New report highlights Stephen Harper’s changing tune on ad spending

Is it any wonder why Canadians are are so cynical about politics?

As leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper consistently railed against the Liberals for using taxpayer money to promote their government.

Today, Harper is one of the worst offenders.

Kudos to CBC News for digging up this 2002 quote from a young Stephen Harper:

"Will the prime minister stop the waste and abuse right now and order a freeze of all discretionary government advertising?" Harper asked in the House of Commons.

My, how times have changed.

CBC went on to report that the Tory government had spent spent $2.5 million on ads for a job grant program that doesn't exist yet as part of a campaign to promote the government as a job creator.

Add that $2.5 million to the $113 million for those darn Economic Action Plan ads, $4.5 million on the War of 1818 ads and the $9 million they spent to battle the big 3 cell phone companies and you have a government addicted to advertising.

The government will tell you that these ads provide Canadians with useful information.

Unfortunately, if that's really the case, it's not a very effective strategy.

According to a survey reported on by Postmedia News, just five per cent of respondents who viewed the job grant ad visited the website.

While these ads may help the Conservatives in the opinion polls, there is little evidence that they have any public benefit.

[ Related: 24 Seven: Prime Minister Harper’s office releases first episode of weekly ‘infomercial’ ]

Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that the taxpayer-funded ads are getting out of hand. In a recent editorial, he also highlighted the prime minister's hypocrisy:

"Stephen Harper has grown comfortable sitting on the other side of the aisle, in the Prime Minister’s chair, where Jean Chrétien once tried to contain the sponsorship scandal, deflecting Harper’s outrage and Harper’s demands that he put a stop to pork-barreling government advertising practices," he said in statement released in December.

"Since taking power in 2006, Harper’s attitude toward advertising has changed drastically. Hardly a hockey playoff season has gone by without a multi-million dollar barrage of taxpayer-financed television federal government propaganda polluting the airwaves between face-offs."

[ Related: Building Alberta' signs cost more than $1M ]

By no means are the Tories the only ones who use taxpayer dollars to self-promote.

In Alberta, the Redford government has been slammed for spending $1 million on Tory blue highway signage that seem to have no utility. They do, however, include the words: "the Honorable Alison Redford, Premier."

In British Columbia, the Christy Clark government was criticized last year for a $15 million pre-election ad campaign touting that province's still unproven job plan. Incidentally, Clark complained about partisan ads when she was in opposition.

[ Related: Harper government spending $9 million on wireless industry advertising: report ]

So, what's the solution?

As Harper's turnaround proves, we can't trust individual governments to curb this type of spending.

Instead, the CTF is encouraging all federal and provincial governments follow Ontario's lead and introduce a bill that would require all taxpayer-funded advertising be approved by the Auditor General in order to ensure that they "are scourged of partisan content."

"This is an opportunity for the government to do the right thing and put this behind them, and for the opposition to show that they would not use this tool for themselves if they ever had the chance," the CTF notes.

"Parties don’t need the money, they are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers in the form of generous tax receipts. If parties want to advertise, they can pay for it out of their own coffers."

Hear hear!

(Photo courtesy actionplan.gc.ca)

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