'We don't see other bridges advertising': Watchdog questions TI Corp comms spend
Published Monday, November 27, 2017 7:30PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 28, 2017 7:28AM PST
The Crown corporation that was losing tens of millions a year running the Port Mann Bridge has spent thousands on a video to congratulate itself on being a great place to work.
The Transportation Investment Corporation shelled out $11,000 to an outside production company for a four-minute, jargon-laden video called “Vision and Values” about being named one of B.C.’s best employers.
That was while it had several in-house communications and marketing staff, and on top of a multi-million dollar ad spend that has a government watchdog complaining that taxpayers will be footing the bill.
“I think it’s strange that at the end of the day, a two-kilometre bridge needs to spend a million dollars a year on advertising and PR firms and marketing assistants and videographers. There’s a better use for the money. We don’t see other bridges needing advertising,” said Dermod Travis of Integrity B.C.
Travis calculates that T.I. Corp spent $10.8 million on communication since 2010, much of it to promote the bridge as sagging traffic numbers dragged down the corporation’s bottom line.
Even with all that money spent on communication, T.I. Corp couldn’t make someone available to answer questions about the spending from CTV News.
Communications manager Greg Johnson replied to CTV News’s questions in several e-mails, saying that the $11,000 video was done for an internal audience and shared with staff in March 2017.
“Culture and team are very important at T.I. Corp. The video captures the talented people and good work in the organization,” he wrote.
And the other money was spent to “let drivers know about construction detours and how to register and pay for tolls,” he wrote.
Drivers apparently didn’t get the message, and many continued to use free bridges instead of the tolled alternative. Millions of dollars in toll revenue wasn’t realized, and T.I. Corp reported losing some $88 million last year.
But when the tolls were removed, traffic on the Port Mann Bridge jumped some 29 per cent from October 2016 to October 2017, according to published figures.
But those drivers won’t be paying tolls after the NDP cancelled them after the provincial election. Provincial taxpayers are now on the hook for T.I. Corp’s $3.6 billion debt.
B.C.’s Transportation Minister told CTV News the money was spent on advertising before the NDP was elected.
“Since we’ve been in government our focus has been on collecting unpaid tolls and wrapping up the business,” Claire Trevena said.
Neither the ministry nor T.I. Corp has made public the number of layoffs at the organization, though Trevena said at the time the province would try to find jobs for those losing their jobs.
In March 2017, when the video was made, T.I. Corp was named one of 70 of B.C.’s best employers because it offers new parents top-up payments for maternity and parental leave, gives tuition subsidies for courses, and contributes to a defined pension plan.
At that time, the Liberals were still in power in Victoria and T.I. Corp was getting ready to manage the construction of a mega-bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel.
“We have already built the largest transportation infrastructure project in B.C. and now we’re going to build the next one,” said one staff member in the video.
“I can think of very few organizations, particularly in the public sector, that have such a wide berth of opportunity ahead of them,” said Max Logan, T.I. Corp’s VP of Tolling and Customer Engagement.
Travis didn’t dispute that T.I. Corp was a good place to work, pointing to salary increases among management that outpaced inflation by as much as five times.
The $11,000 ad spend is small compared to the total money lost by the bridge, but Travis said he believes the public won’t see it as a drop in the bucket.
“This is penny wise and pound foolish,” he said, saying the organization should have been focused on spending public dollars more wisely.
“The bridge will likely lose more than $80m and that demonstrates it could be doing a better job,” he said.