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

More than 100 apartments for seniors approved in Nanaimo’s hospital area

Development permit issued for 1125 Seafield Cres.

Outreach team making connections with young people experiencing homelessness in Nanaimo

Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre youth advisory council initiative offers ‘no-barrier’ help downtown

Alzheimer’s society offering online support for caregivers in Nanaimo

Webinars explore ‘mindfulness’ in caring for dementia patients

Shopping resumes aboard Nanaimo ferry sailings

B.C. Ferries reopens gift shops on Queen of Cowichan and Queen of Oak Bay

City of Nanaimo reports on its salaries, expenses and payments

Municipality files statement of financial information with B.C. government

B.C. sees 25 new COVID-19 cases, community exposure tracked

One death, outbreaks remain in two long-term care facilities

Nanaimo RCMP want speeding motorists to ‘slow the blazes down’

Police raise alarm after seeing 400-per cent rise in excessive speeding tickets last month

City of Nanaimo takes inventory of its land for official community plan review

Report recommends high-density residential development, identifies shortage of industrial land

VIDEO: Vancouver Island cat missing 18 months reunited with family

Blue the cat found at Victoria museum 17 kilometres from home

VIU faculty members looking at COVID-19 impacts on communities

Vancouver Island University’s research award committee funds nine projects

Comox Valley RCMP looking for missing woman

Ami Guthrie was last seen in Courtenay in early July

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

Vancouver Island business ad unintentionally features OK gesture linked to white supremacy

Innocuous ‘OK’ gesture in cleaning franchise advertisement gets flak on social media for ‘supposedly’ promoting white supremacy

VIDEO: Alberta man rescues baby eagle believed to be drowning in East Kootenay lake

Brett Bacon was boating on a lake in Windermere when he spotted the baby eagle struggling in the water

Most Read