Toronto

New 'Ontario 150' ad touts province's diversity

A Syrian refugee girl who came to Canada last year is the star of a new Ontario government TV ad promoting the province's 150th anniversary.

TV ad includes real Syrian refugee family, Vietnamese immigrant, Ojibway father and son

Ontario 150 (Government of Ontario advertisement) 1:01

A Syrian refugee girl who came to Canada last year is the star of a new Ontario government TV ad promoting the province's 150th anniversary. 

The commercial being released Thursday also features a Vietnamese immigrant, an Ojibway father and son, an African-Canadian couple having a baby and a young gay man arriving in Toronto. All the people in the ad contributed to the storyline to create scenes based on their own real-life experiences, according to provincial officials.

The ads were developed in 2016 and were not scheduled to air until later this year to promote the Ontario 150 celebrations, but the government decided to release them sooner.    

"We moved it up because we felt it's a positive message to get out right now, in particular considering the global climate," said an official in the premier's office.

The minute-long version of the ad opens with the Syrian girl, in a scene that portrays her family preparing to flee the conflict. She is later seen on a plane, then arriving in a classroom wearing a parka, and finally celebrating at a fireworks display.

Another character in the ad is a young man who appears troubled at home with his parents, but then arrives in Toronto, and is seen happy in a cafe with another young man. The ad closes with the two men cuddling, as the words "A place for all of us" appear on screen. 

The announcer then directs viewers to the Ontario 150 website for information about the celebrations.

The ads, developed by the john st. advertising agency, will air on television and in cinemas and are being posted online. There are versions in both English and French, in both 60-second and 30-second lengths, like this one:  

Ontario 150 (Government of Ontario advertisement) 0:31

The goal is to make people aware of Ontario 150 events, but the ads try to do so by telling a story, said the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Eleanor McMahon  

"I think this ad will inspire people," McMahon said in an interview Wednesday. "Good advertising is about good storytelling and drawing people into a story. I think the ad is incredibly compelling from that perspective." 

The ad's soundtrack is the province's unofficial anthem, A Place to Stand. The song, which was written for the centennial celebrations 50 years ago, recently got an indie-pop update by the Toronto band Ginger Ale and the Monowhales. The people in the ad sing along to snippets of the song. 

"The inclusion of these authentic story-tellers I think adds a real interesting touch," McMahon said.  

She said the ad will help attract people to attend some of the 300-plus community activities happening as part of Ontario 150, with publicity that local groups could not otherwise afford.  

Government officials declined to reveal the costs of developing the ads and buying the air time, but said the amount falls within the government's annual advertising budget. 

The government spent $49.9 million on advertising in the 2015-16 fiscal year, up from $30 million in 2014-15. 

Ad approved by auditor

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk recently criticized the Wynne government for ramping up advertising spending and for creating too many ads she considered "self-congratulatory."

All Ontario government ads must meet the auditor's approval as "non-partisan," but the Liberals pushed through changes to the law in 2015 that weaken her powers to reject ads.   

Lysyk has reviewed and approved the new Ontario 150 ad. When contacted by CBC News on Wednesday, she declined to comment until after its public release. 

The province's budget for the whole Ontario 150 celebration is $100 million, which includes funding for 650 community grants and $25 million in local capital projects.