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.

Just Posted

Chevron’s move to exit Kitimat LNG project a dash of ‘cold water’ for gas industry

Canada Energy Regulator approved a 40-year licence to export natural gas for Kitimat LNG

Snowfall warning continues for parts of B.C.’s Interior

First significant snowfall of the season prompts Environment Canada warning

Here are the top earners at Coast Mountains School District

Audited financial report released for 2018/2019 fiscal year

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

VIDEO: Andrew Scheer to resign as Conservative leader

Decision comes after weeks of Conservative infighting following the October election

RCMP take care when burying sex mannequins found this year in Manning Park

Police tasked with ensuring the mannequins were completely disposed

B.C. seniors need better vaccine protection, advocate says

Home support down, day programs up in annual rating

RCMP rescue wounded raven on Vancouver Island highway

Bird expected to make full recovery

Be aware of ticks when chopping down Christmas trees

Potential for ticks to transfer to clothing

More rowers come forward with complaints about coach, criticism of UVic

Barney Williams is accused of verbal abuse and harassment

Raptors fans show Kawhi the love in his return to Toronto

Leonard receives championship ring, leads new club to win

Process to identify those killed in Gabriola plane crash could take days

Canadian flight museum suggests Alex Bahlsen of Mill Bay died in Tuesday’s crash

Sentencing hearings begin as Prince Rupert man pleads guilty to possession of child pornography

Mike Christopher Hagen charged with possession of child pornography earlier this year

Most Read