HuffPo: “Does British Columbia Only Want White Tourists?”

Mike Barber of The Huffington Post is the fellow asking:

In the weeks leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC), Tourism British Columbia released a new commercial it spent millions of dollars on in order to promote tourism in the province. The fact that most of the world already knew the 2010 winter Olympics were being held there apparently was not enough. The commercial features notable Canadians Michael J. Fox, Sarah McLachlan, Ryan Reynolds, Kim Cattrall, Steve Nash, and Eric McCormack; what it doesn’t feature is much ethnic diversity.

There are two versions: the 90-second and the 30-second version. The version most are likely familiar with is the 30-second version. I say that because it is the only version I have personally seen aired on Canadian TV; I wasn’t aware the 90-second version even existed until I came across it while searching for the commercial on YouTube. In either case, it is clear the intended target amongst potential tourists are only those as white as the snow featured in the many expensive aerial shots.

Never mind the fact that all the celebrities featured are white, in this version of the commercial there is not a single tourist with a discernible race other than white to be found. There is a token nod to Aboriginal culture for literally a second towards the end, but that’s about the only thing “ethnic” you’re going to see in this version of the promo.

Did Tourism BC err on this or are all of our readily identifiable (in the US market) celebrities white like rice? I understand David Suzuki probably isn’t very big in Texas, but with the absence of any colour in the spot, Barber has a point, albeit a cynical one. Call me naive, but I prefer to think we’re so post-racial here that it never even occurred to the team that greenlit the ad. That said, ad creatives do think about these things, don’t they? I’d hate to think a meeting was held and it was decided that BC would be more marketable if it was portrayed as a rugged whitefest. One of the BC’s greatest strengths is its diversity. It’s something that should be celebrated and sung to the rafters, no?

There are 22 comments

  1. David Suzuki I believe is against the Olympics so I’m pretty sure he would’ve said no to appearing in the spot

  2. I’m like you, so blind to colour I dont even notice when it’s not there.

    That said, apart from including different cultures in the tourists, who is the multicultural British Columbian that Americans would be familiar with?

    I’m thinking of a similar ad for California featuring Schwarzenegger and Rob Lowe et al and it was lily white too (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

  3. I’m East Indian. I *hate* ads that attempt to have every single race in it in some ridiculous attempt to be politically correct. If you want to know if your part of the problem, versus part of the solution, its after seeing an ad or a movie and your first thought isn’t ‘did that ad have the right ratio of colours’, but simply was it a good ad ? If you can see someone and not immediately think of their race, sex, or sexual orientation then congrats – welcome to being a Canadian. If you can’t then you are part of the problem.

  4. I created advertising for Tourism BC for a number of years. Full disclosure: I have nothing to do with the current campaign. It was always important to be representative culturally, but ultimately a good idea would win out over forced political correctness. There is nothing more insulting to everyone involved than a contrived image of cultural diversity enjoying diverse cultural activities.

    But why are we ripping off California’s ads?

  5. Why not? The Californian campaign effectively articulated the same message TBC wants to send to the world: it’s really pretty here, plus we give rise to the occasional celebrity. A famous person who is so proud of his/her origins that they’ll lend their brand in an endorsement reassures and attracts. It’s a rip-off, sure, but how could an agency possibly best such a proven formula without having to weigh in with imagination and creativity? Giggle. Why bother? The ad, regardless of the ethnic +- or thematic theft, does the trick.

  6. Clearly they only want white people. Well, white people, and maybe people who have Parkinson’s, but that’s it.

    Maybe they could have looked a little harder, but what persons of colour who are BC natives would be recognizable in the American market?

  7. Agreed. If you take imagination and creativity out of the equation, it’s kicking ass.

  8. can you think of another notable BC’er that should have been shown ? Nicholas Tse maybe?

  9. If my pretty blatantly racist friends from Langley and Abbotsford are any standard to judge by then: Yes. Yes we do.

    I grew up in a massively multicultural Scarborough in the east end of Toronto. Vancouver is an incredibly racist society compared to the one I grew up in.

    Of course the one I grew up in might have changed as well.

  10. Langley and Abbotsford are only to be used when judging places not like Vancouver. Vancouver is kind of post-multicultural. The valley, is in many cases, pre-evolved.

  11. Mike Barber, did you even consider that the standpoint you’ve taken contributes to keeping racism alive? For most people it’s a dead animal that a few bleedy-heart ignorant folk insist on flogging. Seriously, you can’t let an issue die if you keep making it an issue! I hadn’t even noticed until I saw that someone wrote an article about it. I personally don’t care what ‘colour’ the people are that show up in a dumb tourism ad anyway. It seems to me that the bigger offense is that they’re all posing in front of a green-screen. What, a million dollars?? -and they couldn’t afford to film on location??

    Honestly though, if you really care about racism not being an issue anymore then stop picking scabs.

  12. if you all think racism is dead, you’re all PART OF THE PROBLEM! it’s very telling of your (white) privilege if you didn’t notice the non-diversity here. hmph, i could’ve told you though, racism is alive and well in canada.

  13. This bizarre ‘you’re a racist if you complain about racism’ shit is such a joke…

    I’ve been reading multiple articles on the Games and I’ve found the ones discussing cultural diversity to be the most inflammatory and surprising. Any time someone mentions anything about representing a more full (and accurate) picture of our cultural diversity, all I hear are cries of ‘political correctness’, ‘don’t like it, go back to where you came from’ and accusations of being ‘anti-white’. There are others that somehow believe that we live in this post-racial society up here in Canada when there is plenty of evidence that we haven’t achieved this utopic colourblind parity just yet. Considering that the majority of our ‘celebrities’, politicians, executives, billionaires and decision makers are still significantly of a specific demographic, we can hardly say we’re somehow beyond racism being an issue.

