BY DERMOD TRAVIS
It’s official. After hitting send to more than 2,680 news releases this year, the B.C. government’s Communications and Public Engagement Office is now scraping the bottom of the barrel for an excuse – any excuse – to trumpet the government’s prowess.
If you’re not on the distribution list, you may not appreciate the leave no stone unturned – Todd or otherwise – gusto they bring to the job.
The Ministry of Education has issued 273 releases in 2016, including 50 in one 10-hour span alone celebrating new dust collection systems, upgraded floors and air conditioning systems at various schools across the province.
Dawson Creek Secondary School – in Minister Mike Bernier’s riding – is getting new floors.
News releases for school improvement projects in government-held ridings also came with tailor-made quotes from the local MLA.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA, Donna Barnett, noted that a school’s new dust collection system will make it “a healthier, more comfortable place to learn.”
Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer said the new air conditioning system at another school would make it “a more efficient, healthier place to work and learn.”
And West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan remarked that the new windows at Cleveland Elementary will make the school “a more comfortable environment in which to work and learn.”
With all these improvement projects, is it any wonder that the B.C. Liberal party gave a shout out to Bernier in a recent update to party members for “knocking on more doors in more ridings than any other member of #TeamBC2017 to date.”
John Yap – who seemingly has issued more news releases as Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform than he ever did as a minister – sent out one this week headlined: “Get cozy with your cocktails at B.C. hotels and resorts.”
It prompted the official opposition to finally call for a moratorium on future liquor announcements.
The big daddy of news release saturation is the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure with more than 400 to date.
Earlier this month, the ministry patted itself on the back for moving forward with cleaner, modern facilities – more commonly known as toilets – at the Last Spike’s historic rest station along the Trans-Canada Highway near Craigellachie.
According to the government’s release the project “will include brushing of the grounds around the structure.”
In case you’re wondering, Shuswap MLA, Greg Kyllo, thinks all the improvements “are great.”
Thinking ahead to next May’s election, the transportation ministry is also inviting the public to submit ideas for 75 new stops of interest signs, each undoubtedly with its own news release and photo-op.
Think of it as 75 quick wins.
Many of the ministry’s improvement projects, of course, need signs to remind the public of the progress of the improvements as they progress.
A constituent of Delta South Independent MLA Vicki Huntington wondered about the cost of the second round of signs for the Massey Tunnel project.
Huntington was forced by the most open and transparent government in Canada to to file a freedom of information request to find out.
The signs rang in at $60,598 for production and installation.
Then there’s the unknown and ongoing cost of keeping all the signs clean.
Given the government’s propensity for issuing news releases, it’s a wonder they didn’t issue one when they placed the order.
The tag line could have read: “As a result of B.C.’s fiscal discipline and balanced budget, the government can place an order for full-colour signs.”
How far overboard has the government gone in the news release saturation department?
Since the last election, they’ve issued more than 7,700 releases.
Dig a little further back into their online archive and under former premier Gordon Campbell, the government made do with 2,130 news releases from 2001 to 2005.
Some of the difference could be attributed to pruning for the archives, but even that would say a lot about the more than 5,000 releases that would have been pruned.
Perhaps the news release overkill by the current government can be explained by the annual budget for the Communications and Public Engagement Office.
While most ministries scrape by, since 2010/11 the communications office has seen its budget jump by 43.3 per cent to $37.9 million.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. www.integritybc.ca