McDonald’s golden arches on Parliament Hill? Tim Hortons billboards at the Governor General’s residence?
Nothing quite so crass is in the works, but a cash-strapped federal agency is actively looking for corporate sponsors to fill gaping holes in its budget.
The National Capital Commission is reviewing a proposal to bring in almost $4.5-million in new sponsorship money over the next five years to promote its cultural jewels in the Ottawa area.
The $69,000 report by consultant TrojanOne Ltd. says the commission could attract corporate cash worth more than a million dollars just to promote Gatineau Park, north of Ottawa, in Quebec.
Sponsors would also pony up money for bicycle events, public-art displays and a Christmas lights festival, says the document.
There’s an “estimated ability to generate cash and value-in-kind resources totalling $4,495,000 by 2018 from sponsorships and partnerships,” said TrojanOne.
A copy of the March 2013 report was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Corporate sponsors are already a key part of the cultural landscape of the capital. The technology firm Alcatel-Lucent is a partner in a seasonal Sunday bicycling event, for example, and American Express supports Winterlude and the Rideau Canal Skateway.
A sound-and-light show projected onto the Parliament Buildings each summer – known as Mosaika – is sponsored by Manulife Financial, which also supports the Christmas Lights Across Canada festival.
This year’s Canada Day shows on Parliament Hill and nearby venues are partly underwritten by the Chicken Farmers of Canada, Loblaws Group of Companies, McDonald’s Canada, Lego Canada and others.
The National Capital Commission, which got into the corporate sponsorship game some three decades ago, is looking for even more private-sector money to keep its programs going.
“A lot of government agencies are looking at new ways of doing business, at ways to reduce our dependency on public funds,” said Sandra Pecek, the commission’s director of communications and public affairs.
Sponsorships have so far earned the NCC more than a million dollars annually. But some critics are raising alarms about the creeping corporate takeover of public culture.
“While I have no problem with a corporate sponsorship of special events, concerts and so on, I have real problems with corporate sponsorships of a Crown corporation, a public agency that is supposed to look out for the public good in our nation’s capital,” says Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians.
“What will these corporations get in return for supporting Gatineau Park? ... Have hills and landmarks named after them?”
The National Capital Commission, created in 1959, has been radically downsized this year. The federal budget in March announced the arm’s-length body will lose many of its annual cultural events, including Winterlude, Mosaika and the Canada Day shows on Parliament Hill.
The Canadian Heritage Department will take over these programs as of Sept. 30, a move the Harper government says will make the events more nationally focused than they were under the “locally based” commission.
The budget said the change is partly in preparation for national celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.
Pecek says the TrojanOne recommendations, which came out before the budget announcement, remain valid for Gatineau Park and so-called “Pathways and Parkways” events, which are staying with the commission.
The public art and Christmas Lights Across Canada programs are headed to Canadian Heritage, which will also be given TrojanOne’s recommendations on sponsorship for those events.
An interdepartmental committee led by Canadian Heritage sets the rules on the use of Parliament Hill, including a ban on advertising: “Use of the grounds for commercial advertising or other activity that could be perceived as commercial activity is prohibited,” says a guidance document.
But Pierre Manoni, spokesman for the department, says that “on an exceptional basis, commercial advertising is permitted to recognize financial sponsors of events organized by a federal department, agency or Crown corporation.”