September 17, 2016 12:31 am
Updated: September 17, 2016 12:48 am

Corporate ads on BC Parks website under question

WATCH ABOVE: An ad on the B.C. Parks website raises concerns about whether private companies should advertise on government sites. Nadia Stewart reports.

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Should private commercial companies be advertising on B.C. government websites?

It’s a question the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC is raising after ads for Coleman Canada, an outdoor gear company, were spotted on the BC Parks site. The ad links to the company’s online store.

Steven Jones, a volunteer with the club, said he first noticed the ads in June.

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“We noticed that the ads started appearing on the BC Parks website, the big banner ads on individual park pages,” he said.

For Jones, it raises questions about commercial companies advertising on taxpayer-funded websites.

“I think that it’s really important that we keep an independence between the park system and between commercial ads,” he said.

Only Coleman sought to advertise on the BC Parks site.

Coleman Canada is owned by Atlanta-based Newell Brands. Their Canadian division is headquartered in Toronto.

The Ministry of Environment says Coleman Canada was the only company to approach them about site advertising in 2016. That information wasn’t immediately available on the government’s website, and wasn’t widely known prior to Global News making inquiries.

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According to the ministry this kind of corporate sponsorship is nothing new for BC Parks, adding the money from these agreements is put towards park enhancement.

Good idea or slippery slope?

In an email, the ministry said “…all proposals are adjudicated following BC Parks Corporate Partnership Policy, which guides partnership decisions to ensure they are compatible with BC Parks values.”

The B.C. Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said government should sell online ad space more often.

“I don’t have any problem with it. In fact, I wish government would find more ways to get free money from corporations rather than relying on taxpayers,” Jordan Bateman said.

His only concern is about the submission and approval process and whether it’s transparent enough.

“It shouldn’t be hidden away on a website. It should be on BC Bid, which is the standard website for this kind of thing,” Bateman said.

However, NDP Environment Critic George Heyman says the move points towards the park system’s chronic underfunding.

“I question whether commercializing parks or any other aspect of government operations is sound public policy that’s in line with the values of British Columbians,” Heyman said.

As for Jones, he’s worried about where he might see this kind of advertising pop up next.

“If you go to the Ministry of Finance website and they have ads from real estate agents or the Ministry of Health website and they had ads for pharmaceutical companies, I think there would be a lot of reasonable questions,” Jones said.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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