QUEEN’S PARK – This morning during Question Period, Norm Miller, MPP for Parry Sound – Muskoka, asked the Premier how the government can be running ads which the Auditor General says would not have been permitted two years ago.
In light of the government’s hydro ads which the Auditor General has described as “conveying a positive impression of the current government,” Miller and Caledon-Dufferin MPP Sylvia Jones questioned the Premier about the 2015 changes to the Government Advertising Act and asked that she reinstate the Auditor’s powers to block partisan ads.
Starting in 2006, the Auditor General had reviewed all government advertising before it ran and blocked ads that were deemed too partisan to be paid for by taxpayers. In 2015 the Wynne Government changed that legislation, taking away the Auditor’s authority to reject partisan ads and making the Auditor General into a rubber stamp.
“I am disappointed the Premier refuses to reinstate the Auditor General’s role as an impartial judge of what is and is not partisan advertising,” said Miller. “Since the Premier watered down the Auditor’s powers in 2015 the government has run multiple taxpayer funded ads that would not have been allowed under the previous legislation – including the recent hydro ads.”
Other partisan ad campaigns that the Auditor General has said would not have been allowed under the previous legislation include the $6-million climate change ads, the almost $800,000 Ontario Retirement Pension Plan ads and ads about healthcare spending and education.
After the Premier refused to reinstate the authority of the Auditor General, Miller launched a petition so that Ontarians can express their desire not to see their tax dollars spent on partisan advertising. The petition can be found on Norm Miller’s website at www.normmillermpp.com.
For more information contact:
Norm Miller, MPP – 416.325.1012 or 1.888.267.4826
Mr. Norm Miller: My question is to the Premier. Despite this government creating many of its own problems, they are once again using taxpayer dollars in an attempt to save themselves. The Auditor General has stated that the Premier’s recent hydro ads, “convey a positive impression of the current government and it’s more like a pat-on-the-back type of advertisement.” The ads “would not have passed under the previous legislation.”
Two years ago, when the government reduced the oversight of the Auditor General, the Deputy Premier stated, “This legislation expands her oversight of our advertising, and it clarifies what is in fact considered partisan.”
Given the auditor’s comments, can the Premier really say that the auditor’s powers to block partisan advertising have been expanded?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: President of the Treasury Board.
Hon. Liz Sandals: I want to point out that we need a little bit of a reality check here. The Ontario Legislature, the Ontario government, is the only government in Canada that actually has an advertising act that lays out the rules. In fact, the ads in question follow the legislation, are consistent with the rules that are set out by the Legislature, and they are not in contempt of the Legislature.
I would point out that this much-loved legislation, in original form—they voted against it.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary? The member from Dufferin–Caledon.
Ms. Sylvia Jones: I think the minister is forgetting a couple other facts. The facts are that two years ago, you changed the legislation to make the Auditor General a rubber stamp.
These hydro ads are not the first time this government has funded partisan ads through taxpayer funds. The government’s pension plan ads cost Ontarians almost $800,000. The auditor called those ads “self-congratulatory” and stated that they had added no value to the public.
In the last two years, this government has spent nearly $6 million in taxpayer money on a series of ad campaigns on the environment. The auditor said that these ads could be seen as “self-congratulatory and, in some cases, misleading.”
Mr. Speaker, will the Premier –
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac) : You can’t do that. Withdraw, please.
Ms. Sylvia Jones : Withdraw.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac) : Carry on.
Ms. Sylvia Jones : Will the Premier restore the Auditor General’s authority to review and approve government-funded advertising?
Hon. Liz Sandals : Government House leader.
Hon. Yasir Naqvi : The member opposite is forgetting some facts. It was her government, when they were in power, that ran under Mike Harris’s leadership advertising worth $400 million. When this party and this government came into office, one of the earliest actions they took was that they brought in a piece of legislation that would ensure that we do not have that kind of Mike Harris-style government advertising.
Speaker, you wonder : How did the Tories vote about that bill? They voted against that bill. So did the NDP. So I would like to ask the member opposite: What were you thinking then? Why did you not support that bill, which creates one of the strictest and most stringent regulations on government advertising in Canada? We’re the only Legislature that has a law like this. They have very little ground to stand on, because –