OTTAWA—Ottawa inked or amended more than $93 million in
advertising contracts last year, and nearly $500 million over
the past five years, according to a Star analysis of Public
Works contracting data.
The maximum value of last year’s contracts came in at $93.2
million, the analysis shows, and the work covers both the
provision of advertising services as well as media buys and ad
Public Works noted the final bill will only be made public in
Ottawa’s annual advertising report, released 12 to 16 months
after the end of the fiscal year.
“The contract values are the maximum the government is
contracted to pay suppliers ... They are not the actual payments
made to a supplier,” the department noted in a prepared
statement after the Star requested an interview.
“The total value of payments made to advertising firms is
reported in Public Works’ annual report on advertising.”
But contracting history from the last five years shows the
contract value is a reliable indicator of the overall bill.
Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, Public Works reported $367.1
million in advertising spending. The contract value data puts
the figure slightly higher, at $413 million.
The difference between the two figures represents contracts
coming in under budget, or altered after the initial deal was
Even with that variance, the data shows that Ottawa’s total
spending on advertising services is rapidly approaching $500
million over the past five fiscal years.
“This government has almost spent half a billion dollars on
government advertising ... and at the same time they’re telling
veterans and other Canadians that the cupboard is bare,” said
Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP’s Treasury Board critic.
“It takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to say both
of those things at the same time.”
The majority of the 2013-14 contracts went to Cossette
Communications, the Quebec-based advertising firm that for years
has served as the government’s go-to ad-buying agency.
A spokeswoman for Cossette’s Montreal office, Marilyne Levesque,
said most of the money associated with those contracts flows
through the company to purchase ads, with the company taking a
According to the government’s
last official report
on advertising activities, spending hit
a five-year high at $136.3 million in 2009-10. Between 2010 and
2013, spending ranged between $69 million and $83 million
The lion’s share of that spending went to television ads,
costing federal coffers $33 million in 2012-13 — a full 60 per
cent of all ad spending that year. The next largest amount went
, totalling $10.9 million or 19 per cent of
Among major campaigns, the government’s ubiquitous “Economic
Action Plan” advertisements cost $14.9 million, followed by ads
focusing on “Responsible
” ($8.2 million) and a campaign
promoting tax cuts ($7 million).
All three are likely to figure prominently in the Conservatives’
2015 bid for re-election. Liberal MP David McGuinty accused the
government of using public funds for partisan gain.
“What the prime minister is doing, what his government is doing
... there’s only one word to describe it: they’re cheating.
They’re cheating because they’re using public resources to
further their chances of electoral success,” said McGuinty.
McGuinty has written to Finance Minister Joe Oliver to urge him
to adopt his private member’s bill, C-544. McGuinty said the
bill would give the auditor general’s office the authority to
nix public ad campaigns that too closely resembled political
The Star requested an interview with Public Works Minister Diane
Finlay’s office on Monday. Outside of the department’s response,
a spokesman for the minister’s office said they had nothing to