Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.)
|| That the House: (a) recognize that (i) since 2006, the government has spent nearly $750 million dollars on advertising, (ii) a great deal of this has been partisan advertising that serves no public interest, (iii) this is an affront to taxpayers who work hard and expect that the government will treat their money with respect; and therefore (b) call on the government to submit all advertising to a third-party review process before it is approved, to ensure that it is an appropriate, proportional, and prudent expenditure of public funds.
He said: I appreciate being allowed to proceed this morning with this important Liberal Party of Canada opposition day motion. I am very pleased to lead off this debate today. It is a very important moment for us as parliamentarians from all political stripes in the House. The theme I will come back to in a few moments is that it is an opportunity for us to do right by Canadians and to improve in an area where there is a need to improve, an area where I believe all parliamentarians can come together to improve a particular expenditure system in the federal government.
I want to begin by thanking my leader, the member for Papineau, for his probity, his support, his commitment to transparency and his commitment to doing something better going forward. Despite the performance and practice of any previous government, we have before us an opportunity to improve the situation when it comes to this notion of government advertising and communication.
I want to take a moment to reread this motion so Canadians get the fullness of its embrace. It reads:
|| That the House: (a) recognize that (i) since 2006, the government has spent nearly $750 million dollars on advertising, (ii) a great deal of this has been partisan advertising that serves no public interest, (iii) this is an affront to taxpayers who work hard and expect that the government will treat their money with respect; and therefore (b) call on the government to submit all advertising to a third-party review process before it is approved, to ensure that it is an appropriate, proportional, and prudent expenditure of public funds.
I have always believed that all parliamentarians have an obligation to do everything they can to enhance trust and confidence in our democratic institutions and processes. The motion tabled here today would build on that simple yet powerful notion, and is predicated on a simple and powerful idea: respect for Canadians' tax dollars and, arguably, respect for Canadians' intelligence.
We learned just this month that the “Strong Proud Free” slogan that is currently bombarding Canadian television viewers is considered a cabinet confidence, and will be sealed from public scrutiny for 20 years. This tells us that cabinet is seized with communications, with outreach, with messaging, with its alignment with its own political priorities. If we ever needed confirmation that the government is seized with sloganeering, there is no better evidence available. Now we have an insane situation where not only is the sloganeering overt and public, but we are being told it is being overt, public and secret.
It is time to bring Canada's federal government advertising rules into the 21st century, and there is a solution. In addition to this motion, on October 24, 2013, I tabled my private member's bill, Bill C-544, the elimination of partisan government advertising act.
My bill amends the Auditor General Act to provide for the appointment of an advertising commissioner to oversee the use of public funds for advertisement. Just like in Ontario, public interest messaging and other essential government advertising will not be targeted. Appointing an advertising commissioner will enhance accountability toward all Canadians. My bill will be up for debate on June 2, and I hope that all parties will support it.
Over the last several years, in a spirit of non-partisanship, I have written to two consecutive finance ministers and offered them my bill to adopt as government policy as a low- or no-cost budget suggestion. Sadly, they have not taken up this constructive suggestion that would save the taxpayers millions of dollars while costing almost nothing to implement.
There is a crescendo of voices now calling for action.
I would like to quote the Toronto Star from earlier this month, April 5, 2015:
|| Using taxpayer money to lure Canadians to vote Conservative in the next federal election is a bit rich.... In Ontario, the Auditor-General’s office must approve all government advertising to ensure that it doesn’t promote a particular political party. The same should be done in Ottawa. The...government should follow Ontario’s lead—and rein in some of its advertising spending while it’s at it.... [The member for Ottawa South] who is sponsoring a private member’s bill that would establish independent oversight of federal advertising, argues the...government ads—with their Conservative blue colours and imagery—amount to “propaganda.” He’s right.... The...government needs independent oversight of its advertising spending. And it needs to cut it, just as rigorously as it has cut so many more worthy initiatives.... Now documents obtained by CTV News indicate [the Prime Minister] plans to spend $7.5 million in May alone to promote its so-called Economic Action Plan. The new ad campaign is timed to air just after the release of the April 21 budget, and the government isn’t apologizing for it.
The ads continue to waste “money that could be better spent on important services and programs. Money spent publicizing the economic action this year, for example, would have been better spent promoting rail safety, based upon the lessons learned from the Lac-Mégantic disaster.”
The final numbers in 2013-14 illustrate this all too well. In that fiscal year, the current government spent $42 million on economic action plan advertising versus $34 million on rail safety, and this at a time when the government is in full knowledge of the human resources constraints, the lack of inspectors, the challenges with the transportation of oil by rail, the safety risks going through our urban settings, and on and on. This is the kind of choice it has been making, using taxpayer dollars.
The government could have kept the federally funded national round table on the environment and the economy operating.
The government could have ensured that our local Veterans Affairs offices stayed open to ensure that our veterans were properly supported and served after their service.
I am not suggesting there is not a place for federal advertising, to inform Canadians of new government policies or for public service announcements. There is a role, a legitimate role, for that. For example, governments need to recruit staff; governments need to hold competitions for contractors who are bidding on procurement opportunities to retrofit a building, to maintain roadways, to provide support for temporary staff or furniture fit-ups; or, for example, most important, to inform Canadians about important health issues or crises, such as the SARS crisis that hit Canada some years ago or the H1N1 viral outbreak. These are legitimate uses of taxpayer dollars for advertising.
However, what we are seeing, what we have concluded, and what, most importantly, Canadians have concluded is that most of the ads being propagated by the government are designed to promote the Conservative Party of Canada, simply, in its crudest form, to buy votes.
