Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising Act

An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (government advertising)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

David McGuinty  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of June 1, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Auditor General Act to provide for the appointment of an Advertising Commissioner to assist the Auditor General in performing duties related to the use of public funds for any advertisement that a department proposes to post, publish, display or broadcast, to ensure that the advertisement meets the requirements of that Act. It establishes a process by which proposed messages are reviewed by the Advertising Commissioner to determine whether they meet the requirements of that Act and provides for reporting on the discharge of the duties under that Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

moved that Bill C-544, An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (government advertising), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, my bill, which is supported by the Liberal Party of Canada, by my leader, and by my colleagues, is an attempt to increase confidence and to drive up trust in our Canadian democratic institutions and the way in which government as a whole operates. It is about accountability. It is about value for scarce taxpayer dollars. It is about helping Canadians have more confidence in the way we collect their hard-earned dollars and deploy or spend them on their behalf.

This bill, Bill C-544, is about amending the Auditor General Act to appoint an advertising commissioner to oversee government spending on advertising.

Everyone in this House, from all parties, I have heard, has heard from countless Canadians who are concerned about what can only be described as wasteful advertising spending. It is time to bring Canada's advertising rules into the 21st century, and the appointment of an advertising commissioner, as in other jurisdictions, would provide accountability for all Canadians. This legislation, should it be passed, and I am always hopeful that we can get all-party support in this regard, would apply to all future governments of any political stripe.

It is important to remind Canadians that this bill would permit legitimate advertising. There is a role and a purpose for government advertising. I will come to the details in a moment. What would be expressly prohibited, however, is the kind of partisanship we have seen, which infuses federal government advertising and has for the past nine years under the Conservative government. The common look and feel of government advertising is identical to the common look and feel of partisan political Conservative Party advertising and is happening at the same time as the government uses public resources for federal government advertising.

It is important to remove partisanship from federal government advertising, because it is anti-democratic. When public resources are used to try to increase the chances for political success in Canadian society, particularly only several months away from a national election campaign, it is unfair. When I described this bill to a group of grade 5 students recently, one of the students, a 10-year old, put up a hand and said, “To me, it looks like it is cheating”. It is hard not to agree with that simple description. It is about using public resources and harnessing them for an unfair advantage for a sitting government.

The other reason partisanship has to go is because we are now hearing increasingly from experts and from good, front-line, hard-working, dedicated public servants that this kind of advertising compromises the neutrality and objectivity of public servants and the public service. More and more senior managers are being compelled, forced, to take actions that they know are favourably disposed toward the party in power at the expense of the neutrality and objectivity they signed up for when they decided to become good public servants.

Look at any website operated by the federal government and take a look at the colours. Then go to the Conservative Party of Canada website and take a look at the colours there. This partisanship issue is one that every member in the House of Commons knows cuts to the bone of fairness and accountability.

There has been unanimous opposition to the government's continued advertising. Let us look at some of the headlines.

I will start with the Toronto Star: “Tory ad blitz goes simply too far”.

The Globe and Mail: “How partisan Conservative ads undermine the rule of law”.

The Canadian Press: “Cabinet secrecy blocks rationale behind government's advertising slogan”.

The National Post: “Canadians growing tired of [government's] Economic Action Plan call government ads 'propaganda' in recent survey”.

These draw heavily on eight polls conducted by the government's own Department of Finance.

It is also important to always juxtapose choices made by governments in the way they spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars with real needs in Canadian society.

We know that the current Conservative government has spent some $780 million, likely more by now, on advertising since its arrival. Let us take a look at some of the forms of advertising it has pursued.

The Conservative government paid over $12,000 per train car to shrink-wrap GO trains in downtown Toronto with Conservative blue plastic shrink wrap that had the slogan “economic action plan” splattered all over them. The Conservatives call that a message. Riders on GO Transit call it propaganda. The Conservatives spent $12,000 per car.

Let us take a look at one of the more egregious examples that I think highlights the need to take action in this area. The government has compelled municipalities and provinces around the country to spend $30 million to put up 9,850 billboards. We have now learned, through access to information requests and through working with municipalities, that municipalities were not able to get their federal infrastructure funding dollars unless they met a contractual condition, which was to put economic action plan billboards at the side of every project.

The federal government went to the provinces and said that it wanted a fed-prov agreement. Then it went to the cities involved and said that if they wanted any money, they needed to put up a billboard at their expense. That was $30 million for 9,850 billboards.

Let us talk about what that $30 million might do for Canadians at a time when there are scarce resources and so many credible needs in Canadian society.

Thirty million dollars buys 15 MRI machines. It pays for 500 registered nurses' salaries for one year or over 900 personal support workers for home care for one year. It pays for 10,000 hip, knee, and cataract surgeries. It pays for 4,250 insulin pumps for kids who are coping with type 1 diabetes and cannot afford the pumps.

