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Banners blur the lines

In a year when the city’s fire department was asked to trim its budget by almost half a million dollars, the City of Kitchener is offering downtown advertising space, at no charge, to a company with $2.9 billion in cash reserves.

RIM employs lots of local people, and the company, its founders and employees have obviously done a lot for the region economically and philanthropically. This newspaper, and virtually everyone in the community, wishes RIM well on its launch of BlackBerry 10. And this move is not costing the city any money — RIM is paying for the banners, installation and any other associated costs. But the city is charging nothing for the unprecedented level of exposure. It’s a slap in the face to other businesses who have paid the city for advertising. RIM representatives did not even need to appear at council to make the request. The motion was brought to the table by Coun. Berry Vrbanovic. He also suggested the RIM logo could be projected onto the Cube on the Berlin Tower — right on to City Hall.

Concerns that this exemption could set a precedent were dismissed. Mayor Carl Zehr didn’t think making an exception to the city’s own policy was worth even 30 minutes of council’s time. He’s disappointed the debate lasted so long. If exempting one corporation from city policy doesn’t warrant even half an hour of debate, then perhaps the policy itself should be discarded, and downtown Kitchener can be opened up as one giant billboard. The city pays lip service to the small and medium businesses located here, but many of them are struggling and could benefit from a boost in advertising they can’t regularly afford, unlike RIM.

The city should do all it can to support business and economic development, but it should not do so for one company to the exclusion of all others. And it is no more appropriate to project a RIM logo onto the Cube than it would be to shine an oil company logo on the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill.

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