The common look and feel, the colours, of the Conservative Party of Canada's political ads and government advertising is indisputable. Advertising executives know it, and they tell us that these are aligned with the Conservative Party's political ad buys. At its core, this kind of advertising undermines the rules of fair play in our democratic system.
We spend a lot of our time in this country assisting governments elsewhere, perhaps less than we should. I would certainly like to see more of it as an investment made by Canada. However, we do spend time supporting fledgling democracies and political parties around the world to show the way. Canada is the beacon. If one is looking to a model of democratic fair play, one should look to Canada.
The problem is that the use of public resources in the advertising sector is an attempt to condition the Canadian public. How? It is done by propagating overt and subliminal messages. Why? That is simple. It is to drive up the government's chances of electoral success. It knows it. It is shameless about it. It does not deny it.
Here is another voice in support of that very assertion. Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa and editor-in-chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law, wrote in The Globe and Mail recently:
|| Now in government—and outside the electoral period— [the Prime Minister] has found a way for his government to flood the media with partisan propaganda to the tune of hundreds of millions of our dollars. If such democratic subterfuge has the same effect of unfairness before an election, then the [Conservative] government is clearly undermining the spirit of a rule of law critical to fair elections. He has, in effect, made the government a third party that is allowed to spend potentially millions of dollars, making the actual limits in the election period illusory to some extent. This deserves a profound rebuke by Canadians.
Professor Mendes does not go as far as reminding Canadians about the litigation undertaken by the Prime Minister, before he was prime minister, before the Supreme Court of Canada arguing that there should be no limits on third-party advertising during Canadian electoral cycles. He lost that case, but we can see now what is happening is by subterfuge, using Professor Mendes' words. By subterfuge, he is using public resources to do precisely what he tried to do with private resources before he became Prime Minister.
According to Public Works and Government Services Canada, federal spending is still out of control. The government spent more than $75 million on advertising in 2013-14.
The departments that spend the most are Employment and Social Development Canada, which spent $11.7 million to promote its training programs; Natural Resources Canada, which spent $11 million on a campaign to promote responsible resource development; and the Department of Finance, which spent $10.5 million advertising the economic action plan. That $72.5 million is 9% higher than the amount spent in the previous fiscal year.
With such dire needs across the country, with seniors who have to choose between buying medicine and buying groceries, not a single government member can look his or her voters in the eye and defend this reckless spending on propaganda.
Let me expand on this.
With so many needs in this country, with seniors deciding whether to fill their prescriptions or buy groceries, with wait times for surgeries lengthening, with kids with type 1 diabetes unable to afford insulin pumps, with exhausted front-line nurses and crumbling infrastructure, no member in this House of Commons in any party can look their constituents in the eyes and defend this continued wasteful spending on propaganda, not a single one.
The Ontario Liberal government gets it. It continues to lead the way on this important issue. In fact, on Thursday, Ontario budget 2015 was presented to the legislative assembly of Ontario, and it included the following. The Government of Ontario:
||will propose amendments to the Government Advertising Act, 2004, that would modernize and broaden the scope of the Act to ensure greater transparency about how the government communicates through advertisements and improve the process by which government advertisements are reviewed.
Therefore, it can be done.
|| The proposed amendments support the government’s commitment to openness, transparency and accountability in the way government conducts business, including public advertising.
|| Informed by the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, the Province will also move to strengthen rules around election-related, third-party advertising to protect the public interest.
The Ottawa Citizen reported in September that the federal government is spending millions targeting Canadians with Facebook ads.
In the Liberal Party's call for a third-party review process, there is a need to ensure that all forms of advertising are caught: print, video, audio, billboards, pamphlets, Internet, and increasingly, social media. The Conservatives have gone so far as to use ad spots on the XBox video game system, which is unheard of in Canadian history, by any order of government.
According to the Ottawa Citizen:
|| The Tory government spends tens of millions annually on advertising and has been assailed for what opposition parties say is often a waste of taxpayer dollars on propaganda. Part of the advertising blitz has included spending millions of dollars on government ads during the NHL playoffs.
Canadians are not being fooled. They are growing weary of and hostile to all the economic action plan ads. Ask them about the billboards, and then ask them how they feel about $29 million being spent on almost 9,800 billboards around this country. The City of Ottawa, my home city, was forced to spend $50,000 to erect these billboards as a condition of getting infrastructure dollars.
What does $29 million buy? It could buy over 500 full-time public health nurses for one year, over 300 affordable housing units for Canadians desperately waiting for housing, or 15,000 doses of chemotherapy drugs at a time when Canadians are suffering on cancer treatment waiting lists. That is what $29 million could buy for Canadians at a time when they are in need.
In fact, as reported in The Globe and Mail, eight polls commissioned by the Department of Finance between 2009 and 2012 “suggest the TV, radio, print and Internet ads are starting to fizzle—and annoying some people”.
In the most recently released survey, respondents say that it is “propaganda” and “a waste of money”, while fewer people than ever are taking any action after viewing the ads. These are the government's own polls.
Perhaps the government should listen to the taxpayers of Canada and stop wasting their money on partisan advertising. Perhaps it should also stop advertising programs that do not even exist, which is the newest twist in the saga of the use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes.
In closing, there is an opportunity for all of us to improve the way we manage and allocate scarce taxpayer resources. This is a discrete, focused opportunity to make sure that any government of any political stripe today and in the future treats taxpayers' dollars with respect.