It pays for 300 affordable housing units. It pays for one million bus passes for our seniors on pensions. It pays the tuition fees for 5,000 students. It pays for student jobs for 9,000 students over the summer.

Thirty million dollars pays for 15,000 doses of chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients fighting their heroic battles and waiting for their treatments. It pays for 46,500 injections to treat osteoporosis at a time when our aging population is showing more and more the effects of arthritis and aging.

Thirty million dollars also pays for 20 million meals at the school breakfast programs for hungry kids. It pays for 46 years of the eliminated community access program for any one province, where we were supplying Internet services in our libraries and community centres for those who could not afford the $70, $80, or $90 a month to be connected on the Internet. It pays for eco-energy retrofit grants for 6,000 homes.

It was $12,000 to shrink-wrap one train at a time when infrastructure funding is being cut 90% this year.

This tells us everything we need to know about the government's priorities. It is shamelessly using federal tax dollars to promote its brand, its common look and feel, its websites, and its Facebook ads. For heaven's sake, the Conservatives are even advertising now on Xbox.

This can all stop. The government, the party in power, can be put out of its advertising misery overnight. All it has to do is adopt the bill and create an advertising commissioner who is empowered to review advertisements before they go to print. The bill goes as far as empowering the advertising commissioner to actually ensure that before a print run is performed, before any government sends out an order to a print house to run, for example, 30,000 or two million pamphlets, it is approved in advance.

The government has lost its way. I think the Prime Minister has really lost his way in this regard. This is a person who came to Ottawa riding a horse called “accountability”. He railed against this for years. He railed against it while he was in office, and he railed against it while he was out of office. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation itself cannot understand why the Prime Minister is pursuing this kind of advertising policy, if we can call it that. It is also supportive of the bill and its measures.

We have a situation where we can do right and better by Canadians. We can look at the $760 million the government spent and ask, “Did we really get good value for money?”

The bill allows for important messaging. Yes, it allows a government to actually inform Canadians about tax measures or program expenditures or benefits they are entitled to. All of that is available, just not the way it is being done now.

A government would not be able to, for example, advertise measures that do not exist. We can all recall several years ago the Advertising Standards Council of Canada taking the government to task for running ads on television during sporting events for programs for job training that did not even exist. For those Canadians who follow playoff hockey, they are watching ads now. Each spot is a minimum of $100,000. There is no message. That would provide support for 300 student jobs over the summer.

It is important for us to remember when we talk about this kind of advertising that we need to juxtapose it against real needs in Canadian society. That is why I am bringing the bill forward. To go back to that theme, it allows for the important advertisements. If the government is recruiting staff, it is permitted. If the government is looking for contractors to do good work for the federal government, it is permitted. If it wants a message out on health crises, like H1N1 or the SARS crisis, that is permitted. If it needs a message to folks in southern Alberta during a flood, that is permitted.

All of this would go a great distance, to come exactly back to where I began, to drive up confidence and trust in the way all governments operate at a time when too many Canadians are despondent and disappointed and are checking out.

The House has an obligation to do everything it can to drive up confidence. I remain hopeful, and I ask my colleagues from all sides of the House to join us and support me in Bill C-544 so that we can do right by Canadians.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Conservative Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to respond to the following findings of the Gomery report. The report states:

The Commission of Inquiry found:

Clear evidence of political involvement in the administration of the Sponsorship Program....

A veil of secrecy surrounding the administration of the Sponsorship Program and an absence of transparency in the contracting process....

The use of the Sponsorship Program for the purposes other than national unity or federal visibility because of a lack of objectives, criteria and guidelines for the Program.

Deliberate actions to avoid compliance with federal legislation and policies....

Certain agencies carrying on their payrolls individuals who were, in effect, working on Liberal Party matters.

The existence of a “culture of entitlement” among political officials and bureaucrats involved with the Sponsorship Program, including the receipt of monetary and non-monetary benefits.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to speak about other important elements in the bill that all sides should and could support.

For example, the bill would compel the advertising commissioner to ensure that any information to the public is about existing government policies, programs, or services that are actually available. It would inform members of the public with respect to “their rights and responsibilities under the law”. It would encourage or discourage “specific social behaviour”, for example, in the public interest. It would promote “Canada or any part of Canada as a good place to live, work, invest, study, or visit”. It would promote economic activities or sectors of Canada's economy. It would “include a statement that the item is paid for by the Government of Canada”. It would “not include the name, voice, or image of a member of the Cabinet, a member of the House of Commons, or a Senator”. It “shall not be partisan”. Finally, it shall not be used to “foster a positive impression of the governing party or a negative impression of a person or entity who is critical of the government”.

