New federal ad campaign is unprincipled and undemocratic

Posted on November 22, 2014 in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorials – Federal Conservative ad campaign touting the government’s new Economic Action Plan is a blatantly partisan promotion unethically done at taxpayers’ expense.
Nov 21 2014.   Editor

They might as well end with the slogan: Vote Tory.

The Conservative government’s new “Economic Action Plan” television ads stink of political opportunism in they way they use taxpayers’ money for blatantly partisan purposes. It’s an abuse that should outrage even right-wingers concerned about wasting public money. And beyond that, it undermines democratic fairness.

The ad blitz extols the benefits of a recently announced family tax package, which includes income-splitting, assuring people “it could help put thousands of dollars back into your pocket.”

It just so happens that the Conservative party will be campaigning exactly along these lines in a federal election expected in less than a year.

It’s not clear how much the current ad campaign will ultimately strain public accounts, but pitches touting earlier versions of the government’s Economic Action Plan have so far cost well over $100 million in total.

The supposed justification for this expenditure is that such advertising is meant to keep Canadians informed about federal programs and services. But the measures being hyped in this latest round of Tory self-promotion haven’t even been passed by Parliament.

There is a role for government advertising, no question. But it should be to address instances of genuine need for public awareness, such as promoting immunization programs, discouraging smoking or boosting tourism. Self-congratulatory government ads, lauding programs that aren’t even in place, are an obvious and unfair misuse of public money.

Needed at the federal level is a worthwhile reform introduced in Ontario by former premier Dalton McGuinty. It requires all provincial government ads to be pre-screened by the auditor general. And public funding isn’t allowed for any deemed to have overly partisan content.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Economic Action Plan television campaign would almost certainly fail that test. Obnoxious partisanship like this should never be allowed to burden the public purse.

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