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Manitoba government planned a COVID-19 video and song for project that was abandoned

WINNIPEG — In the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manitoba government laid out plans for a video to reflect on the effects of the novel coronavirus, complete with a song commissioned from noted singer-songwriter Sierra Noble.

But the project was abandoned, documents obtained by The Canadian Press indicate. Its aim and contents are still a mystery, as no one involved is providing details.

The video was to be a “virtual reflection/memorial event” in early 2021, the provincial Finance Department said in a response to a freedom of information request. 

The project had a working title — “Manitoba Tribute Video.”

As part of the project, the government was to pay $13,000 for a song composed by Noble. The government would have exclusive use of the song for 12 months so it could be played at events or news conferences, and in audio and video distribution.

A contract was drawn up and signed, although the name of the video production company was withheld from the freedom of information release.

The project came as Manitoba hospitals struggled to deal with a surge in COVID-19 patients. Public health orders had been imposed in November, December and January to severely limit business openings and household gatherings. Then-premier Brian Pallister implored people not to host holiday get-togethers.

The province put together other video projects to entertain people at home, including musical performances recorded at the legislature and streamed online to replace the traditional in-person holiday open house.

At the same time, the government was planning the video with the Sierra Noble song and a larger media campaign, also to encourage people to stay at home.

“Today, as each jurisdiction faces unique circumstances and fatigue sets in, a made-in-Manitoba approach to the ‘Stay Home’ message is required,” states a project briefing presentation from early 2021, also obtained under the freedom of information law.

The song was written, but the Manitoba Tribute Video plan was abandoned as the pandemic continued. 

“There were many moving parts during the pandemic,” the premier’s office said in a prepared written statement this week.

“Shifting COVID-related context resulted in government pivoting away from early content investments as the strategy necessitated by the pandemic evolved.”

It remains unclear whether the song Noble was hired to compose will ever be heard. Noble was to retain all rights to the song, and the government’s licence to use it was temporary, the contract stated.

Noble rejected an interview request.

Noble gained prominence while performing at the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. Noble’s songs have been used in television shows such as “One Tree Hill” and “Parenthood.”

The Finance Department took more than a year to respond to the freedom of information request and initially refused to release documents related to the project. It later relented after The Canadian Press filed a complaint with the provincial ombudsman’s office.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2023.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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