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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

The Conservatives’ very own Oscar selfie Add to ...

Did you watch the Academy Awards last Sunday? All those preening starlets and stars, the now-famous “selfie,” the usual tedious thank-you speeches, the prattle about whose outfits stood out, for better or worse?

And did you see the ads for Canada’s Economic Action Plan? What were they doing there with the perfume and car commercials?

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They may have felt out of place, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see them, if you think about it. These government ads have popped up everywhere over the years – you might just as well have seen them while watching a hockey game.

These ads are ubiquitous and you are paying for them, courtesy of the Conservative government’s flagrant, costly and determined use of your money to brag about itself. The money comes from, and the ads are directed at, you and other people the Conservatives like to call “hard-working taxpayers.” But they are intended to benefit Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, pure and simple.

No government in Canadian history has used your money more relentlessly to promote itself. Yes, other governments have spent money on overtly political advertising, which those of you who pay attention can probably recall. But never has there been such a brazen use of public money for so many ads. And expensive ones, too.

Remember the Stanley Cup playoffs? The Super Bowl? The Olympics? And now the Oscars. These are among the most expensive ad “buys” on television because so many eyeballs are watching. We’re not talking about early-morning hours or Sun News, slots when almost nobody is watching – we’re talking about the prime-of-prime times, for which advertisers pay a hefty price.

The original Economic Action Plan was crafted during the 2008-2009 recession. The billions of dollars allocated to combat the economic downdraft have long been spent. But the money for advertising about government programs keeps flowing, a political gift that keeps on giving.

The government even spent large sums on advertising to praise the Canadian Jobs Grant program long before it was negotiated with the provinces. Spending millions to advertise a program that hasn’t even started takes a special kind of insouciance, or gall, or both.

This advertising is part of the Conservatives’ “permanent campaign,” about which so much has been written. We have recently seen this approach on display in foreign policy, with legitimate policy objectives of good relations with Israel, the visit of the Aga Khan and the crisis in Ukraine being also played for political gain, with fundraising solicitations accompanying foreign-policy actions in a way never before so linked and organized.

Fundraising is, of course, part of the permanent campaign. It allows the Conservatives to run the targeted radio ads that are now running in some markets against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, accusing him of wanting kids to smoke pot.

With the next scheduled election still 20 months away, we can only expect an intensification of the “permanent campaign.” The Conservatives raised about $18-million in 2013, were reported to have had about $14-million in the bank last November, and will certainly surpass $20-million in fundraising in 2015, the election year.

That sum will surpass what the party will be legally allowed to spend in the campaign, which means that millions of dollars will be available to be spent before the electoral writ is issued. This money, like the sums raised by other parties, is heavily subsidized by you, the taxpayer, because of the generous tax credit given to political contributors.

Moreover, in the electoral reform bill now before Parliament, a provision would exempt from campaign expenses the cost of fundraising from previous donors who gave above a certain level, a wrinkle that will benefit the Conservatives, who have more donors.

Since there is so little public outrage about spending your money on Economic Action Plan ads, the Conservatives will continue to roll them out. Combining these ads with the party’s own messages means that the Conservatives will continue to conduct the “permanent campaign” at your expense, but for their purposes. Such is the nature of politics today.

 

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