Toronto Star's View: Ban taxpayer-funded partisan...
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Jan 04, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Ban taxpayer-funded partisan federal ads

Canada's Liberal government should move quickly on banning taxpayer-funded partisan ads that masquerade as public service announcements


There are encouraging signs of an end to Ottawa’s unprincipled use of taxpayers’ money to fund blatantly partisan ads.

Canada’s new Liberal government seems serious about cleaning up a practice that amounted to publicly funded political propaganda. It’s an attitude to be encouraged.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government shamelessly wasted millions each year on self-congratulatory ads masquerading as information about federal programs and services. His government’s Economic Action Plan ad campaign reeked of political opportunism. And that was just one example.

Tories even went so far as to turn the prime minister’s name into the government’s “brand” on all official communications. News releases and communiqués were deemed the product of the “Harper government” instead of the “Government of Canada.”

Thankfully all that is set to change, according to Treasury Board President Scott Brison. In year-end interviews he indicated that the “Government of Canada” brand is returning to all communications. Future actions won’t be attributed to the “Trudeau government.” And tough new rules are about to be imposed on publicly funded advertising, with interim reforms coming first, followed by formal legislative changes.

Independent oversight is the key to fixing this mess. What’s needed is a reliable system for vetting federal advertising. Ads that fail to pass muster should be vetoed without ever going public.

Ontario has successfully used such an approach since 2004, with the province’s auditor general empowered to approve government ads before they’re aired, published, or distributed. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government last spring complained that this system has been too strict, but it’s better to err on the side of principled politics than to be overly lax.

During the recent federal election, the Liberals promised something similar, calling for appointment of an “advertising commissioner” to review ads and help the auditor general ensure messaging is non-partisan and serves a legitimate public service. Hopefully, this process will have the same salutary impact as Ontario’s does.

The government’s first Throne Speech specifically stated that official ads would not be used for partisan purposes. And a new ministerial manual, titled Open and Accountable Government, clearly and repeatedly warned against unwarranted partisan conduct, including “personal and partisan use of social media.”

Given these signals, Canadians should expect truly independent oversight, complete with a veto. Anything less would betray the public trust.

Toronto Star

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