Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
Labour + Industry
BC Election 2013

Globe's Pro-Coal Insert Gets Election Act Complaints

Elections BC okay with paper's advertorial extolling coal with voter-targeted ad.

Colleen Kimmett 8 May

Colleen Kimmett is a member of The Tyee's election reporting team.

image atom
Front of three-page advertorial insert to Globe and Mail's May 1 B.C. section. Stories were outsourced by Globe and provided free of charge to Coal Association, Elections BC was told.

In the lead-up to the provincial election, a special Globe and Mail feature extolling the virtues of B.C.'s coal industry has raised concerns about the increasingly blurred line between editorial and promotional content.

On May 1, the paper's B.C. section included a three-page section about the coal mining industry.

Below each of the three articles -- Coal Industry Essential to British Columbia and Its People, B.C. Ports Bring Coal to Global Markets and Benefits at Home" and Responsible Development Ensures that Coal Production Balances Economic, Environmental and Social Goals" -- were ads from various mineral and energy companies, as well as for A note at the top of each page identified the section as "an information feature for the Coal Association of Canada."

This raised alarm bells for Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change (VTACC).

Since the Coal Association of Canada is a registered sponsor under the Election Act (as is VTACC), Washbrook reasoned that the feature constituted advertising, and should have therefore included an authorization statement indicating who paid for it.

Instead, at the bottom of the section there was a statement noting the "report" was produced by RandallAnthony Communications Inc. in conjunction with the advertising department of the Globe and Mail.

Washbrook emailed Elections BC electoral finance officer Mark Thompson with his concerns.

"Coal exports are a major issue in the current election, in large part because of a pending decision on approval of a new coal export terminal in Metro Vancouver. Engagement in the election through the supplement appears to be anticipated by the inclusion of the advertisement on page C3," wrote Washbrook. "We would like to request an opinion on whether this newspaper supplement constitutes election advertising and if so if it has failed to meet the requirement for authorization under S 231 (1)."

Thompson told The Tyee that, after following up with the Globe, he was satisfied the supplement was not paid advertising because the articles were written on behalf of the Globe and Mail and were published without charge.

And under the Election Act, "Any articles, editorials, interviews, columns, letters, debates and commentaries published without charge in a bona fide periodical publication, such as the Globe and Mail, are not election advertising."

'Puff pieces'

Kathryn Harrison, also a VTACC director and political science professor at the University of British Columbia, saw the information feature as well. She described the articles as uncritical "puff pieces."

"I'm not a journalism prof, just someone who cares about open and balanced public debate," she said. This, she says, reminded her of the Liberal Party's front page ad in 24 Hours Vancouver -- an ad that closely resembled a leading news story.

Like a regular news article, the coal mining information feature pieces had headlines and photos, and were packaged in a similar layout to the rest of the paper. Unlike a regular news article, there were no bylines.

According to Harrison, she left a message with Richard Deacon, the Globe's national business development manager, to ask who wrote the articles. Harrison said Randall Mang, president of RandallAnthony Communications (which produced an oil sands information feature for the Globe in October) returned her call and claimed responsibility for the articles. Mang did not respond to The Tyee's requests for comment by publication time.

Free content from Globe supporting Coal Association

The paper's public editor Sylvia Stead told The Tyee that information features constitutes advertising, not editorial. She said that "generally means the partial page of written copy and other advertising below are paid for by the advertiser" but could not confirm that in this particular case.

582px version of Globe coal insert
Spreading the pro-coal message in the middle of an election: Coal Association Special Supplement in May 1 Globe.

The Tyee asked Deacon why the Globe and Mail would provide free content for the Canadian Coal Association (when such information features sell for tens of thousands of dollars) but he did not reply by publication time.

Stead didn't respond to a question about whether readers could be misled by an information feature resembling a newspaper section.

Michelle Mondeville, director of communications and stakeholder relations for the Canadian Coal Association, told The Tyee the association did not pay for the information feature.

Both the Canadian Coal Association and Westshore, operator of the Delta coal export terminal, linked to the information feature on their websites.  [Tyee]

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed


The Barometer

Do You Agree with BC’s Decriminalization Rollback?

Take this week's poll