The federal government says its Economic Action Plan “is working for Canadians,” but costly ads reminding voters of that aren’t working at all – at least not the way they are supposed to.
Canadians are not responding to the Conservative government’s “action plan” ads, and the reason seems clear: Intended to illuminate programs and services, they have been overly vague and have felt too much like partisan self-promotion. If they were more targeted and informative, they might merit closer attention.
A government-sponsored poll obtained by The Canadian Press asked 2,003 adult Canadians about ads that ran for months around the 2013 federal budget, ostensibly to encourage citizens to learn about programs and services. All of three survey respondents had visited the promotional action-plan website, as the ad encourages, and not one called the featured 1-800-O-Canada hotline.
Of those who even remembered seeing the ads, only six per cent did anything as a result – and what nine of the respondents did was complain.
It is nothing novel to see a government pump its own tires, or project an aura of progress in a tough economy. But the polished and cheery ads – which have cost at least $113-million since 2009 and have become fixtures on television – are often replete with broad allusions to “better infrastructure to make us more competitive,” or “more efficient government to keep taxes low.” No wonder most people tune them out.
By contrast, when the government promoted a home renovation tax credit in some detail in 2009, one in four people polled later said they had taken advantage of it – a lesson that bears remembering.
More recent action-plan ads, aired at a premium price during Hockey Night in Canada playoff broadcasts, seemed to strike a more constructive note. In one trumpeting the new Canada Jobs Grant, a man with a hard hat tucked under his arm worries he is struggling to find work because he lacks the right skills. “How can I get more training?” he wonders.
There’s just one problem. The Jobs Grant doesn’t exist yet – as the ad’s small “Subject to Parliamentary approval” disclaimer less than forthrightly acknowledges – and will hinge on negotiations with the provinces that are sure to be tense. Paying top dollar to tout a program that won’t launch before 2014 does little good for taxpayers or the unemployed.
The latest federal budget has its share of strong points, including a renewed emphasis on employment training. Where public dollars are paying for air time, ads should make clear what is on offer, and spare Canadians the rosy platitudes about prosperity.