Together, we should be looking responsibly at these kinds of measures in 2015 to do right by Canadians.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for bringing this bill forward. This legislation is very important to stopping the corrosive undermining of public trust by the abusive ads we have seen.

When the member's brother was the premier of Ontario, he brought forward legislation to Canada to stop abusive advertising. Therefore, I would like to ask the member if he has read the comments by the Ontario Auditor General about Kathleen Wynne's decision to undermine a bill that his brother brought through the legislature to stop the abuse of taxpayer's money with this kind of advertising. The Auditor General has raised serious questions about the undermining of this principle in Ontario. Has he read the report by the Auditor General? Does he believe that the present Liberal government is undermining the work that his brother did?

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get on the record how incredibly proud I am of the work my brother did as the most successful Liberal premier in 75 years in Ontario. Namely, I would congratulate him for the bill that he brought, which has been in existence for 10 years. Right now there are debates going on in Ontario. That is a healthy thing because it is how our democratic system works. I understand that there is a push and pull right now, and there are all kinds of debates going on. However, they will come to ground.

The policy remains in Ontario. The advertising clearance process through the Office of the Auditor General remains in place. It is the only one of its kind in North America. In fact, it is the only one in the history of North America, and by that I mean Canada, the United States, and Mexico. There is no example elsewhere, besides a few state-level examples in Australia. It is an extremely progressive example for us to draw upon, which is exactly what I have done in drafting this bill.

I again ask my colleagues to come together so they can look their constituents in the eyes, particularly those who will run again in the next election, and justify the use of scarce federal dollars for advertising purposes.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak on this issue of government advertising today.

Let me begin by stating that everything we do in our Conservative government is driven to ensure that our activities stand up to the highest level of public scrutiny. This includes our communications and advertising efforts to inform the public about programs and services we have in place to build a strong Canada. This makes me think of the work we do to help Canadians stay healthy and prevent the spread of infectious diseases, as an example.

It also makes me think of the work we do to support job creation and economic growth through our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, as outlined in Canada's economic action plan.

As part of these efforts, we want to ensure that Canadians are able to make the most of the programs available to them. This includes vital programs to modernize a broad range of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, public transit, and parks. It also includes vital programs to support home ownership, help stimulate the housing sector, and improve housing across Canada.

We use a variety of means to expedite funding to individual Canadians and businesses. For example, we work closely with our many partners across the country, including officials in every level of government and countless stakeholders in industry, and, yes, we use advertising.

Advertising has played a key role in explaining the many programs that are part of our low-tax plan for jobs and growth. Like any responsible organization, we make use of advertising because we understand that programs to help Canada prosper cannot possibly work if no one knows about them. That is why we set out to tell Canadians and Canadian businesses what our plan can do for them. As part of our efforts, we have launched advertising campaigns. We have created a strong online presence, and we have travelled from coast to coast to coast to educate Canadians about the programs in place to help them. They need to know.

The communications policy of the government says, “In the Canadian system of parliamentary democracy and responsible government, the government has a duty to explain its policies and decisions, and to inform the public of its priorities for the country”. The policy also states, “The public has a right to such information”.

Our government takes its duty very seriously, and we are proud of the communications work we have done to ensure that Canadians have received timely, accurate, objective, and complete information about the programs and the services available to them.

Our plan to creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity for Canadians is clearly working, and this is something we can take pride in.

I would ask members to consider the following. The Canadian economy has posted one of the strongest job creation records in the group of G7 countries over the recovery, with over 1.2 million jobs created since June 2009. Over 90% of the jobs created since that time are full-time positions. Over 80% are in the private sector, and nearly 60% are in high-wage industries. Real GDP is significantly above pre-recession levels, the best performance in the G7.

Of course, we have balanced the federal budget as promised, and we are now in a position to fulfill our promise to help Canadians balance theirs. We just have to go around the world and listen to leaders and people in other countries to realize this, because they see Canada as a huge success story.

What does this all mean? It means that today we are in an even better position to weather new challenges.

Let me make an important point. The advertisements used to spread the word about our low-tax plan for Canadians have been done in a way that respects the principles of accountability and transparency. They have been done in a way that respects the existing framework of rules found in the government's communications policy and related administrative procedures. This includes the procedures in the management of advertising.

These procedures ensure that all advertising activities provide value for money and uphold the principles of the communications policy. We also require that all advertising is guided by the Canadian code of advertising standards, which defines government advertising as distinct from political advertising.

The procedures in place on advertising are a key part of good management. They provide detailed, step-by-step information to help federal departments and agencies manage advertising activities and ensure efficiencies and consistent practices across government. As well, they promote strong collaboration among the key organizations responsible for managing government advertising.

Our government is always looking for ways to ensure that its activities are well coordinated, transparent, and managed in a way that provides value for money for Canadians.

