Monday, February 23, 2009

Article in this week's Hill Times about Harper's lying face!

New ways to use advocacy ads: case of the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors

Despite CAITI's energetic and innovative campaign, the new tax on income trusts became law (retroactively) on June 22, 2007.
By W.T. Stanbury
The Hill Times,
February 23rd, 2009

Between January and June 2007, CAITI, led by its founder and president Brent Fullard, conducted an extensive campaign against the Harper government's 31.5 per cent on income trusts announced on Oct. 31, 2006.

A wide range of conventional influence techniques were used, including an extensive and frequently updated website; testimony before a Parliamentary committee; recruitment of witnesses for committee hearings; efforts to shape the news coverage of the issue through interviews and emails to reporters; meetings with MPs and others; commissioning of a public opinion poll; working with allies.

However, the most interesting aspect of CAITI's influence efforts was its unusual use of advocacy ads. These ads were not only in newspapers, but also on billboards, bus shelters and on radio. The advocacy ads were both harshly critical and directed at individuals, primarily Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, the leader of the NDP Jack Layton, and that party's finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis. These ads are the focus of this piece.

Between mid-January and the end of April 2007, it was estimated that CAITI had spent $1-million on ads in The Hill Times, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, the National Post, the Calgary Herald, La Presse, and in local papers distributed in the finance minister's Ontario riding (see Simon Doyle, The Hill Times, May 7, 2007, pp. 1, 15). The campaign also included 175 billboards, including the largest one on the Gardener Expressway in Metro Toronto, and ads on 600 bus shelters in cities across the country.

Between January 2007 and June 2008, CAITI bought 10 full-page ads, 14 banner ads, and two half-page ads in The Hill Times. In three issues, CAITI had three banner ads in each; in one issue (Feb. 19, 2007), it had five banner ads. In summary terms, in the 19 weeks between Jan. 29 and June 14, 2007, CAITI had one or more advocacy ads in 13 issues of The Hill Times, (making CAITI, The Hill Times' second largest advertiser in 2007, next to Microsoft, according to Fullard).

On Jan. 16, 2007, CAITI launched its advocacy ads in The Globe and Mail, National Post, and La Presse. The next day, CAITI launched its advertorials on the 50 plus website, CARP (Canadian Association of Retired People). On Jan. 29, 2007 (Monday), CAITI had full-page "accountability" ads in The Hill Times (back cover), National Post (main section) and Ottawa Citizen (main section). The next two days there were banner ads in La Presse and the National Post. And on Thursday there was another banner ad in the National Post.

On Jan. 29, 2007, CAITI had full-page "accountability" ads in The Hill Times (back cover), National Post (main section) and Ottawa Citizen (main section). The next two days there were banner ads in La Presse and the National Post. And on Thursday there was another banner ad in the National Post.

CAITI's initial set of banner ads in The Hill Times on Feb. 5, 2006, needed some work. They did not have a short, arresting headline; they had far too many words for the small size (one-quarter of a tabloid-size page), and they were too technical, even for The Hill Times' more sophisticated readers. To illustrate, here is the headline and tagline of the ad on page. 31: "Attention DoF: Re securitization: The ready conversion of today's deferred taxes into marketable securities thereby allowing governments to raise cash and to fund social programs today, without jeopardizing an important means whereby senior Canadians can provide themselves with retirement income, namely income trusts." The tagline was: "Seeking creative solutions is a fiduciary obligation of government."

Fullard indicated that this ad was never meant to address the mainstream readership of The Hill Times. His sole purpose was to counteract the Department of Finance's message about why the future taxes on income trusts held in RRSPs had been excluded from their calculations of alleged revenue losses.

Flaherty had said that: "as minister of Finance, I have a fiduciary obligation to the taxpayers of Canada today, not tomorrow, an obligation to pay for needed social, environmental and economic programs today, not tomorrow. I cannot, and I will not, fund today's programs from tomorrow's revenues."

Fullard said that his message was simply that "tomorrow's revenues" could easily be monetized in order to fund "today's programs." That meant that Flaherty's argument was vacuous for anyone with knowledge of finance, and therefore the "Attention DoF." This ad was targeted to a handful of officials in the Department of Finance.

By the next week, CAITI had moved to a new theme. The three banner ads featured photos of visibly worried seniors and echoed the same theme.

For example, the one on page 13 had this headline: "I don't want to be a burden to my children." The tagline was "now, that we know there is no tax leakage, who benefits from the demise of Income Trusts? The Public Sector Pension Plan?" This was in reference to the fact that the PSP had acquired Thunder Energy Trust in the aftermath of the trust tax announcement, and the fact that the PSP, unlike average Canadians, was excluded from Flaherty's trust tax.

The headline in the other two ads in the same issue were, "I'm just glad Roy [her husband] isn't alive to see this." The taglines were minor variations of the first ad but ended with: "Big Life Insurance companies?" and "U.S. oil interests?"