I urge all of my colleagues to support the Liberal Party of Canada's motion to wrestle this challenge to the ground and to do right by Canadians.
Hon. Laurie Hawn (Edmonton Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the House today on this motion.
I would not suggest for one moment that the hon. member opposite brings this motion forward with anything other than the best of intentions. However, advertising campaigns are essential, for example, ensuring veterans and their families are informed about the services and benefits available to them as they transition to civilian life, and after that transition and later in life, when new needs related to service may become evident.
The government has proved an exceptionally good steward of taxpayer dollars. We need look no further than the fact that last week the Minister of Finance announced a balanced budget for this fiscal year. The evidence clearly shows that the government's fiscal bona fides are well established.
With that in mind, I suggest Canadian taxpayers are well served by the government, and that what I prefer to call information campaigns greatly benefit veterans and their families. To ensure Canada's brave men and women are getting the support they need and deserve, we need to inform them of the services available to them. To preserve the legacy of Canada's brave men and women, it is also important that Canadians are informed of their service and sacrifice.
My question to the hon. member is this: Do we not owe it to those brave Canadians to publicly honour their service? Do we not owe it to those Canadian heroes to share their remarkable contributions with our great nation? Do we not owe it to the families and descendants of those who served during the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the many peacekeeping missions, many of which involved combat and serious risk to life and limb, and our cold warriors?
Do we not owe it to them to remember and encourage all Canadians to remember their service and sacrifice? Do we not owe it to veterans and families to inform them of the programs available to help them transition to civilian life or support them if they have sustained an injury during service?
I believe we do owe it to them. I believe that is the very least that we owe them.
It is our responsibility to ensure veterans and their families are aware of what programs and benefits are available to them. Anything less would be a disservice to them and their families, to their sacrifice and a disservice to all Canadians.
Canada has an extremely proud military history. I believe we can all agree on that. For generations, the men and women of Canada's Armed Forces have made tremendously positive impacts throughout the world, as well as here at home in the natural disasters that struck Canada in the form of floods and ice storms. They support the historic national events, such as Olympic Games. They respond to worldwide natural disasters. Indeed, as we speak, there is the rapid deployment of a disaster alert response team to the tragedy unfolding and under way in Nepal.
It is extremely important that we honour their work, that we remember their service and recognize the sacrifices they made in our name and on our behalf. It is even more important that they are aware of the benefits available to them to ensure they transition to civilian life with the utmost success.
The services and programs available to Canadian veterans are wide-ranging and among the best in the world. Veterans have access to a network of over 4,000 mental health professionals nationwide, top-of-the-line medical treatment and generous financial benefits.
We need to communicate to Canadian veterans to ensure they are aware of the services and programs available to them. If veterans do not know about the benefits available to them, they will not use them.
Canadian veterans need to know that they have career transition services available. They need to know that they can access thousands of dollars each month if they have a serious service-related injury, or even that they have access to other services not necessarily related to injury but simply to their dedicated service over long periods of time.
These advertising efforts do what is needed so veterans across our great country have the information they need. Through this information campaign aimed both at veterans and Canadians writ large, we emphasize how the Government of Canada is committed to improving access to key supports and services, and reducing process delays, such as the recent announcement of hiring 100 additional case managers and 100 additional disability benefits adjudicators, and ensuring veterans have access to the full range of supports available to them.
The facts show that this campaign was a success. Post-campaign analysis shows that the campaign reached 46% of the general population. That is a lot of millions of people. Immediately following the launch of the information campaign, applications from veterans and their families for disability benefits increased 13%. People who need the benefits need to know, and this helped.
More importantly, and this is where the rubber hits the road, the number of My VAC Account registrations increased by 28% during the campaign. That is people who are now signed up, and who are known in the VAC system, and who will be communicated with pre-emptively by Veterans Affairs Canada.
For the benefit of members who may not be aware, My VAC Account is an extremely valuable online tool for Canadian veterans and their families and every veteran should have one. Anything that helps to increase awareness of this tool, and especially anything that helps increase participation in it, can be deemed nothing less than an overwhelming success.
That is not the end of overwhelming impacts with respect to this particular initiative. Comparing website visits prior to the campaign to those during the peak of the campaign, Veterans Affairs Canada experienced an 876% increase in web visits. That is pretty darn impressive to me.
Another example is the 2014 remembrance information campaign. This particular initiative invited Canadians to remember them and educated our nation on the service and sacrifice of all who have served our country in uniform. It encouraged Canadians to get involved in remembrance, to be active in their communities, to visit their local cenotaph on Remembrance Day, to go online and learn more about Canada's military history and to be more engaged in honouring the service of Canada's men and women in uniform.
A post-campaign evaluation said that 52% of Canadians recalled the campaign. That is pretty good awareness. That translates into roughly 14 million people, an increase of a million Canadians from the previous year. The same post-campaign analysis said there were 732,306 unique visits to the Veterans Affairs Canada website, compared to 518,990 in 2013. That is a pretty significant increase.
On Facebook, the numbers were equally or even more impressive. On Remembrance Day alone, there were over two million video views in 24 hours and 3.25 million views overall. On YouTube, there were 1.4 million vignette views, compared with 35,365 in 2013. That is a remarkable increase. All of these numbers matter because every time one of these videos is viewed that is one more person who is becoming more familiar with Canadian veterans, their achievements, their bravery and how they have made such a positive difference in our lives and the lives of people around the world.
It is very important to point out that these efforts in no way take away from the benefits and services offered to Canada's veterans. Each year, Veterans Affairs invests $3.5 billion, of which 90% goes directly to veterans services. Less than 1% of the total annual budget is used on information campaigns. This means that for every dollar spent on advertising, Veterans Affairs spends more than $800 on programs and benefits for veterans themselves.
