B.C.’s auditor general should be empowered to review government advertising messages and determine if they are in the public interest or just a boost for the party in power, NDP leader Adrian Dix said Tuesday.
The NDP plans to present legislation in February to set rules for government ads such as the current “B.C. Jobs Plan” series that extolls the strength of the provincial economy. Taxpayer-sponsored ads would not be able to show the premier or other politicians, promote the party or create a “negative impression” of parties or other groups critical of the government.
“Basically it will do what the Ontario law currently does, which is to have all government ads approved based on the criteria,” Dix said. “Partisanship is obviously one of those.”
Dix said he didn’t recall a similar ad campaign run by Glen Clark’s NDP government in the late 1990s, but noted such a law would apply to all governing parties if it is passed. Previous Social Credit governments engaged in similar pre-election promotional efforts.
The current ads have a budget of $15 million, which included paid announcements by Premier Christy Clark aired during Global TV’s evening news. Clark and Jobs Minister Pat Bell have defended the commercials as part of an effort to raise awareness of industrial development and skilled trades training opportunities.
Dix said the $15 million budget is about equal to the advertising budgets of both the NDP and B.C. Liberal Parties in the run-up to the 2009 election. Elections BC rules government how much political parties can raise and spend, and limit how much can be spent in each constituency during the pre-election period and the month-long formal campaign.
The B.C. Liberal government has made repeated efforts to put stricter limits on pre-election advertising from third parties such as business groups and unions. Those have been rejected in court challenges as infringement on freedom of speech.