December 7, 2017 7:00 am

Federal government ‘talent’ costs have exceeded $2.2 million: documents

Copies of the federal budget are seen at the media lock-up, before being tabled by Minister of Finance Bill Morneau in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
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The federal government has spent over $2.2 million on “talent fees” — including things like models and actors — over the last two years, with a single Crown Corporation accounting for nearly 30 per cent of that total.

The costs, dating back to Jan. 1, 2016, were revealed in a series of documents tabled in the House of Commons earlier this week after Conservative MP Jim Eglinski requested a breakdown of all government spending on “talent fees.”

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Overall, the documents state, the federal government and its attached agencies and Crown corporations have spent, at minimum, $2.2 million over the last two years on models, photoshoots, actors and voice actors (plus photography fees, agent fees, etc.).

One government department paid $715 to have someone read just seven words in both official languages.

But the biggest spender by far, representing 29 per cent of the total all on its own, was the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

The documents indicate the Crown corporation, responsible for supporting Canadian entrepreneurs with financing and advisory services, spent a startling $647,968 on talent fees over two years, a number that was confirmed by a spokesperson this week.

“The total of $647,968 is accurate and represents fees associated with the hiring and use of talent, according to the terms of ACTRA/UDA, for two ad campaigns and other initiatives over a two-year period,” the BDC spokesperson wrote in an email.

Clarity on the budget cover

The list also confirms that having models pose on the cover of the last federal budget as middle-class Canadians cost real middle-class Canadians a pretty penny.

The total listed in the documents is $66,008, which covered the models’ fees, the photo shoot, and the rights to the resulting photographs for use on the physical cover, on TV and in digital ad campaigns.

Ottawa-based news website Blacklock’s Reporter recently obtained documents from Finance Canada through access to information legislation that indicated the talent fees for the cover were $89,500, but department officials clarified that that was an estimated cost, not the final one.

A year prior, in 2016, the department spent $28,100 on talent fees for its budget cover featuring a woman and girl holding hands.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau pose with copies of the 2016 federal budget.

That included payment for the models, the photo shoot, and the rights to the resulting photographs for use on the physical cover, but not on TV or in digital campaigns. The overall talent fees for the Liberals’ budget covers over two years was therefore $94,108.

The Conservatives tended to eschew ad agencies and opt for stock images on basic, plain covers during their time in government, with one cover reportedly costing just $600 to produce.

That said, Finance Canada also provided Global News with the total costs for all talent fees (which could include promotional materials and advertisement campaigns beyond just the budget or its cover) linked to the finance department for the last seven years.

They provide some additional context, showing that the Liberals were able to repurpose their budget cover imagery to an extent, using it on other platforms to actually bring talent costs down. The Conservative push to promote the now-defunct Economic Action Plan seems to have boosted the talent costs significantly during their tenure.

The numbers are as follows:

2011-2012: $463,039
2012-2013: $206,630
2013-2014: $237,151
2014-2015: $543,100
2015-2016: $159,623
2016-2017: $75,400
2017-2018: $66,008 (so far)

Other big spenders

After BDC, the next-biggest spender on talent over the last two years was Heritage Canada, which came in at $327,645. The department spent big bucks on talent to promote this year’s Canada 150 celebrations, with the actors in a single promotional video costing taxpayers over $30,000.

Another line item was listed as “voice over, images and acting” for the “Overarching Canada 150 campaign” at a cost of $148,098.

Parks Canada, meanwhile, spent a total of $241,239 and seems to have gone on something of a photographic blitz in national parks across the country.

Just over $22,600 was spent, for instance, on 25 models to appear in images that “expand Parks Canada’s image bank from Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff Park Museum National Historic Site and Banff National Park.”

Over at Public Services and Procurement, department officials spent $715 for someone to speak a single line in English and in French: “A message from the government of Canada.”

And $24,945 was spent by the RCMP on just the voice-over talent for this slick recruitment video:

Many departments and agencies spent nothing at all, however. The total talent fees reported by the Canadian Space Agency, Global Affairs Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, CSIS and the Communication Security Establishment, for example, were all $0.

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