Again, I ask the House, how could anyone question the effect of this campaign? How could anyone suggest that this information is not beneficial to veterans and their families? How could anyone suggest this information did not directly result in more veterans and their families accessing programs and services? It absolutely did.
Another case in point is this campaign also informed veterans about other programs. As a direct result, more veterans come forward to apply for these very programs. Veterans can only apply for something if they know it exists in the first place. Sadly, not all veterans or families are familiar with the wide range of support information, services and programs that are available. Through this advertising campaign, veterans and their families were informed about programs and services, such as career transition services, rehabilitation, financial support and mental health services. It also highlighted education supports, medical assistance and support services such as grass cutting, house cleaning and snow shovelling.
Of the roughly 700,000 veterans in Canada only about 200,000 veterans and their families access programs and services from Veterans Affairs Canada. Many of the numbers not receiving benefits are simply those like me who do not need services yet, but many are probably still unaware of what is available.
We can do better, and in order to do so we have to inform and educate. We have increased awareness of the programs and services that may be available to veterans and their families. It can only help them and to suggest otherwise is simply wrong and short-sighted. It serves no one to have a robust program of benefits and services that veterans know nothing about. Our sole purpose is to communicate with and reach out to Canadian veterans in need.
Why the opposition opposes this is simply beyond me. To ensure Canada's brave men and women have the support they need to transition to civilian life, it is essential they are aware of what programs and services exist to help them.
I also think it is important to highlight the practices of previous Liberal governments in any discussion of government advertising. Between 2002 and 2006, the previous Liberal government spent $270.6 million on advertising. I do not recall what colour those advertisements were but I am sure they were not just black and white. That equates to about $6 million every single month on average. Some of those months were much more than the $7.5 million that was quoted by my friend from Ottawa South that the government is spending in May.
We would like to go back further in Liberal spending, but the Liberal government did not even track the amounts of money it was spending on advertising before 2002. However, someone who did track the funds was Justice Gomery. He found the Liberal government illegally handed out government advertisement funds directly to friends of the Liberal Party.
I would like to read a portion of the Gomery report that I believe is quite relevant to the discussion at hand. Under major findings, it states:
|| To understand the evidence presented to the Commission and my analysis of it, the Fact Finding Report must be consulted. It is those facts that allow me to draw the following conclusions:
|| The Commission of Inquiry Found:
||clear evidence of political involvement in the administration of the Sponsorship Program;
||insufficient oversight at the very senior levels of the public service which allowed program managers to circumvent proper contracting procedures and reporting lines;
||a veil of secrecy surrounding the administration of the Sponsorship Program and an absence of transparency in the contracting process;
||reluctance, for fear of reprisal, by virtually all public servants to go against the will of a manager who was circumventing established policies and who had access to senior political officials;
||gross overcharging by communication agencies for hours worked and goods and services provided;
||inflated commissions, production costs and other expenses charged by communication agencies and their subcontractors, many of which were related businesses;
||the use of the Sponsorship Program for purposes other than national unity or federal visibility because of a lack of objectives, criteria and guidelines for the Program;
||deliberate actions to avoid compliance with federal legislation and policies, including the Canada Elections Act, Lobbyists Registration Act, the Access to Information Act and Financial Administration Act, as well as federal contracting policy and the Treasury Board Transfer Payments Policy;
||a complex web of financial transactions among Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), Crown Corporations and communication agencies, involving kickbacks and illegal contributions to a political party in the context of the Sponsorship Program ;
||five agencies that received large sponsorship contracts regularly channelling money, via legitimate donations or unrecorded cash gifts, to political fundraising activities in Quebec, with the expectation of receiving lucrative government contracts;
||certain agencies carrying on their payrolls individuals who were, in effect, working on Liberal Party matters;
||the existence of a “culture of entitlement” among political officials and bureaucrats involved with the Sponsorship Program, including the receipt of monetary and non-monetary benefits;
||a pattern of activity whereby a public servant in retirement did extensive business with former recipients of Sponsorship Program contracts; and
||the refusal of Ministers, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office and public servants to acknowledge their responsibility for the problems of mismanagement that occurred.
The Gomery report shed light on the corruption and mismanagement of public funds by the previous Liberal government. For Liberals to stand in the House and criticize our government's expenses on ads is the highest expression of hypocrisy.
It is worth noting that the Liberals are rolling out pre-campaign ads that will air during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Imagine that: advertising in places where they know Canadians will be watching. What a concept. Sort of like of us when we placed information aimed at informing veterans where we knew veterans would be watching, and that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is nice to know that Liberals are at least paying attention to what actually works.
I am proud of all the government programs and initiatives that have been discussed here today. It is shameful that the members on the opposite side would oppose informing veterans of programs that would benefit them, or the other programs that we advertise about regularly, especially because when our government spends money on advertisements, it goes into advertisements. When the previous Liberal government spent money on advertisements, it went into the pockets of the friends of the Liberal Party. They should be ashamed of themselves.
I have appreciated the time to speak on this important matter and I would like to thank my hon. colleagues for their attention. I look forward to the rest of this debate.
Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Newton—North Delta.
Obviously, in the past, both Liberal and Conservative governments have run publicly funded, partisan government advertising campaigns in order to promote their own partisan interests. The abuse, particularly by this government, is unbelievable. For example, the Conservative Party's 2011 election platform spoke of a Canada that is strong, free and proud of its history. The same keywords are used on the Conservative Party's website today. That is interesting.
What is more, these keywords are also used in government advertising. The publicly funded advertising campaign for Canada's 150th anniversary celebration uses the same keywords in its slogan: “Strong. Proud. Free.”.
The Conservatives have even refused to release the documents regarding the decision to use this partisan slogan in publicly funded ads. A reporter asked the Treasury Board to provide any information related to the decision to use the “Strong. Proud. Free.” slogan, and he was told that there was a 149-page document submitted to cabinet to justify its use. That is a lot of pages. Imagine how long it took government employees to write 149 pages just so that the government could use a partisan slogan in its advertising. It is unbelievable.
What is more, much of the advertising for the economic action plan does not provide any useful information about government services. In a poll to evaluate the 2012 advertising campaign, respondents described the ads as propaganda and a waste of money. Those are not our words. They are the words of ordinary Canadians. Only six of the 1,000 respondents said that they consulted the actionplan.gc.ca website for more information.
The Conservatives also wasted $2.5 million on advertising for a Canada job grant that did not even exist. Advertising Standards Canada's standards council found that the government campaign, which ran during the NHL playoffs, was misleading because it was announcing a program that had not yet been negotiated with the provinces. It is unbelievable.
Today, the Conservatives continue to waste money on promoting their campaign promises to adopt policies on income splitting, which benefits the wealthy, while these tax breaks do not even exist yet. The Conservatives are treating taxpayers with utter disrespect.
Ads for the economic action plan have cost taxpayers more than $113 million since 2009. That money could have been used to create an innovation tax credit, for example, to allow businesses to invest in machines and equipment and create jobs for Canadians. That is one of the NDP's good ideas.
In 2013, the Conservatives spent $16.5 million on advertising natural resource development, millions of dollars of which was spent abroad. They are not even spending that money here in Canada.
In March 2010, Conservative government officials met with representatives of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; they agreed—it is lobbying, really—on an intense communication strategy. In one year, that money could have paid for 11,000 home renovations under the eco-energy retrofit program to help Canadians reduce their heating bills. Imagine that.
The Conservatives' hypocrisy never ceases to amaze us.
Since 2009, they have spent more than $40 million of taxpayers' money on advertising concerning tax relief for Canadians. They could have used that money to hold a national inquiry to obtain justice for missing and murdered aboriginal women. That would have been a good idea. Advertising for Canada's 150th anniversary will cost $12 million two years in advance of the celebrations in 2017. That money could have been used to keep the Kitsilano coast guard base open for 15 more years.
There is definitely a need for some of the government's advertising, such as advertising for government services for new Canadians. However, for the past few years, the government has been spending 10 times more on advertising for the economic action plan than on ads for government services for new Canadians. We have a duty to ensure that this advertising is not partisan.
As for 2014, while Veterans Affairs Canada was closing its regional offices and depriving veterans who were suffering of services they were entitled to, the government spent $4.3 million on advertising. Furthermore, poll results show that the advertising was not even effective. The government would have been better off investing this money in keeping the regional Veterans Affairs offices open.
Moreover, the Conservatives spent more than $5 million on an advertising campaign for the War of 1812. That $5 million could have been spent on hiring dozens of rail inspectors to help prevent another disaster like Lac-Mégantic.
The Conservatives spent $1.5 million on advertising the apprenticeship program even before the program officially existed, thus blurring the line between partisan advertising and advertising for government services that actually exist. It is understandable that Canadians do not know whether or not a program exists and how to access it. The Conservatives did nothing to inform Canadians about the changes to employment insurance.
It is quite impressive when you look at the numbers. This government spent $86 million on advertising in 2006, $84 million in 2007, $79 million in 2008, $36 million in 2009, $83 million in 2010, $78 million in 2011, $69 million in 2012 and $75 million in 2013. We do not yet have the figures for 2014, but since it was a pre-election year, it would not surprise me to see that the government spent even more than it did in 2013. We will see.
I have to wonder why the government continues to spend money on advertising campaigns, when its own internal assessments indicate that Canadians consider these ads to be a waste. How can the government justify these expenses when it is shutting down service offices? If these campaigns are as useful and as non-partisan as the government claims, why is it so afraid of submitting these expenses to a third party review?
Why did the Conservatives put money into this advertising, even though their own officials were telling them that the economic action plan ads violated Treasury Board rules? I also have to wonder why they do not want to release the documents related to the “Strong. Proud. Free.” slogan. The answer is simple: they have something to hide.
Let us not kid ourselves, though. The Liberals were no different. If that were not the case, they would not be trying to improve their image with this motion. That is what this is all about. I would like the Canadians watching us to know that there was abuse, and I am not just talking about the sponsorship scandal. In fact, previous Liberal governments used taxpayer money to finance partisan advertisements.
For example, the Chrétien government used $2 million in public funds to promote the need for health system reform. It too chose to do that during the hockey playoffs, just like the current government.
If that party and its member are really serious about wanting to do something to address this problem, may I suggest they look at the Australian model, which has real teeth and truly respects taxpayers' money.
Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of this motion. We have heard a lot about the advertising of government programs that do not even exist, and I think it is ironic when we get bills like this brought forward. However, I always say it is better late than never.
It pleases me that the Liberal Party has brought this bill forward. In the past, both the Liberal and Conservative governments have been criticized very heavily for using publicly funded government advertising campaigns to further their own partisan interests. That is not news, and I am not going to go into too much of the history around that. When the Liberals were in government, they acted just like the Conservatives.
