[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a Ph.D in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Doctor Steve,
I am seeing a lot of political advertising on TV right now. But I’m confused. Some of the ads seem like nasty attacks on BC NDP leader John Horgan, but they don’t actually have the BC Liberal Party name on them. And some of the ads are bright happy messages about economic opportunity under the BC Liberals, but they don’t have the Liberal brand either — just “A message from the Government of British Columbia,” and a catchy piano signature. Which ones are the real political ads?
I think I know something about alternative funding. It’s crucial to being a freelance writer. Part of your time is spent writing, but a greater part is spent trying to get other people to pay for food. Media receptions, free meals, wandering into strangers’ birthday parties — it’s all part of the freelance survival strategy. So I bring a certain inside understanding to the Clark government’s advertising plan. Why pull out your own wallet when you can get others to fork out instead?
The anti-Horgan ads are being paid for by Future Prosperity BC Inc., an organization fronted by former BC Chamber of Commerce chief John Winter. They seek to portray Horgan as “Say Anything John,” a guy who will tell people what they want to hear, particularly on the issue of resource extraction. You would think that kind of flexibility would be a selling point to the Future Prosperity crowd — if Horgan is really the spineless wimp the ads claim he is, Winter’s crowd ought to love the guy. They tend to favour the kind of political hacks who will scramble through the mud chasing a $50 bill on a hook.
But you get the impression that a lack of integrity is not what Winter and company truly dislike about Horgan — it’s the lack of a price list. If “Say Anything” Horgan would only promise that $10,000 a plate dinners would buy you face time, or that perhaps he would be open to a $50,000 salary top-up from private interests, Future Prosperity might just warm to him.
The B.C. government ads are a different affair, Puzzled. Those are being paid for out of your pocket. These ads are all about the B.C. economy and how much it rocks. Government ads are supposed to serve some sort of public service such as “Careful walking down slippery stairs in the rain” or “Replace your wiper blades regularly” or “Don’t drink Drano because it rains every goddamn day,” etc. But if there is any public service message in these B.C. government ads, it seems to be that British Columbians should understand how lucky they are. Or the message might be that we should all put on hard hats, just like all the happy workers in the ads and, coincidentally, just as Premier Christy Clark seems to do as soon as she gets out of bed every morning.
There is some legitimate question about whether these ads are truly a public service. You might remember poor Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story — he drinks lots of Ovaltine so he can send away for the Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring. Then to his chagrin he discovers Annie’s secret message is: “Drink Your Ovaltine.” Sadder and wiser, Ralphie knows he has been scammed.
Ralphie never sues Little Orphan Annie though — he knows you can’t fight that big Daddy Warbucks money. But two local lawyers have decided to give it a try. On Monday they released a statement: “Vancouver lawyers David Fai and Paul Doroshenko have filed a notice of claim naming the B.C. government and the BC Liberal Party for misuse of tax money for partisan purposes. ‘The BC Auditor General has warned the government in the clearest possible terms,’ says Fai. ‘Any advertising that is intended to foster a positive image of the governing party constitutes political advertising. The Government is using our tax money to pay to advertise their party.’ The lawsuit alleges a breach of fiduciary duty to the taxpayer and unjust enrichment for the BC Liberal Party...”
Fai and Doroshenko are seeking to have their suit certified as a class action. They have set up a Go Fund Me account to pay for the suit. John Winter has yet to publicly contribute.
Maybe Fai and Doroshenko need to offer a sweet Secret Decoder Ring you can point at the TV next time you see one of those B.C. government ads, a sort of magic translator that will tell you the truth about exactly what those ads are feeding you. Warning: the secret decoded message may not be suitable for children.