OTTAWA – The department of Veterans Affairs spent more than $100,000 promoting its tweets on Twitter last year, newly released documents show.
The money, which came from advertising funds allocated by the Privy Council Office, was mostly geared towards promoting Remembrance Day in 2013.
A “promoted tweet” is a tweet an organization pays to promote specific topics on the 140-character social media site.
Since 2012, the government has spent a total of $456,324 in advertising money on tweets, the documents show.
Veterans Affairs spent $103,694 on promoted tweets during fiscal 2013-14 year, which ended March 25 of this year.
About 85 per cent of the money, $88,194, was used to promote tweets for last year’s Remembrance Day. The rest, $15,500, was spent on advertising services to veterans.
The government paid the standard rates for Twitter ad space, the documents say. The cost relates to the number of impressions a conversation nets on the site.
Veterans advocate Mike Blais called the figures “shocking,” especially following the closure of eight regional Veterans Affairs offices earlier this year.
“It’s unconscionable,” said Blais. “It seems excessive at this point in time to spend $100,000 tweeting anything.”
WATCH: Veterans advocate criticizes money spent by feds on tweets
“It clearly demonstrates where this government’s priorities are and it’s not on services for veterans,” he added.
Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote said the tweets are more about government self-promotion than services for veterans.
“It’s just wrong,” he said. “Veterans everywhere are saying, ‘Please, provide proper funding for our programs.’”
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino defended the practice as a way to reach a younger generation.
“As more and more Canadians turn to social media instead of traditional TV and radio, it is important that they, too, see and hear the remarkable stories of Canadian veterans,” Nicholas Bergamini said in an email.
He said 90 per cent of the departmental budget now goes directly to services.
When asked about the tweets before Question Period Tuesday, Fantino pointed to a binder and said, “I’m just going to read notes on it.”
NDP MP Peter Stoffer said it doesn’t matter if the money for the tweets came from an advertising budget and not the department itself, which has allocated less toward veterans’ services.
“I would assume you, like all other Canadians, would rather have that money spent on real veterans’ issues and not on advertising, tweeting or whatever it is that they do,” he said.
Stoffer questioned the use of Twitter to reach out to veterans in the first place.
“People should be outside on Remembrance Day,” he said.
“You don’t need to tweet, you just need to hug a veteran and thank them for their service and thank their families and thank the current military. Buy them a drink, for God’s sake.”
The use of promotional tweets is a relatively new practice, according to the information tabled in Parliament in response to a question from Liberal MP Geoff Regan.
WATCH: Veterans Affairs minister slammed in House of Commons over $100,000 tweeting budget
Many departments and Crown corporations do not engage in the practice but a handful is starting to, the documents show.
- Canadian Heritage spent $20,000 on tweets in 2013-14;
- CBC spent $77,291 for a combination of promoted tweets and a promoted account on Twitter in 2013-14;
- The Canadian Institutes of Health Research spent $10,172 in 2013-14;
- Business Development Bank of Canada spent $167,189 on tweets over the last two years. The tweets were used to “raise awareness in the digital world about the business support services offered by the BDC”;
- Public Safety Canada spent $51,000 in 2013-14, although its not specified on what;
- National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces spent $10,000 on promoted tweets in 2013-2014 as part of the “priority occupations” marketing campaign to showcase the Forces “as an employer of choice.”
Veterans Affairs also spent $150,000 since 2010 on two mobile applications geared towards support for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and for military remembrance.