It was, perhaps, the quintessential political product placement: Stephen Harper, surrounded by smiling supporters sporting Home Hardware’s signature red shirts, in front of a placard emblazoned with the iconic double H logo, laying out his plan to make the home renovation tax credit permanent at the company’s fall trade show in St. Jacob’s, Ont. on Monday.
While it may be the most recent instance of a party leader unveiling — or promoting — a campaign pledge against a carefully chosen corporate backdrop, Harper is hardly the only one to turn a visit to a local business into a scene-setter for a policy announcement.
New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair unveiled his plan to boost federal assistance for tourism at Niagara Helicopters, which bills itself as the area’s “only year-round aerial attraction.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose to make his pitch for a teacher-targeting tax credit at Oakville-based Spectrum Educational Supplies.
It’s also not a particularly new phenomenon — the image of a hairnet-clad Gilles Duceppe touring a Quebec cheese factory during the 1997 campaign will likely haunt the Bloc Quebecois leader for the rest of his political career.
What is new, however — at least relative to the campaigns of the 1990s and early 2000s — are the daily, and often twice daily, televised press conferences. During these, the leaders make their announcements and take questions from the press, all in front of a live audience, often made up, at least partially, by employees of the business hosting the event. (How many times have you seen a leader speak against a backdrop of hard hat and/or white-coat -wearing spectators?)
That, combined with steadily more aggressive branding by some hosts, makes the cooperation between the private and political sectors far more visible than it was in the past.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries out some blue paint during a campaign stop at a hardware store in St. Jacobs, ON. Monday, Sept. 21, 2105.
The rules barring businesses from meddling in politics are also far more stringent these days: corporate, union and association donations to parties or candidates are banned outright, whether as a monetary contribution or by providing goods or services that would otherwise cost money.
Given those restrictions, are these company-hosted appearances still legal?
Entirely so, according to Elections Canada: There’s no rule that would prohibit a company from offering itself up as a venue for a campaign announcement.
“While the treatment may differ based on the facts of a given situation, to date the provision of a forum to serve as a backdrop for a campaign announcement has not been considered a political contribution on the assumption that is has no commercial value,” Elections Canada spokesman John Enright told The Ottawa Citizen.
Even so, he noted that “any incremental costs incurred in providing the venue” would have to be covered by the party, or it could constitute a non-monetary contribution from an otherwise ineligible entity.
That could include special lighting, seating and other staging elements, as well as security and additional personnel, although in most cases, those would be provided by the tour itself, as it usually travels with an ample supply of lecterns, signage and placards.
At press time, none of the parties had responded to a query on whether they had ever picked up the tab for expenses emanating from an announcement, media availability or photo op on corporate property.
They also declined to provide any additional information on precisely how such events are arranged — namely, is it the company that approaches the company, or the other way around?
We can, however, draw some tentative conclusions from their respective leaders’ itineraries thus far — first and foremost of which would be that, for whatever reason, the Conservatives are far more likely to get (or solicit) an invite to drop in on a local company while criss-crossing the country.
An analysis of public events featuring all three leaders to date shows that Harper has made 22 appearances using a local business as a scene-setter — very nearly twice the number of appearances by the other two leaders (6 each) combined — at a wide range of venues, from a potato-washing plant on Prince Edward Island to the Seaspan shipyards in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, Mulcair and Trudeau seem more likely to show up at high tech shops like London-based Sciencetech Inc., which specializes in optical spectroscopy, or plasma processors Pyrogenesis Canada in Toronto.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, centre, smiles after a tour flight from the Niagara Helicopters Limited during a campaign stop at in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Monday, August 17, 2015.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes his morning announcement as he tours Inventys Thermal Energy Inc. during an election campaign stop in Burnaby, B.C., Friday, September 11, 2015.
Finally, all three leaders have shown their support for Canada’s air industry — from helicopter tours out of Whitehorse to plane servicing and charters in Mississauga.
Here’s the complete list — or, at least, as complete as it was possible to cobble together from the available data, so if we’ve missed anything, drop me a line (email@example.com) and I’ll add it.
Note: After much — or, at least, some — consideration, I decided not to include photo ops and meet-and-greets at local restaurants, coffee shops, pubs or similar establishments, as those are generally more informal events that don’t require the proprietor and/or staff to play an active role (or, indeed, any role at all).
Tom Mulcair (6)
August 10: Confort Design (Mascouche) — manufactured housing
August 17: Niagara Helicopters Limited (Niagara Falls) — helicopter tours of Niagara Falls
August 26: Sciencetech Inc. (London) — optical spectroscopy
Sept. 1: Summerhill Winery (Kelowna) — winery
Sept. 9: Spencer ARL (Niagara Falls) — non-asset-based inbound and outbound 3PL provider
Sept. 21: Upstreet Craft Brewing (Charlottetown) — brewery
Justin Trudeau (6)
August 6: Paul Brown Boxfit (Toronto)— boxing gym
August 25: InspecTech (Scarborough) – pipeline safety
August 26: Spectrum Educational Supplies Limited (Oakville) – educational and teaching tools
August 28: PyroGenesis Canada Inc. (Toronto) – advanced plasma processes
Sept. 7: Landmark Aviation (Mississauga) — airline services
Sept. 11: Inventys Inc. (Burnaby) — post-combustion chemical-free carbon capture technology
Stephen Harper (22)
August 4: Olympia Tile International Inc. (North York) – ceramic and stone tiles
August 12: Packers Plus (Edmonton) – oil and gas service company
August 12: Seaspan (Vancouver) – shipyard and National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy partner
August 14: Rowe’s Construction (Hay River) — Family-owned company with interests in Northern real estate, construction, hotels and recreation
August 20: Coastal Black Winery (Black Creek) — winery
August 26: Munro Agromart (Lancaster) — agricultural sales, including fertilizer and crop protection products
August 27: Novo Plastics (Markham) – plastics manufacturer
Sept. 2: Premier Mining Products (North Bay) – mining products
Sept. 3: Fruiticana Warehouse (Surrey) – grocery stores specializing in fresh fruit and produce
Sept. 4: TransNorth Helicopters (Whitehorse) – Charter tours, surveying flights and other airline services
Sept. 8: Canadian Tire Financial Services (Welland) – Banking
Sept. 10: PEI Potato Solutions Ltd. (New Annan) – Potato cleaning and processing
Sept. 10: Irving Oil Refinery (NB) — refinery
Sept. 13: TAMCO (Stittsville) – air conditioning and refrigeration
Sept. 13: Brutus Truck Bodies (Penticton) – heavy—duty truck bodies especially for mining/resource operations
Sept. 14: Horizon North (Kamloops) – remote resource logistics/services (camps, accommodation, catering, roads, etc)
Sept. 15: Sky Helicopters (Pitt Meadows) – Vancouver helicopter tours/flights
Sept. 20: Crest Mold Technology (Oldcastle) – precision mold manufacturer
Sept. 20: Anchor Danly (Windsor) – custom die sets, components, steel plates, and metal fabrications
Sept. 20: LamSar Inc. Industrial (Sarnia) – industrial contractor servicing petro—chemical/energy sectors
Sept. 21: Home Hardware Fall Fair (St. Jacob’s) – trade show for Home Hardware franchise owners and dealers
Sept. 21: Swish Maintenance (Peterborough) – janitorial and cleaning supplies