It is a bit strange sitting here, having the Conservatives say that they only kind of did what the Liberals did. What matters is that it is the public's hard-earned tax dollars that are being used for partisan advertising. Taxpayers do not mind when their hard-earned tax dollars are used to pay for programs. They do not mind when they are used to promote something that is good for all Canadians. What they do mind is when it is just purely advertising in order to promote a particular party.
We all remember the sponsorship scandal. I was not an MP at the time, but I can tell the House that it was a big topic of conversation. In my social studies class, it was a major topic of discussion for a good few weeks.
It is time in Canada that we elect a government and a leader who have the experience and the principles, as well as what it takes to stop all of these scandals and mismanagement left behind by the Liberals, and now by the Conservatives. It is time for a principled government that will bring real change to Ottawa and get rid of advertising that is not necessary.
I have sat in the House today and listened to some of my colleagues from across the aisle, and I heard what a wonderful job they have been doing with Veterans Affairs. All of this advertising is to promote the programs they have. What I have found ironic is that they had to put them on during the hockey games because every veteran is out there watching hockey. I have big news for everyone: not everybody watches hockey. I know that might be sacrilegious and that some people might get upset at that, but there are many people who do not watch, especially many who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and those who are coping with having left the battlefield and readjusting to civilian life.
If we want to communicate with the veterans, surely we know who they are. Surely one way to communicate with them is directly. That would actually get to every veteran in a real way, instead of just throwing out the fairy dust and hoping that some of it lands in the right places.
Since I have been in the House, I have watched advertising for programs that do not even exist. I was the critic for employment and social development, as I am now, when the government was advertising the Canada job grant. The government had not negotiated a single agreement with any province, but we spent millions of dollars advertising a program that did not exist. To me, that is asinine and a waste of taxpayers' money.
Canadians work hard to earn their paycheques. They pay taxes, which they do not mind, if they know that their taxes are being well used.
However, the taxpayers I talk with do not want to have their hard-earned money used to promote a particular party or for partisan advertising, especially to promote things that do not exist. We have already begun to see some of the advertising around income splitting. As far as I know, income splitting has not yet been passed by this Parliament. We know it is an idea the government has in its budget, but we have not finished debate on the budget. It has to go through the cycles of parliamentary legislation, and then it has to come back here to be voted upon.
Instead of dealing with real issues and spending money where it is needed, the government would rather spend money on advertising income splitting—the new income splitting, by the way—that would only benefit about 15% of the population, not those who need it the most.
Constituents and other Canadians I have talked with coast to coast to coast tell me that they have been waiting years to hear about their appeals to the Social Security Tribunal. Some of these people are terminally ill and still waiting to have their appeals heard. Surely some of this money would have been better spent on hiring extra people, if that is what is needed, in order to process the appeals in a timely manner.
I am not against all advertising. I think there are some things that governments do have to advertise in a bigger way, on a larger scale. I heard another colleague mention tourism today. We live in a beautiful country. Of course, we should be promoting our country. I think it is wonderful to encourage people to come here, but also to encourage people within Canada to explore Canada as well.
However, what I find hard is why we have to spend millions of dollars promoting the oil industry in the U.S. when the oil industry makes billions of dollars in profit. Surely it is the job of the oil companies to promote themselves. Why would we take hard-earned money from Canadians who are working for $10, $12, $14 an hour, having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet, and use it to promote the oil companies in the U.S.? The oil companies make huge profits. That is called the government paying off its friends, and I think that is unconscionable when Canadians are hurting.
Let us talk about something else that the government should be highlighting: Campaign 2000. That was the year when Parliament unanimously agreed to take immediate action to end child poverty. Eradication of poverty or the proliferation of child poverty is still very real, whether it is in the north, in B.C., in the centre, or on the east coast. Think of the three-quarters of a billion dollars that has been spent on advertising. Some of that could have been used to address child poverty. When it comes to child poverty, we have a government that is very fond of supporting our motions to end child poverty and agreeing they are a good thing. Then, when we get a budget, we do not see many resources targeted in that area specifically. What we see sometimes are policies that would grow the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots.
I absolutely agree that we need to get this partisan advertising under control and that we need an independent body to review how it is done. It is time for the Conservative government to stop abusing the tax dollars of hard-working Canadians to promote itself for re-election.
Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Labrador.
I am pleased to rise in support of the Liberal motion. We are calling upon the government to submit its advertising proposals to a dispassionate third party to ensure the advertisements are non-partisan. Under the Conservative government, experience has shown that this measure is urgently required. As has been pointed out, it has spent three-quarters of a billion dollars no less on largely partisan advertising since coming into power. We see this all the time if we watch the playoffs and other broadcasts. It is hard to avoid advertisements that are partisan Conservative ads relating to the economic action plan and other measures of this kind.
There are two principal areas on which I would like to focus.
The first is that as a government, it is sometimes nice to have free reign over the advertising it can do because then it can bend it to the partisan and help its own cause a little. However, the Ontario government, under the leadership of then premier Dalton McGuinty, took the lead on this. Even though for those reasons it might have been to the disadvantage of the Liberals, they proposed a law, which has been in place for some years now, with respect to a third party system that limited their ability to advertise to what was deemed non-partisan by this third party. Therefore, it is our view that it is high time that the federal government emulate what Dalton McGuinty did for Ontario and bring forward such an approach, even though it might limit its own freedom of action, just as it limited the freedom of action of the McGuinty government.
My colleague, the member for Ottawa South, has proposed a private member's bill, which would do just that, set out a third party that would have the ultimate say on what advertising was permitted and what advertising was not permitted.
