Vote-counting continues for the mail-in TransLink expansion funding plebiscite, but details on spending by the Yes side remain sparse despite disclosures.
The Mayors’ Council reported June 12 that it spent $5,814,851 on the Yes campaign. Spending came in under the $6 million budget, but that was substantially more than the $4 million it had originally planned to spend. The multimedia advertising campaign was intended to convince the public to vote yes between March 16 and May 29 to raising the Provincial Sales Tax from seven per cent to 7.5 per cent to help fund $7.7 billion of improvements. Results are expected before the end of June.
The report shows Strategic Communications, Vision Vancouver’s robocall, telephone town hall and polling contractor, was paid $1,056,153 for voter contact. Candidate Cloud ($788,975) and Public Outreach Group ($266,245) were others paid to do door-to-door and street canvassing, telephone town halls, list building and telephone contact and mail canvassing.
Public Outreach Group staff campaigned at SkyTrain stations. The company’s vice-president of client partnerships is Karen Mahon, ex-wife of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s chief of staff Mike Magee.
The report does not show precisely how much Stratcom was paid. Public Outreach Group and Stratcom shared $40,635 for running the inbound call centre and Stratcom was paid another $157,561 for campaign planning and strategy development. Public opinion research expenses were, however, intermingled: Stratcom and Innovative Research Group were paid $292,350.
The Mayors’ Council bought $1.757 million worth of transit, radio, TV, print and online ads through agency Mediacom. Taxi Canada Inc. was paid $543,094 for creative and production.
TransLink spent $353,729 on contract staff, but there is no individual breakdown that shows how much Vision Vancouver strategists Bob Ransford of Counterpoint Communications and Marcella Munro of WPM Public Affairs were paid for being campaign manager and communications director, respectively. Other contractors included Debbie Parhar, a former TransLink communications staffer who is also an associate of the Stewart Group. Stewart Group president Lecia Stewart was registered provincially to lobby for Compass contractor Cubic Transportation Systems until the end of May.
Another $335,191 was spent on public and stakeholder events and outreach with Kirk and Co., Counterpoint Communications and Good Productions. The latter is former CKNW talkshow host Bill Good’s company. Good hosted the telephone town halls. Kirk and Co. senior associate Mike McDonald was the BC Liberals’ 2013 campaign director when Premier Christy Clark promised the public a vote on TransLink expansion during the 2014 civic elections. Metro Vancouver mayors successfully lobbied to delay the vote until 2015.
At its Feb. 12 meeting, the Mayors’ Council delegated extraordinary power to Robertson, its chair, and vice-chair Linda Hepner, Mayor of Surrey, to “make requests to TransLink on behalf of the Mayors’ Council with respect to the Mayors’ Campaign Plan.”
Mayors’ Council executive director Mike Buda refused in a March 11 interview to answer questions about the spending and contracting, claiming all would be revealed after the campaign.
On June 12, Buda declined to release a line-by-line list of what each contractor was paid. He claimed TransLink procurement procedures were followed, but would did not explain specifically how Stratcom was contracted. Buda said he, Ransford and senior TransLink staff were involved in the contracting process. During the 2011 civic election, Ransford publicly left the NPA to join Vision Vancouver.
“We picked the companies and individuals with the best experience for the work that we needed to get done on short notice,” Buda said in an interview. “There are not a lot of companies in Canada, much less in Vancouver, that do this.”
The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition budgeted $835,000 for its campaign. It is unclear whether it was fully funded because the coalition did not follow through on plans to buy lawn signs and run a direct mail campaign. BTTC has not published a list of donors. The cabinet order that authorized the plebiscite did not include any requirement to disclose donors and amounts.
The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation-run No TransLink Tax campaign said it spent $39,687.95.
TransLink’s annual general meeting is June 26 at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster. The meeting has traditionally been held in the last week of May, but was delayed because of the plebiscite. The 2014 annual report has not yet been published.