Ford shouldn’t waste taxpayer money on party propaganda. Here’s how to stop it

Posted on in Governance Delivery System

NationalPost.com – Opinion: The taxpayer-funded Ontario News Now website and social media accounts are a waste of money. Here’s how to get rid of them
CHRISTINE VAN GEYN

The Canadian Press reported on Wednesday that sources in the Ontario government say Premier Doug Ford will be doing his year-end interview with Ontario News Now, his new, government-run publicity website — which is paid for by taxpayers — even as he refuses to participate in traditional end-of-year interviews with the Queen’s Park press gallery. Whatever your feelings about the Ford government, there is no doubt its Ontario News Now is a vehicle for partisan publicity. It should not be funded by taxpayers. It is a waste of public money and needs to be cut. The question is how?

The taxpayer-funded Ontario News Now website and corresponding social media accounts use a news-style format to produce videos that range from self-promotion (a highlight reel of Premier Doug Ford’s first 100 days) to the inane (“Ontario’s most popular baby names revealed!”)

The obvious way to get rid of News Now is for Premier Ford to pull the plug as part of his promise to “end the party with taxpayer money.”

But Ford created ONN — and he isn’t about to cut it.

The challenge is that the spending is within the rules of the Ontario legislature. The good news is that rules can be changed. The bad news is that change won’t come easily. It’s going to take creativity from opposition MPPs and a push from taxpayers. It’s a bit technical, but it’s completely doable.

Ontario News Now is not really a new idea, but it does come in a different package than usual. It’s just the latest use of the money politicians give themselves through their caucus services budget.

The caucus services budget comes from the legislature, not the government. It is not subject to the same strict rules as government departments on the use of taxpayer funds for partisan work.

This year, caucus services for the PC and NDP parties were allocated $13.7 million for salaries, services and communication. (The Liberal and Green parties do not receive the funding because they are not recognized parties in the legislature.) While some of that spending may be legitimate, obvious nonsense such as News Now needs to go.

The Ontario government’s taxpayer-funded Ontario News Now website is seen on Dec. 20, 2018. Ontario News Now/Postmedia

One approach would be to amend the Legislature of Ontario Act, which governs budgets for caucus services. The act is broad, allowing for an appropriation for “research” and for other such uses “as the caucus may determine.” But any MPP can introduce legislation to exclude partisan waste.

Nerdy political naysayers will dismiss this option because such a bill could (in practice) be blocked by any single MPP. That’s because a bill attempting to restrict MPPs’ spending of legislative funds would infringe on the parliamentary privilege of members, and on the sovereignty of the legislature. But that opens an opportunity: what MPP wants to publicly stand in opposition to cutting this waste, and would they be willing to face the blowback from angry taxpayers?

Any MPP can introduce legislation to exclude partisan waste

Another solution would be to take the approach the federal Liberals did in 2010 on the issue of the 10-per-centers. Ten-per-centers are flyers funded by federal caucus services that are sent by members of Parliament to 10 per cent of their own ridings. The Harper Conservatives had been carefully co-ordinating their mailings so that MPs in safe Conservative seats would send their 10-per-centers to attack opponents in other ridings.

Instead of attempting to amend the legislation, the Liberals brought a motion appealing directly to the Board of Internal Economy to restrict the way caucus services funds were used. The Board of Internal Economy is the body within Parliament — and the legislature — that allocates money for caucus activities.

What MPP wants to publicly stand in opposition to cutting this waste?

Because there was a minority government at the time, opposition parties passed the motion. Here’s the key thing: even though the Harper government said it was not bound by the motion, the Board of Internal Economy ended up changing the rules and the government MPs didn’t want to face the fire of fighting it.

Do the government MPPs in Ontario want to face the onslaught of angry taxpayers to save Ford’s propaganda page? The opposition need only bring a simple motion to find out.

The Ford government has made a commitment to respect taxpayers’ money by reducing spending and waste. Ending Ontario News Now would achieve both. While the PC government does have a majority, it is still subject to political pressure. It’s time for the opposition to turn their words into action and bring a motion to change how caucus services are funded.

— Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 21st, 2018 at 10:30 am and is filed under Governance Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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