whatever the words actually say. It is one step above the troll shouting in FULL CAPS (maybe)!

kootcoot said...

Sorry Paul, that I forgot to mention, in my obsession with petty formatting issues, as to:

"The second is the correct answer, I'd say."

I agree with your evaluation - this whole exercise is shameful, but we've come to expect no less (or should that be no more?) from this sorry excuse for a government.

Harold said...

I have to agree with kootcoot. Not having a blank line between paragraphs makes reading your posts quite exhausting on the eyes. Especially if you've looked away from the computer and have to find the place where you left off. Otherwise, always look forward to reading what you have to say.

DPL said...

Maybe some folks might realize the same story managed to get printed in the Times Colonist today and it was quite readable.

I am not horribly concerned if the paragraph starts a space or two from the margin. but very interested in the content, and of course that Paul puts it on his blog for the out of town folks.

37 million for a media campaign is pretty steep. Reaside covered that item quite well in his editorial cartoon today as well.

Dave said...

OK, I used to think that I must be the only one who was driven nuts by the absence of space between paragraphs in this blog. It's reassuring to know I'm not alone - the people who respond to these otherwise excellent pieces somehow manage to hit the ENTER key twice in a row

Like this

so let's give it a shot, Paul!

kootcoot said...

When you're pasting into the text box in Blogger, the secret may be to use the paragraph tag to indicate paragraph breaks or <p>. It depends on which mode you are entering your text, whether you are using 'compose' or 'HTML'

If you are pasting or writing in an environment that will be parsed by a browser reading mark-up (HTML) you need the tags, in a WYSIWYG environment (compose) what you see is what you get.......

Bloggers have to do their own formatting and sometimes mark-up, unlike those spoiled journalists who have editors, proofreaders, fact checkers and type-setters to do all that stuff for them.

Actually judging from what I read in the Canned Wasteland these days, maybe they don't have proof-readers or fact-checkers anymore!

paul said...

I just paste a txt file into blogger. Maybe there's a better way.
I created the blog in 2000 because I thought the technology was interesting after I read a New Yorker article about the company.
I started posting columns as in 2002, thinking that if the e-mailed versions to subscribing newspapers went astray, they could find the columns here instead of trying to track me down. And perhaps a few people would stumble on them.
I almost never posted anything but the columns.
That reflected my ethos as a freelancer. I wrote for a living, paid by the piece or the word. So spending time each day writing for free about the same kind of things wasn't appealing. There were other things I would rather write and other ways I could contribute my time.
Spending time formatting was even less appealing, and remains so.
I have broadened my posting in the last two years, encouraged by the Gazeteer's example.
I am most pleased with the amount of searchable information on the blof. There are about 1,000 posts, almost all columns and a lot of useful quotes and numbers. (The Campbell comments on government advertising in this column were from a 2003 piece on a health ad campaign.)
Is there an automatic way to signal paragraphs more effectively in documents pasted into blogger?

Anonymous said...


Your OCD motivated attacks make you look small.

RossK said...

Holy smokes Paul.


Heckfire, I have no problem with the scrunched text.

(but then again, I'm somebody who who is three, or four.........or even crazy).

As for the substance of the piece - excellent.....And I salute Mr. Willcocks for archiving all his VTC pieces - most useful given how proMedia stuff tends to get disappeared and/or thrown over the subscription wailing wall as time goes by...

And hey! Did anybody notice that Paul did not insert line spaces between paragraphs in his comment above?.....Ha!


Stuart said...

Just to let you know the professionalism I was referring to is the content of your articles. I am however quite surprised at koot's criticism. It shocked me because I enjoy his blog too, and I always kinda thought his dislike of Campbell made him sound like someone I could sit down and have a beer with. Like RossK ( Whose blog I also enjoy ) I think we have more important issues going on than whether paragraphs run together. Just sayin.....

Norm Farrell said...

People are correct to say that it's content that matters but too bad Mr. Google doesn't invest a few resources in improving the software. It is loaded with bugs. Bloggers get next to nothing from Google ads so the big guys can afford a little bug extermination.

Anonymous said...

I find the scrunches at times are because, of the comment space allowed.

I must be close to kootcoots age. I was taught the same way, which I now find a pain. (the indented paragraphs). Leaving a space between the paragraphs, works for me. However, I will have to put a post-it-note, to make sure I remember.

I really enjoy reading, all your views, kootcoot, they are always well done.