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Industry Minister James Moore responds to a question in Question Period on Dec. 4, 2013. (SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Industry Minister James Moore responds to a question in Question Period on Dec. 4, 2013. (SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Ottawa’s wireless ad is too partisan Add to ...

A $9-million, federal-government ad campaign on the wireless industry – on television and radio and in print – is lacking in any apparent purpose of public information.

On the 29-second TV ad, a narrator is heard saying that Canadians pay high rates for their cellphones. At first, three actors look worried or frustrated; then, they turn hopeful. They express their perfectly natural wishes for lower prices, more choice and better service.

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Many Canadians do indeed complain to one another about their cellphone prices and service. But the words – let alone the demeanours – in the ad do not really inform the public or advance the prospects of greater competition in the cellphone market. The campaign does little more than assert that the government is on the people’s side.

The group of ads may be a counterattack against the summer campaign by the three largest wireless carriers, BCE Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Telus Corp. (BCE owns a 15-per-cent interest in The Globe and Mail.) These companies objected to the auction process for new and particularly desirable spectrum. They argued that it would give a special advantage to the huge American company Verizon Communications Inc., if it chose to enter the Canadian market. But Verizon stayed home, and the TV ad does not mention the spectrum auction, which will take place in January.

These ads on the wireless market resemble the government’s continuing series of Economic Action Plan ads, which say little more than that the government is doing good things for Canada. Similarly, the Canadian Job Grant has been advertised for some time, though there is not yet any up-and-running program, to which unemployed or underemployed people could actually apply for training.

The federal government should consider adopting a system, such as Ontario now has, to review proposed government advertising in advance, to make sure that the message is not primarily partisan. The current wireless campaign looks more like something to be expected from a political party, rather than the government of Canada.

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