NDP revives Tory bill curbing taxpayer-funded partisan ads in bid to embarrass Ford’s government

Posted on April 17, 2019 in Governance Debates

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TheStar.com – Politics/Provincial
April 17, 2019.   By

The New Democrats are reviving a Progressive Conservative bill from the Tories’ opposition days in a bid to embarrass Premier Doug Ford’s government for its taxpayer-funded partisan advertising binge.

NDP MPP Taras Natyshak is tabling private member’s legislation identical to a bill introduced by Tory MPP Sylvia Jones two years ago that would revive the auditor general’s powers to veto commercials deemed to be politically partisan.

“I assume the Conservatives will support this because they already did,” Natyshak (Essex) told reporters Wednesday at Queen’s Park.

“Voting against this bill would be the height of hypocrisy,” he said, noting Jones and much of Ford’s cabinet strongly endorsed the measures in 2017.

“That’s the kind of ugly, two-faced double-dealing that no one wants to see.”

Former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals watered down the legislation, which was implemented by her Grit predecessor Dalton McGuinty, in 2015.

Since then, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has complained that her office is no longer empowered to look at taxpayer-funded ads for “factual accuracy, context or tone to determine whether an item is partisan.”

“We recommend that the previous version of the Government Advertising Act, 2004 as it appeared on June 3, 2015, be reinstated,” Lysyk wrote in her annual report last December.

In 2017, Jones, who is now the solicitor general, implored the legislature to restore the auditor’s power over government advertising.

“If the Liberal party wants to spend money promoting their policies, have at it. But this is taxpayers’ money that should be going to important issues,” the Dufferin-Caledon MPP said at the time.

While the Tories promised to reinstate the auditor general’s veto during last June’s election campaign, they have been non-committal about doing so since.

“The government will endeavor to explore options for the review of government advertising. Expenditure management is a priority for this government,” the treasury board said in December.

“In support of this priority, the government will continually review advertising paid for by the government of Ontario to ensure it is delivered in the most efficient and effective manner, and delivers value for taxpayer dollars.”

Since then, the Tories have launched a flurry of initiatives that might be deemed partisan, including new radio ads that hit airwaves Wednesday attacking the federal Liberals’ carbon-pricing scheme.

As disclosed by the Star, the government will begin airing TV ads next month as part of the publicly funded ad blitz.

The spending comes from the $30 million the Ford administration has earmarked to combat the federal plan. About $1 million has been spent so far on an ongoing constitutional challenge in court.

One proposed TV spot, set in a gas station, notes Ottawa’s scheme will add about 5 cents to a litre of gasoline.

The commercial says that will add a lot of nickels to the price of food and other consumer goods because of increased shipping costs.

A second ad depicts the federal government as a hand reaching into a vehicle grabbing coins from a motorist. The same hand is later shown inserting change into a thermostat as an elderly woman lowers the temperature in her home.

In recent years, the auditor general has opposed such advertising.

She publicly criticized the previous Liberal government’s ads promoting Ontario’s now-scrapped cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and California.

Lysyk objected to a 2016 commercial starring environmentalist David Suzuki speaking to a crowded auditorium of children where he warned them that “if we don’t act now, the damage could be irreversible.”

“Who will have to live with the consequences? You,” Suzuki intoned to the kids.

But Lysyk concluded that ad was designed “to create a positive impression of government.”

Still, her office has no choice but to rubber-stamp it since they could no longer stop such ads.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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