Most Ontario government ads last year were partisan: auditor general

TORONTO — Ontario's Progressive Conservative government spent about $25 million — or three quarters of its total advertising spending — last year on ads the auditor general believes are partisan.

Acting auditor general Nick Stavropoulos says in the office's annual report today that while the government spent about half of what it did the previous year on advertising due to a drop in COVID-19 campaigns, the two largest campaigns were too partisan.

Prior to 2015, ads were banned as partisan if the intent was to foster a positive impression of government or a negative impression of its critics, but the then-Liberal government amended the rules in that year.

Now, the auditor general can only veto an ad as partisan if it uses an elected member's picture, name or voice, the colour or logo associated with the political party or direct criticism of a party or member of the legislature.

Previous auditor general Bonnie Lysyk railed against the changes at the time, as did the Progressive Conservatives when they were in Opposition. They promised during the 2018 election to reverse the Liberal rules, but decided otherwise once in government.

Stavropoulos says two ad campaigns on the health care system and public school funding would not have passed review under those previous rules because they talked about building 3,000 more hospital beds and hiring 3,000 more school staff without evidence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press