    This is hardly a bleeding hard liberal argument or some whining ethnic kids that needs attention, but plainly represented in advertisements like these and most major events. The fact that most people know very few famous people of colour from BC and/or Canada is something we should question, not take for granted. We would all love to get to a place where we don’t have token-coloured people or that people don’t have to scrutinize the media for only featuring people of one demographic, skintone, gender etc. That day isn’t here yet folks, which is why we’re still having this conversation.

    Being ‘blind’ to this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

    Further, wanting to see a more accurate representation of the people who live in British Columbia in an ad promoting the place we ALL live in is not racist and/or anti-white. This is our reality and the reality of people, urban and suburban, who live in British Columbia… It is something to be proud of and one of the most significant parts of what makes our province and our country great.

  14. What a pile of PC BS.
    Tourism BC chose the most recognizable BC-born actors, singers and sports stars to star in an ad promoting BC.
    Makes sense to me

  15. Greetings, I’m the author of the original article “Does British Columbia only want White tourists?” which I wrote for (who cross-posts with The Huffington Post). The entire article, plus the comment by Jamaal Bell (which adds deeper context), may be of interest to you. It is available at

    As the comment by “Hardly post racist” put it, we are far from being at a point that racism is not an issue in Canadian society. Just because we don’t see swastikas and skinheads prowling city streets like we often did in the early-mid 90s, doesn’t mean racism is gone.

    It may surprise many to know that according to a 2007 survey: 59% of Quebecers surveyed admitted they were racist to on degree or another; outside of Quebec, that figure was 47 per cent. These are people who self-identify as being between somewhat to extremely racist, so how can we possibly be anywhere near a post-racial society.

    The overarching point I was aiming to make with the article is that Canada has a habit of parading multiculturalism when it suites it to do so. If there is no benefit from it, then they chose not to… and typically get away with it.

    This speaks greatly to the privilege enjoyed by a white majority. It is completely within their power to present a pure white image if and when they want to, yet still play up Canada’s diversity if they feel it is worth doing. I believe such tokenism should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

    There’s a pathology of denial within Canadian society. We as a country are in denial of the existence of racism almost as much as we are about the roots of racism in Canada. Our history books fail to mention the role Canada (or what became Canada) played in the transatlantic slave trade. Our national narrative completely ignores the fact that we were a slaveholding nation for over 200 years.

    Incidentally, this is the subject of a documentary I am currently producing called “A Past, Denied: The Invisible History of Slavery in Canada” (you can get more info at

  16. “59% of Quebecers surveyed admitted they were racist to on degree or another; outside of Quebec, that figure was 47 per cent”

    Everyone is racist to some degree, whether they’ll admit it or not.

    While the lack of visible diversity in the BC tourism commercial may deserve scrutiny, I have to say I prefer it in comparison to the hokey and transparent Ontario ad where there’s a different ethnicity shown in every shot.

    “Ontario, y’all!”

  17. yes. we only prefer white tourists. asians take too many pictures, muslims are a threat, indian’s do not shower/shave, and blacks will steal and commit crime. hopefully this answers your question.

  18. […] "Does British Columbia Only Want White Tourists?" | HuffPo "Did Tourism BC err on this or are all of our readily identifiable (in the US market) celebrities white like rice? I understand David Suzuki probably isn’t very big in Texas, but with the absence of any colour in the spot, Barber has a point, albeit a cynical one. Call me naive, but I prefer to think we’re so post-racial here that it never even occurred to the team that greenlit the ad. That said, ad creatives do think about these things, don’t they?"  (tags: via:thatphil white tourism Canada advertising notpostracial) […]

  19. @Blair Devan and Jo

    There’s nothing “politically correct” about making sure that people of color were included in these advertisements. White people are NOT the only damn people living in Canada, so why only focus on them as if NOBODY else exists in the country? It’s called INCLUSION, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with it—-of course, y’all don’t think there’s anything wrong with since you can see people who look like you 99% of the time in the media. Trust me, if you rarely saw anybody who looked like you on TV and in advertisements or the media in general, you’d be pissed off too. They do that same s*** here in the U.S., and it’s bulls***, honestly. BTW, the term “politically correct” meant something TOTALLY different when it was created by leftie activists in the ’60’s–it was a term applied to anyone who believed the government’s point of view on everything–someone who upheld the status quo, no what matter. The right-wingers hijacked it to apply it to any situation where people of color demanded some inclusion anywhere. There is nothing POLITICAL about including your own neighbors of color in a damn commercial—it shouldn’t even BE a problem to begin with.

  20. Maybe someday there will be non-white BC celebrities that are widely recognizable. Then they can be included in such ads. I’m glad they made it celebrity-focused rather than so obviously politically correct like the Ontario one (ugghh..).

    As for racism, I think the fact that Canada has thrown it’s doors wide open to people from around the world, since the 70s, is telling. Last time I checked, Asian countries haven’t done so.

  21. I found a lot of Canada racist. Very openly. It still is in the us but more subtle. THe worse is among the govt and cops. seen it first hand. I am a minority in the US and never experience the hate I did in Ont.