TORONTO – Ontario’s progressive Conservative government is breaking an election promise to restore the auditor general’s powers over government advertising.
When they were in Opposition, the Conservatives criticized the changes the then Liberal government made to the rules, which, according to the auditor general, reduced his office to a rubber stamp.
They vowed during the 2018 election to restore office oversight of government announcements, and at various points in the past three years the government has said it was reviewing the issue. Now, the Conservatives have decided not to go ahead.
“We have an excellent working relationship with the Auditor General when it comes to government advertising and we are maintaining the status quo at this time,” said Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for Prime Minister Doug Ford, in a statement.
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The old rules prohibited ads as partisan if the intention was to foster a positive impression of the government or a negative impression of its critics, but the Liberals amended them in 2015 to say that an ad is partisan only if it uses the image, name or name. name of an elected member. voice, color or logo associated with the political party or direct criticism of a party or member of the legislature.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk expressed frequent concerns with liberal ads that she would have considered partisan under the old rules, and critics said it meant the liberal government was spending millions of taxpayer dollars on partisan advertising.
Lysyk said in a recent interview that this is not happening as much now as it was under the previous government.
“We are not really getting announcements that we would consider nonpartisan to the same extent as the post-amendment period,” he said.
“Ideally, it would be great to have the original act back. Practically, realistically, do we believe at this point what will happen in the next time? I don’t have an indication of that, but I think we can work with the situation where, you know, we still get them, we look at them, if we see something, we provide feedback. “
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Lysyk said he will continue to report publicly on any government announcements that did not pass under the old rules. He noted in 2019 that a carbon tax ad would have been partisan under previous legislation because it did not have all the facts, criticized another government, and was aimed at putting the government in a more positive light.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the Conservatives’ decision to leave the rules in place is “hypocritical.”
“When blocking auditor participation helped (former Prime Minister) Kathleen Wynne use government advertising for her own purposes, Doug Ford promised to change the rules,” she said in a statement.
“Now that it benefits him and his fellow cabinet members, Ford is changing.”
Horwath said the NDP would restore powers if they win next year’s election.
But liberals, like progressive conservatives, are not interested in going back to the old rules.
“Ontario Liberals are focused on doing whatever it takes for Ontario to recover from the Conservatives’ devastating cuts in jobs, healthcare, long-term care, our schools and our environment,” a spokesperson said in a statement. .
“We will continue to fight to take action on those important files, and this will not be a priority in our first term.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said oversight of government advertising is important to ensure that tax dollars are not used to advance a partisan agenda.
“The Ford government continually says one thing and then does another,” he said in a statement. “Restoring oversight of government advertising is another example.”
In 2017, Sylvia Jones, now attorney general, introduced a private member bill with the goal of reversing the 2015 changes by the Liberals that she said diluted the auditor general’s oversight.
He noted that in 2004, the Liberal government justified the introduction of stricter rules by criticizing the use of taxpayers’ money by the former progressive Conservative government in partisan advertising.
“This issue is a total change from the liberals across the street,” Jones said in 2017. “What’s that line? That was then; This is now.’ What has changed, Speaker? It appears that the prime minister will only uphold those principles when they are convenient. “
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