Thursday, October 08, 2009

Let's play three more: Treasury Board, Elections Canada & Ethics violations cited in government's partisan advertising

Earlier in the week we saw four complaints launched in respect of a Lisa Raitt fundraiser out of the Toronto Port Authority, a federal and independent government agency (Ethics, Lobbying, Privacy and Elections Canada are in on that one). Today, the groundwork was laid for additional complaints, this time in respect of the ever expanding Conservative partisan economic action plan advertising: "Liberals slam 'unprecedented' government ads." The pervasiveness of this campaign, with its clear alignment with Conservative political messaging is an abuse of taxpayer funds and it is absolutely appropriate that the issue be pushed.

Some of the details from CP:
Martha Hall-Findlay, the Liberal public works critic, says the Economic Action Plan ads are "unprecedented" and break at least four different government statutes, including the Financial Administration Act and the Canada Elections Act.

"The Conservatives are buying voters with their own money," Hall-Findlay said in a news release on Thursday.

"Not only is that unethical, we believe it's against the law."

The initial cost of the budgetary promotion - which includes a heavy rotation of prime-time television ads - was set at $34 million, but the Liberals researchers claim they've identified at least $56 million spent on the economic campaign from January to June of this year. (emphasis added)
That $56 million figure dwarfs the amount spent on the government's belated H1N1 television advertising, that campaign being estimated in the $5 million range. That point alone underscores the misplaced priorities of the government.

And the figure is incredible. Estimated to be $34 million initially, a jump to $56 million belies a massive jump in government advertising in recent months. The frequency of television ad rotation on national networks, the extensive web campaign, it can all be extrapolated with research, blessed research. In recent reporting, figures of $4 million and $5.6 million for the latest uptick have been cited. The above jump of $22 million beyond the initial $34 suggests a much wilder number that has been spent in the last few months. Ads on the home renovation tax credit and the action plan itself are in heavy rotation. It's not surprising. And it all has come at a crucial political moment for the government. There are clearly other issues in the mix politically that are impacting in the polls but we're kidding ourselves if we think this massive campaign has not had its own impact. It lulls voters to "stay on track," stay with the Conservatives.

And a significant point in the CP report that deserves highlighting, there is an incredibly high knowledge rate on the home reno tax credit which undermines the case for its continued advertising. Recognition rates are off the charts high:
The government's action plan website itself cites an independent poll from last April indicating 94 per cent of Canadian households knew about that particular tax credit and intended to use it. An Angus Reid poll last month suggested "virtually all" Canadians - 92 per cent - were familiar with the program.
Those numbers tell us that the millions being spent on ads to promote that program are wasteful. It's questionable spending at a time when deficit numbers are so large. It's hard to come up with an ad in recent memory that's been played as much as that one.

Further details on the specifics of the complaints here (pdf).

Good to see this self-congratulatory partisan extravaganza called out for what it is. Keep pushing.