Independent MLA calls on government to stop using public money for political ads
Victoria, B.C. – Independent MLA Vicki Huntington used Question Period to call on the provincial government to end the use of public money for ads that contain political party messaging.
“British Columbians are tired of seeing their own money used for ads that are clearly political in nature,” Huntington said. “If you compare the most recent wave of ads praising the government’s balanced budget with the previous B.C. Liberal campaign platform, they are almost identical.”
Huntington asked the government to develop legislation that restricts the use of partisan political information in government advertising, following the recommendations of B.C.’s auditor general. She is also calling for independent oversight of all government advertising.
“There are legitimate reasons for government to run ads, but those ads need to convey important information and be strictly in the public interest,” Huntington said. “The business of government should be kept as far from politics as possible. What’s happening today is an abuse of public money,” she said.
“No matter what party you support, no matter who is in power, independent oversight of government expenditures on advertising is critical,” said Huntington. “It is not acceptable for any party in power to use public money to promote their agenda. Political parties in B.C. raised millions of dollars last year to buy ads to air these exact same messages in the next election. There is no reason the public should be footing the bill.”
Comparison of Current Advertisements to 2013 Liberal Platform
- Paid government advertisements on MSP for Seniors and a $1,200 RESP grant are currently airing with the following dialogue: “B.C.’s plan to protect Canada’s strongest economy is working. Balanced Budget 2016 means we can keep taxes low and invest in B.C. families.”
- BC Liberals 2013 election platform: “B.C.’s Strong Economy is creating jobs and keeping taxes low for families. We’re protecting it with a balanced budget and controlled spending.”
BC Auditor General 2014 Report and Recommendations
“It is a generally agreed upon principle that government should not use its position of influence or public funds and resources to support an electoral campaign. Government spends public money to inform taxpayers about its programs, but citizens should not pay for communications that are of a partisan political nature.”
- “Establish a general policy that explicitly prohibits the use of partisan political information in public government communications, and provide specific guidelines which set out criteria as to information that should or should not be included in public government communications.”
- “Ensure that the policy and guidance to be established is adhered to.”
- Ontario’s Government Advertising Act, 2004 applies to government ministries, cabinet, and the Office of the Premier.
- Government advertisements must be submitted to the Auditor General for review and approval.
- The Auditor General issues an annual report on government compliance with the legislation and government advertising spending.
- Ads must not contain anything that is, or could be interpreted as, primarily partisan in nature.
- The Act previously said: “an item is partisan if, in the opinion of the Auditor General, a primary objective of the item is to promote the partisan political interests of the governing party.”
- The original 2004 legislation, since amended, required that “It must not be a primary objective of the item to foster a positive impression of the governing party or a negative impression of a person or entity who is critical of the government.”
- The auditor general issued a report with concerns about amendments to the Act in 2015 stating, that if the legislation changed: “I would no longer be able to consider factors such as political context, the use of self-congratulatory messages, factual accuracy or an advertisement’s criticisms of other political parties in my review to help determine whether an ad is partisan.”
The government’s “Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance” document says:
- Information campaigns should not be directed towards a political end or be of a political nature;
- Information campaigns should not be partial;
- Information campaigns should not promote (i.e. sell) a government policy; and
- Information campaigns should not influence public opinion on a matter which is, in the United Kingdom, a matter of public controversy.
 Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia (November, 2014). Distinguishing between government program and partisan political advertising: An update to our 1996 report.
 Office of the Auditor General of Ontario (May 2015). The Government’s Proposed Amendments to the Government Advertising Act, 2004: Special Report.
 Government Communication Service, “Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance,” 15.