We in the Liberal Party support this measure. Even though we may well become the next government, we are happy to be limited in our ability to do partisan advertising, just as we recognize the Conservatives should also be so limited. We should all agree that this is the right thing to do whether we are or are not the government. It is simply wrong to use taxpayer money to advance one's partisan interest through advertising. If the Liberal government in Ontario could do that, then the Conservative government in Ottawa should also do that. We, as the federal Liberal Party, are willing to do it even though it might cost us down the road should we become the government.
If we look at today's polls. it is roughly fifty-fifty as to whether the Conservatives or the Liberals will be the next government. Therefore, each of us should pass such legislation and agree to such a rule, even though going forward there is perhaps a 50% chance that one of us would be limited in our freedom of action, but at the same time doing what is right from the point of view of taxpayer funding.
The second issue I would like to address is that all this government advertising apparently does not work, according to the government's own findings.
They do not work.
Apparently, Canadians are not significantly influenced by all these Conservative ads.
The best example of that is something we would think no Canadian in the country could have escaped hearing about in the last several years, which is Canada's economic action plan. The government is more concerned about the signs than the action. No matter where we go, we cannot help seeing these things. It does not matter what TV or radio station we turn on, we cannot help hearing about these things. This is one of the prime examples of the government using taxpayer money for partisan advertising, which should be stopped.
The bad news for the government is that it does not work. According to polls commissioned by the government, when Canadians were asked if they had heard of Canada's economic action plan, one would have thought 100% would have said yes. In the Ottawa bubble, it is impossible not to have heard of it. I would have thought a high proportion of Canadians would have heard of it, 99% or around there. However, the proportion saying no, that they had never heard of Canada's economic action plan, was 41% in 2010.
Then the government did way more adverting, year after year. How did that number progress? Maybe it went from 41% to 81%? No. In 2011, it was 40%. In 2012, it was 42.6%. In 2013, it dipped down to 37%. Then it was 38%. Therefore, it is within the rounding error. However, 40% of Canadians have never heard of the economic action plan. Difficult as it is for parliamentarians to believe it, that is a fact.
The point is not only is the advertising a waste of taxpayer money for partisan purposes, but it does not even work very well. With all of this advertising, day in and day out, about the economic action plan, 40% of Canadians still do not have a clue what it is.
It is the wrong thing to do, and it does not work. Those are two good reasons for the government to stop it.
I have one more illustration of why it does not work. This is a survey. Again, it was a government appointed survey. I think these surveys were brought in by the Liberal government, and they have continued to this day. This is a survey about the home renovation tax credit conducted in 2009. The question was, “Did you do anything as a result of seeing or hearing this advertising about the home renovation tax credit?” The percentage of people who said that they did not do anything as a result of this advertising was 74%.
The major point is that partisan advertising is the wrong thing to do. We should put in place a legislative mechanism, as Ontario has done and as my colleague from Ottawa South has introduced in the House. We in the Liberal Party, should we become government, would be perfectly happy and content to be constrained by such legislation. We think this should similarly constrain the Conservative government of today. It should act even before this law is proclaimed, and go to a third party to limit its advertising to items being non-partisan.
We think there is a strong case for this, and we are putting our money where our mouth is and supporting this. As a by-product, I would also make the point that for all this waste of taxpayer money by government advertising, it does not even seem to work very well.
Ms. Yvonne Jones (Labrador, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Markham—Unionville for his comments on the bill and for sharing his time with me today. Obviously he has tremendous insight into what the actions of the government have been when it comes to using taxpayers' money to produce partisan ads in this country.
There has been some discussion about whether these ads the Conservative government has taken out in prime time, such as during Super Bowl games and hockey games, work or do not work. In my opinion, a lot of that is irrelevant. The real relevance is that the Conservatives are using taxpayers' money. Should it be permitted to use that money to produce ads that could be seen as partisan by promoting the message of a political party. I think that is the fundamental piece we need to look at.
We also need to look at whether the information in these ads is even correct. We have seen many ads the Conservative government has put out saying that people can access this program or apply under that program knowing that the programs do not even exist. A small asterisk under the ad says “if passed or if approved by Parliament”.
Imagine a government taking millions of dollars of taxpayers' money, to the tune of $750 million, to produce ads when some of the ads are advertising programs that are not yet available. We do not know if they are going to be available. Talk about wasting money. That is what a real waste of taxpayers' money is.
Third, not only is the information incorrect, not only is there the partisanship of the ads, but the ads are being used at a time when there are so many other needs in the country. Every single day Canadians are reaching out to the government for better programs and services, for better use of taxpayers' dollars, and for better investments in their communities. All the while, the government is investing in partisan ads to promote its message at the same time it is cutting other services for Canadians. That is shameful.
I am pleased to speak today to the motion and to support it, because our motion calls for the creation of a third-party review process that would vet these ads before they are approved to ensure that they are appropriate, proportional, and a prudent investment of taxpayers' money.
For example, do the programs really exist that are going to be advertised to Canadians? We know that in 2013, Advertising Standards Canada sent a letter to the assistant deputy minister of employment and skills development at the time and indicated that the Conservatives had breached the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, because they were airing commercials that urged Canadians to apply for the Canada job grant. At that time, the grant did not exist. There were no provinces that had agreed to the potential program. Why was the government advertising for a program that provinces had not signed onto and that was not available to Canadians? In my opinion, it should never have been permitted. We saw a similar thing take place in Ontario some years ago.
