Blacklock’s Reporter—a reporter-owned subscription news service—has uncovered that Canada’s finance department spent $170,000 (CA$212,234)on the cover for its 2017 budget plan, a book handed out largely to nonprofits, bureaucrats, and journalists.
The document outlines the government’s spending plan for the coming fiscal year. It is released in print and in digital format but the digital version only has a plain text cover.
The cover depicts mainly young people interacting with illustrated items including a bridge and guitar.
Blacklock’s, which covers the Canadian federal government, courts, and public accounts, went through a lengthy access-to-information process to compel the department to provide the numbers.
The finance department withheld the spending records for six months until Blacklock’s filed a formal complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner about how the department was handling the information request.
When the documents were finally released, they included hundreds of pages of emailed messages of department staff discussing the cover among themselves and with executives at the global advertising company McCann.
“Finance Canada employees and McCann executives agonized over the minutia of themes and images, including the ethnicity of models hired for photo shoots,” reported Blacklock’s.
The outlet uncovered that the finance department paid $89,500 for talent fees and photos of models posing as middle-class Canadians.
Blacklocks’s filed a similar story the year before, when the department hired photographers and Vancouver models to pose as middle-class Canadians for its 2016 budget at a cost of $176,339.
A department memo reminded staff that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election mantra was about positivity and change.
“We want this budget cover to illustrate that feeling. In the past, budget covers have looked staged and emotionless,” it reads.
Blacklock’s had to wait five months for the cost of the budget photographs for that story, also had to file a formal complaint to the information commissioner to compel the finance department to produce the documents.
Prior to that budget document, the department had used comparably inexpensive stock photography for its covers, noted Blacklock’s.
“Previous budgets were illustrated with stock images that sell for [$480 USD] $600 or less. However department staff ordered more elaborate illustrations in a sole-sourced contract to a Toronto photo agency, demanding a picture of a family with construction cranes,” reported Blacklock’s.
The sole-sourced contract for that budget cover was not open to a competitive bidding process. This year, records obtained by Blacklock’s show the department placed a rush order with McCann on Feb. 1 and approved the artwork nine days before the budget was released on March 13.
Last year, as with this year, department staff discussed at length details of the document. It is not clear whether the cost of staff time involved in those discussions was included in price figures.
Last year, those costs including sending a Toronto photographer to Vancouver to take the photo, which was later photoshopped to take out condos, brighten the sky, and put in a construction crane.
“We will have to have discussions about the crane,” the photo agency wrote. “We are working on getting you two different crane options.”