The price of fame

After beating up on the bureaucracy during its first term in office, the Campbell administration recently launched a campaign to give British Columbia "a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining" top civil servants But that campaign hasn't come cheap. An example: back in March, the public service agency hosted the premier's third annual innovation and excellence awards ceremony. The price tag: at least $92,856.33 according to contracts obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request.

Of that amount, $37,825.34 was spent on renting a room for the dinner at the Victoria Conference Centre, as well as treating the 600 employees and guests who attended the proceedings to a "VIP dinner" (which featured spinach salad, roasted halibut filet and Vienna sacher-torte). But the big ticket item, coming in at $55,030.99 including fees and expenses, was a contract with Counterpoint Communications Inc.

As part of that contract, Counterpoint taped and produced a video of the proceedings. But they also put together an opening video for the ceremony - shot in the style of Saturday Night Live's title sequence - and several shorts profiling the award finalists. And it's those videos - which were shot at government work places across the province - which are rubbing the Canadian Taxpayers Federation the wrong way.

In an interview with Public Eye, federation British Columbia communications director Maureen Bader said, "There's nothing wrong with celebrating success. If a company or association wants to spend its money creating fancy audio-visual productions as part of its celebration that's okay. It's their money. However, in the public sector, it's the taxpayers' money. And over the top expenditures (such as these videos) won't help build the reputation of a public service."

But Anne McKinnon, the communications director responsible for the public service agency, defended the expenditure - pointing out the videos are also being used to recruit potential employees and boost morale. "So it wasn't just a one-time production for the premier's awards. It has the broader use for our larger marketing strategy."

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