Others today have spoken about the Government Advertising Act, which was passed by the McGuinty government in 2004 in Ontario to ensure that these things did not happen. It is evident that we need to be doing something similar in the Parliament of Canada.
I know that my colleague, the member for Ottawa South, has a bill that is at second reading right now that looks to establish that kind of policy in legislation. I would encourage members to support that as well, because it is necessary. It is necessary to control misleading ads that are going out to the Canadian public and to control the partisanship of ads, because no political party, no matter which one is in government, should be using taxpayers' money for political advertising. That is certainly how this was interpreted when the Conservative government put out those ads.
Let me speak to the other side of it in terms of how a government makes decisions on where money should be invested. We have all seen the ads during the NHL playoff hockey games. I am proud to say that ads by the Liberal Party are paid for by the Liberal Party. They are not paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, the source of revenue for the Government of Canada. No, they are not, unlike the Conservative ads during those games, which have been paid for by taxpayers.
I will provide an example. This past year, we have seen the Conservatives spend $130 million to $140 million on advertising campaigns. We have seen them spend up to $100,000 for one ad during a hockey game. They have spent $750 million on those ads over the last number of years, yet they have cut things like, in my riding, the Institute for Environmental Monitoring and Research, one of the most important groups and institutes in the riding. It did studies on everything for the last number of decades, collecting data in Labrador and looking at all kinds of research on ducks, eagles, moose, caribou, water fowl, rivers, environmental contaminants, all kinds of transatlantic flights, and the impact of 5 Wing Goose Bay on aboriginal culture.
It was one group that looked at vital concerns about the environment in Labrador, and guess what? Shutters were put on their doors in March. It cost a few hundred thousand dollars to operate one of the most important northern institutes that looked at environmental issues, including climate change and the impact on our ecosystems, and the government closed the door on it. It could have paid for it with two ads during a hockey game. That is how sad that is.
We have heard the argument from Newfoundland and Labrador about the $400 million it did not receive as part of the CETA deal. It says it was a commitment, an agreement between two governments, but when the time came to ante up the money, the Government of Canada said no, it was not paying the money to Newfoundland and Labrador. However, it had no issue putting $750 million into ad campaigns.
These are the kinds of decisions governments make, and I believe that governments that make decisions to cut programs and services to Canadians and to use the money to promote their own messages and political interests is wrong. They should be ashamed of continuing to do it. In fact, those ads should probably be assessed, and where partisanship is determined, they should be paying back the money, in my opinion, to the people of the country. That is exactly what they should be doing. They should not get away with these kinds of initiatives. I do not care who is in power; they should not get away with those kinds of initiatives.
As one member of Parliament, I find it very frustrating to lobby for small amounts of money to keep important services in my riding, to keep delivering important services to Canadians, and to not have the fiscal ability to do it because the government in power says that advertising for programs that do not exist is more important than actually providing services to Canadians. That is wrong, and it should be ashamed of itself.
Mr. Jim Eglinski (Yellowhead, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak in opposition to the motion on government advertising.
Mr. Speaker, your hon. predecessors have indicated in prior rulings that the government should be careful that its communication products, particularly its advertisements, do not convey the message that proposed legislation has been passed or will be passed in its current form. I can assure members that our government has been very vigilant in ensuring that communications materials indicate that new initiatives still before Parliament are proposed or subject to parliamentary approval.
There are government policies in place regarding the nature of the advertising the government can undertake.
The communications policy is one such policy. It is an extremely robust policy that provides direction to ensure that Canadians receive “timely, accurate...objective and complete information” about the government's “policies, programs, services and initiatives”. The policy states that in “the Canadian system of parliamentary democracy and responsible government, the government has the duty to explain its policies and decisions, and to inform the public of its priorities for the country.”
The policy also helps to ensure the government departments and agencies are “visible, accessible and accountable to the public they serve” and that their communication activities “safeguard Canadians' trust and confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Public Service of Canada”. The policy has clear standards of accountability. Its goal “is to ensure that communications are well-coordinated, effectively managed“ and, most notably, “responsive to the diverse information needs” of Canadians.
The policy sets out 10 interconnected and interdependent policy commitments based on Canadian and public service values, statutes and regulations. It has 30 policy requirements. It also sets out roles and responsibilities for each institution involved in implementing the policy. Its procedures provide specific directions for advertising, publishing and public opinion research.
I want to take a moment to clarify what the communications policy says with regard to advertising. It clearly states that departments and agencies “may place advertisements...to inform Canadians about their rights or responsibilities, about government policies, programs, services or initiatives, or about dangers or risks to public health, safety or the environment”. It also states that departments and agencies must “ensure advertising campaigns...are aligned with government priorities...themes and messages”.
There seems to be a lot of misconception around how government advertising is planned and executed. Allow me to describe how the process works, for the benefit of the House.
Contrary to the motion before us today, the government advertising process involves many stakeholders that provide checks and balances. As my hon. colleagues may know, the Privy Council Office works with the departments to develop a government advertising plan that supports the priorities identified in the Speech from the Throne and the budget. Once approved by cabinet, the plan is sent to Treasury Board for funding approval. Once funding is secured, departments work with Public Works and Government Services Canada to implement their campaigns.
The Privy Council Office provides critical oversight throughout the entire process, and departments evaluate their campaigns and report on their results. The departments work closely with the Privy Council Office to develop advertising proposals. The proposals provide a detailed overview of the advertising campaign, including its objectives, key messages and government priorities it supports. Departments also consult one another to identify areas of common interests and opportunities to collaborate.
This type of collaboration is an example of how government treats taxpayer dollars with respect.