Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
Jeffrey Simpson

Jeffrey Simpson

JEFFREY SIMPSON

That $75-million in ads you paid for Add to ...

What is the proper word? Is it brazen? Shameless? Unprincipled? Immoral? Choose the word that you think best suits the Harper government’s unprecedented use of public money for self-promotion.

Let’s not be precious, of course. Other federal governments have promoted themselves using what the Harper government jokingly calls “hard-working taxpayers’ ” money. None, however, has done it so openly, lavishly, frequently and unashamedly. And if you think this government has been misusing your money to this point, just wait until the April 21 federal budget.

With just six months between the budget and October’s federal election, the sluice gate of advertising spending will be open wide. The money will come from taxpayers and from the party itself.

Recently, the government had to report the amount it spent on advertising. It was $75-million a year for 2013-14, up from $69-million the previous year. This being an election year, the figure will likely be higher still. We already know that the government has allocated $7.5-million for spending to tout the budget’s virtues.

That means anyone who watches the forthcoming Stanley Cup playoffs can expect a deluge of advertising, because the government prefers to use hard-working taxpayers’ money in the most expensive time slots: hockey playoffs, Super Bowl, Academy Awards.

The explanation given for this spending is shameless, the kind of explanation that gives politicians a bad name everywhere as systematic liars. We need to spend the money, the government says, in order to explain how taxpayers’ money is being spent. Yet anyone who has watched the Harper government’s advertisements knows they are there for promotion, not information.

They use government websites, too. Check out the Fisheries and Oceans one, for example. There, you will find advertisements for the government’s recent announcement of millions of spending for harbours and ports across the country.

Recently, the Conservative Party sent an urgent letter to its supporters asking for money. After the budget, it said, the party needs money to promote the document’s low-tax, pro-growth policies in the face of what the letter described as the “Liberal” media that always deforms Conservative accomplishments.

The letter conceded briefly that there were a few pro-Conservative voices in the media, but insisted the bulk of the media is systematically hostile. This media-baiting is typical of all Conservative cash appeals: The party is surrounded on all sides by enemies, elites and hostile media voices. Only if supporters give generously can the party’s message be communicated.

Which is ridiculous, of course, since the Liberal media argument flies in the face of AM talk radio, the Sun Media chain (whose leader, Paul Godfrey, is a strident pro-Conservative voice), the National Post, plenty of private television and many other columnists and editorialists across the country. But “them against us” is a proven money-earner for the Conservatives, so they will stick with it.

Before the election writ is issued, parties can spend what they want of their own money. Since the Conservatives have more of it than the Liberals and New Democrats, they will spend this advantage and marry it with the government advertising.

What the Conservatives have not done recently is use their own money to launch more negative advertising against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. True to tradition, the Conservatives placed such ads on television not long after Mr. Trudeau became leader. They kept up the assault with radio ads after the television campaign ended.

They didn’t appear to have the same effect they did against Mr. Trudeau’s predecessors, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, but not running negative ads against Mr. Trudeau in the months before the election would be uncharacteristic of the Harper Conservatives.

The use of public money to promote the government has been much commented upon, usually negatively. But the Conservatives don’t care about such criticism, believing that their supporters like seeing and hearing positive things about the government. They also believe that many Canadians don’t know where the money comes from for the ads, or they don’t care, having been conditioned to think that all politicians will do just about anything to get re-elected.

Who can blame voters for being cynical?

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

Next story

loading

Trending

loading

Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular