Stephane Perrault, the acting chief electoral officer, says Elections Canada must stay above the political fray and should not be perceived as being involved in anything that could influence the outcome of a campaign. A woman enters Maple High School in Vaughan, Ont., to cast her vote in the Canadian federal election on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Feds spent $17.7 million on advertising in lead up to election moratorium

The Liberals campaigned in 2015 on a promise to ban partisan government advertising

Newly released figures show the federal government set aside nearly $17.7 million on public awareness campaigns between April and June just ahead of a mandatory blackout on government advertising in the lead up to the fall campaign.

The spending through the first three months of the federal fiscal year marks an increase of nearly 21 per cent compared to the same stretch in 2018 to pay for various government advertising.

The federal government had until June 30 to get any ad buys out of the way under new rules the Liberals introduced to create a moratorium on advertising until after the votes are counted.

Instead, Canadians can expect an onslaught of political advertising this fall as parties compete for their their votes by loading their television screens and social media feeds with promises and partisan attacks.

At first glance, the spending figures could suggest the Liberals ramped up awareness campaigns in an election year, making sure Canadians know about everything from tax credits to services available to seniors.

But a spokesman for Treasury Board President Joyce Murray says the dollars money is less than the $56.2 million the Conservatives allocated for the same time period ahead of the 2015 election.

In the end, though, the outgoing Conservative government and the incoming Liberal government spent a total $42.2 million in the 2015-2016 fiscal year on advertising.

“While the previous Conservative government used government advertising for political gain, we have been giving Canadians the information they need in a responsible, non-partisan fashion,” Farees Nathoo, a spokesman for Murray, wrote in an email.

He argued that has led to smaller annual totals.

The total figure for fiscal 2018-19 is not yet available, but the federal government devoted $39.2 million to advertising in 2017-18. The annual figure for 2014-15, which is the last full fiscal year the Conservatives were in power, was $68.7 million.

The Liberals campaigned in 2015 on a promise to ban partisan government advertising, following years of the Conservatives coming under fire for stamping their party logo on oversized novelty cheques or otherwise injecting a dose of blue into announcements for infrastructure projects and other programs.

The Liberals said they would name an advertising commissioner who would help the auditor general keep an eye on government advertising and make sure the messages do not stray into partisanship territory.

They ultimately delegated that responsibility to a third-party, asking Advertising Standards Canada, a self-regulating body for the industry, to review all ad campaigns costing more than $500,000.

The results of the reviews, which are published online, suggest the industry body has asked, and received, changes to advertisements.

This spring, for instance, the review flagged a print and radio ad for the new climate-related tax credit for residents of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick because it claimed the measure “is making a cleaner economy more affordable for everyone.”

That, said the review, “is not a neutral statement and is self-congratulatory,” and the wording was changed before the ad was published or aired.

Still, a report from the auditor general this spring said that public funds could yet end up supporting partisan advertising due to inadequate controls.

The watchdog flagged how only government advertising worth more than $500,000 is required to go through the review by the independent body, increasing the risk of partisanship in smaller campaigns, especially since there has been a shift towards less expensive digital advertising.

Murray said in May that Treasury Board officials would review the spending threshold at which a review was required, and examine how to better assess the risk associated with advertising on social media.

READ MORE: At least 20 people donated max to both Liberals and Conservatives in 2018

READ MORE: Chief electoral officer decides to stick with voting day amid religious concerns

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cinema society concerned about bus garage property sale in Qualicum Beach

Group planned on commissioning a feasibility study for multi-use cinema

Women assaulted in pair of weekend attacks in Port Alberni

RCMP say no reason to suspect attacks are related, but suspects still at large

Dinner and a show: KSS Jazz fundraiser in Qualicum Beach features live music

Arrowsmith Big Band, student groups to perform at Feb. 7 event

VIDEO: Canada’s first presumptive case of coronavirus officially confirmed

Both patient and wife arrived on a China Southern Airlines flight after having been to Wuhan

First-place Canucks beat Blues 3-1 for ninth straight home win

Miller nets pair as Vancouver defeats Cup champs

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Police search for man who went missing from Vernon hotel

Jay Rosenberger, 38, was last seen Friday

Filming for Resident Alien begins in Ladysmith

Aliens and excitement take over the streets of Ladysmith during new TV series

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

After four sexual assaults in the same B.C. park, RCMP ask women not to walk alone

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

The Three Bears are down to two after baby bear carving stolen from his perch in Island community

Thief repeatedly kicked it and dislodged it from cement and rebar

Most Read