Just imagine it's February 19th, 2010. Vancouver, the Province and the whole of Canada are full of pride and thrilling at the 2010 Olympic Games. You're watching a qualifying round of Men's Olympic Hockey, then an ad comes on. It's Premier Gordon Campbell sitting beside Prime Minister Stephen Harper and they're both wearing their CANADA-emblazoned swag. They both look into the camera and say, "Canada and British Columbia, it's the best place on earth! We both hope you're enjoying the 2010 Games!"
Of course, that didn't happen, did it? Can you imagine just how outraged the general public would be if those kinds of self-serving "political" ads? It's inconceivable that either the Province or the Feds would be able to pull that off without the public and the Opposition being up in arms.
Yet, here in Vancouver that's exactly what happened, and we didn't hear a peep from all the usual suspects. For several weeks during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games Mayor Gregor Robertson was featured in a high-rotation radio ad campaign across several stations that "welcomed" and "thanked" citizens for enjoying the Games. In a delicious twist for the staff here at CityCaucus.com, the Mayor reminded everyone to take advantage of all the "FREE" activities.
If an NPA Mayor had pulled this stunt, there would have been no end of the outcry from the opposition and the usual critics.
There isn't a single person I've spoken to during or after the Olympics that has credited Gregor Robertson with being a good "Olympic Mayor". Most have commented that he was almost invisible during the Games, and the only time we noticed him was when he A) showed up at a gathering featuring Chris Shaw and an assortment of Games protesters and donned one of their symbolic Homes Not Games yellow scarves, and B) when he passed the country's flag sporting a Team Canada hockey jersey to Sochi's Mayor dressed in a suit.
Well, clearly that invisibility became a problem for Gregor Robertson, who spent much of his days in voter outreach gatherings featuring various ethnic communities hosted at the uninspired Vancouver House. People began to wonder aloud why Robertson was nowhere to be seen – was he on vacation? It certainly wasn't an impressive accomplishment for the most important figurehead for a city hosting the world's biggest party.
That's why Robertson's office came up with a highly unusual and costly decision to help build his profile during those weeks – and for the 2011 election – through radio advertising. They produced ads and bought costly air time to make sure we'd know that Gregor was still around. Our Freedom of Information request on that taxpayers' expense shows that the City paid $16,025 to make sure we knew that Gregor Robertson was still around.
Of course, it didn't help the Mayor that is biggest critics were going viral during the Games, which was all the more reason to spend precious tax dollars to remind people to 'have fun' and to 'enjoy all the free events'.
It is our proposition that it's all well and fine for the Mayor to be featured in radio ads – something unprecedented in the City's history – as long as the party in power pays for them. So we've produced a simple little invoice from the City to Vision Vancouver for them to pony up for the 16 grand. Considering that they're already sitting on a $300,000 debt, what's another $16,000 anyway? We're pretty sure that's considered chump change up at Hollyhock anyway.
Of course, there's not a chance that Vision will pay the cost for those useless public service ads. Which is why you can count on this being a new precedent for the City. As a few political watchers pointed out to us, this was merely a dry run for the months leading up to the next election. Keep listening as Robertson is featured in more and more paid advertising – in print, video, radio and web – right up to the 2011 election campaign.
And now that Vision have done this, bet on the fact that all Mayors in the future will avail themselves of the opportunity to spend public tax dollars to promote their re-election campaigns through advertising. Of course, the City of Vancouver is already paying for Mayor Roberton's promotional website linked on the home page of Vancouver.ca. We'll have another story about that in the days ahead.
- post by Mike