Monday, August 17, 2009

Harper government's $34 million ad campaign on Economic Action plan pushing the limits

A professor with expertise in government advertising has made some pretty pointed criticisms of the Harper government's $34 million promotional campaign of the Economic Action Plan and the Home Renovation Tax Credit in today's Hill Times. Professor Jonathan Rose points out that such advertising would be in violation of Ontario's Government Advertising Act. The ads direct voters to the government's website which is littered with pictures of Stephen Harper in construction helmets, the big nifty blue shovel map and all of which is emblazoned in Conservative blue. The partisan overtones are clear and such efforts are not permitted in Ontario. Apparently we need a law at the federal level to prevent such abuses comparable to the Ontario version given what we're seeing:
...the ads would still be in violation of the Ontario Act, which was passed in 2004, because the website that viewers are encouraged to visit features images of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), said Prof. Rose. The Ontario Act prohibits any image of the premier, and any member of cabinet from appearing in government advertising, and also looks at other aspects, such as whether the governing party's colours are used for partisan purposes, and whether the release of government ads are timed for political advantage.
The choice to spend so much on ads that puff up Stephen Harper's image leads to questions about the government's priorities:
“Little has been spent to warn the public about precautions needed for the H1N1 flu virus, yet countless television shows have been “brought to us” by the government’s budget,” said Liberal Public Works Critic Martha Hall Findlay. “Unnecessary government self-promotion with taxpayer money is wrong, particularly in a recession – and even worse when this government is already spending us into a huge deficit.”
In addition to the suspect priorities such advertising represents, these ad buys raise questions of trust. It's become quite clear that we can't trust the Harper government to restrain itself from self-aggrandizing with our tax dollars. It's almost as if every possible vulnerability in our federal government's operation has been probed and pushed by the Harper crew to seek out maximum partisan benefit for the Conservative party's electoral advantage. The criticism of this latest ad onslaught is one more example of a grey area exploited to the max. Hope someone's keeping score of all the items that will need to be cleaned up once this government finally exits.