CAITI's advocacy ad campaign had the following characteristics: (a) There were numerous ads; (b) The ads were varied; only a few texts were repeated. The headline and tagline varied as the tax issue evolved and its fall out became apparent; (c) The ads were personalized, focusing on the PM, Finance Minister Flaherty, NDP leader Jack Layton, the NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis; (d) The language was direct, harsh or vituperative depending on one's perception.

In particular, Prime Minister Harper was repeatedly accused of lying because, according to CAITI, the Prime Minister's assertion that income trusts cause a loss of tax revenue was false. (Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff described alleged tax leakage as "fallacious" on January 16, 2009, on Bill Good's radio call-in show in Vancouver.) But the usually litigious PM has not sued CAITI for libel (nor has anyone else); (e) A few of the advocacy ads were used on some billboards and at least one major advocacy ad used a colour photo of CAITI's ad on Metro Toronto's largest billboard ("Lie, Conceal, Fabricate") starting on March 26, 2007; (f) Finance Minister Flaherty was the target of more ads than was the PM. And, CAITI published some of those ads in the local paper in his constituency, which were linked to a dedicated website: www.

CAITI used an advocacy-type ad to try to persuade the Bloc Québécois to separate the income trust tax from the Budget bill (C-52), as called for by the Commons Finance Committee, which was automatically a matter of confidence. The problem for CAITI was that none of the opposition parties wanted to force another election on any issue.

During the first week of March, 2007, CAITI launched its four-week, nationwide billboard campaign. The 175 billboard ads were placed in 15 metro areas. During the last week of March, 2007, CAITI unveiled its 24 by 60 foot billboard at QEW and Parliament in Toronto and the Superboard at Highway 400 and 401 in Toronto. They featured the "Lie, Conceal, Fabricate" theme.

A similar billboard was put in Calgary. The mega-billboard was much photographed and CAITI used an artistically rendered photo of it in other advocacy ads.

Starting in mid- March 2007, CAITI rented some 600 bus shelter ads to augment and expand its message in the cities where it had billboard ads. Only two themes from the print ads were used.

The bus shelter ads were distributed by city much like the billboard ads: based on marginal ridings and places with a higher concentration of seniors. In the case of Victoria, with a higher percentage of retirees, few billboards are available, but plenty of bus shelter ads could be (and were) placed. In Montreal and Quebec City, both types of ads were translated into French.

These type of ads have a real physical presence and function 24 hours per day. Newspapers in the largest markets are expensive (eg., about $70,000 for a full-page black and white ad in the national edition of The Globe and Mail) and the medium is ephemeral: Radio ads require both duration and multiple daily repetition to register with listeners. TV ads in major markets, are so expensive as to be beyond the budgets of almost all interest groups, even if they have the most impact.

I cannot think of another case of an interest group using billboards and/or bus shelter ads? The uniqueness/unexpected factor likely helped to create awareness. Fullard suggested that billboard ads helped to give CAITI credibility and presence, particularly with ordinary folks and income trust investors. The billboards were often featured in TV news coverage of the income trust issue as a tangible example of people's overall dissatisfaction.

For six weeks between May 7 and June 30, 2007, CAITI ran a 60-second advocacy ad on Classical 92.5 FM in Toronto, a station that has an audience of middle-aged people and seniors across the GTA. It is also transmitted in Peterborough and extends to eastern Ontario. The ad was repeated 38 times per week for a total number of 145 spots in May and 192 in June. One of the lines was "Harper also promised transparency and accountability.

But the only thing that seniors received to justify this punitive action was 18 pages of blacked-out documents. What are they hiding apart from the truth?' CAITI then took the professional voice-over for this radio ad and turned it into a YouTube Video, making use of much of the artwork from its print ad campaign.

That ad can be viewed by Googling "YouTube Lie Conceal Fabricate."

Despite CAITI's energetic and innovative campaign, the new tax on income trusts became law (retroactively) on June 22, 2007. The problem for the opponents of the tax was that "the fix was in" once the Harper government made the tax part of the budget bill, hence a matter of confidence. No opposition party wanted to force an election at that time. However, the tax remains a highly contentious issue to this day.


Dr Mike said...

The most telling part of the CAITI campaign is in the fact that Harper & his crew have been torn to shreds , called liars & incompetents & still no law suit is coming from Harper or anyone associated with him.


If there was any false statement made Harper would have been on it like white on rice.

It appears Harper wants that can of worms left unopened.

Dr Mike Popovich

Transcanada said...

Good on you Brent. I wonder how many Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to you.

Anonymous said...

Re: "It appears Harper wants that can of worms left unopened."

Yes, and the main stream media are doing their utmost to oblige him.

Wonder why?

Could it be perhaps that main stream media have a vested commercial interest in the outcome and hence the obvious cover-up?

Tough question, much like "Does the sun rise in the east?"