I can say that the bill before us today is not one of those ways. We already have a strong system in place. This is completely redundant. It is not clear that the additional financial resources and administrative requirements in Bill C-544 would provide value for money for Canadians. As such, the government will not support this legislation, and we encourage all members to do the same.

Allow me to reiterate that we already have a robust system in place. It includes safeguards to ensure the integrity of government advertising. This includes various mechanisms to ensure that communications across the Government of Canada are well coordinated, effectively managed, and responsive to the diverse information needs of Canadians.

I discussed several of these mechanisms earlier. They include the communications policy of the Government of Canada as well as the procedures for the management of advertising. Advertising is an essential way for the government to inform Canadians about issues that affect them. We continue to make use of this tool to better serve the citizens of this country.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise representing the New Democratic Party on Bill C-544 put forward by my colleague from the Liberal Party. This bill is very important to re-establishing some level of trust with the Canadian public.

The other day in the House of Commons, I heard a Conservative backbencher stand to say that he was proud to be in the greatest House in the history of Parliament. I am hoping that was a case of exuberant naïveté because the opposite is true. What we have seen under the current government is a debasement of participatory democracy, the debasement of public institutions, and the corrosive effect on public trust from the increasingly blurry lines between what is supposed to be serving the public interest and the very narrow party interest of the government.

We have seen so many examples of this corrosive impact, but, for me, it was during the hockey playoffs. I saw an ad for a young woman who was getting a job, being retrained in the trades, and how important it was that she was starting her life over. On Monday morning, I was getting calls in my office from unemployed people asking me how they could benefit from this program. I had to tell them that this program did not exist, that the ad was lying to Canadian people, that taxpayers' money had been used to promote a program that did not exist.

How does one explain to the Canadian people that the government is so cynical that it would lie to the unemployed and use millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to promote something that does not exist? This is the level of cynicism we see from the government.

Instead of serving the public interest, we have seen an increasingly dumbed-down message box from which the Conservatives believe they can spin the public. All members on the government side stand like marionettes, repeating the same dumbed-down talking points that are often misrepresentations and lies and completely contrary. If the sun is high in the sky, they will say it is a dark night. If it is a dark night, they will say the sun is in the sky, and they will repeat that message again and again. It is like All the King's Men, and the politician Willie Stark, who believed that if a lie was repeated often enough, it would somehow be true. To protect those lies—

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is unparliamentary to suggest or, in this case, to flat out accuse members on this side of the House of lying. I believe there are other ways of making the point. The member knows better, as he has been here since 2004. He should apologize and retract the unparliamentary language.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker. I thank you for your intervention. I note my colleagues are very uncomfortable with the fact that we talk about the misrepresentation of facts under them. It strikes close to home. They think this is a matter of privilege. It does speak to the Potemkin democracy. I understand it is very unparliamentary to accuse someone of lying, and I never would do that, but it is perfectly parliamentary to lie within this tradition. This is a fact. We see the misrepresentation of fact again and again.

As I was saying, the people who can speak out about that misrepresentation are being silenced: the silencing of our scientists; the shutting down of independent organizations; the use of Canada Revenue Agency to go after everything from birdwatchers to environmental groups because they threaten the government's agenda; and, then, of course, the misuse of advertising. Between $750 million and $780 million of taxpayer money has been used to promote the same misrepresentation of facts.

I do not know what my colleague over there thinks is possibly true about telling people they can get a job through a job training grant when the job training grant does not exist, and taxpayer money is being used on that.

We need to rein in this corrosive, abusive power.

We see so many examples. The Prime Minister has created his own TV network like he is the great leader from North Korea or something, with these 24 Seven videos. The Conservatives go to Iraq and do not allow the media to film, but they have their own imbedded propagandists. What comes out of that is that the lives of soldiers are actually put at stake.

The member for Nepean—Carleton has acted as Mini-Me, deciding he would run his own propaganda videos, using taxpayer money and civil servants.

This is such a cynical abuse of the public trust. It has to stop.

I agree with my Liberal colleague that we need to bring in some kind of rule if we do not want to see this kind of abuse of taxpayer dollars year after year, staggering amounts of money, putting up billboards, shrink-wrapping trains, promoting job creation schemes that do not exist. This is not in the public interest.

My concern with my Liberal colleague's bill is that the model we have for putting in some kind of protection for the taxpayer is in the province of Ontario, which was brought in under the premiership of Dalton McGuinty, and that bill is being gutted right now. It is being gutted by the present Liberal premier, who was stopped by the auditor general for Ontario from using Liberal red all over government ads. The auditor general for Ontario has raised concerns about the Liberal government being able to strip the acts so it can run government ads, such as taxpayers paying for ads promoting the government during elections. It is a cynical abuse by saying that we will not do it as opposition, but if we get into government, we will do the same thing.

Canadians are tired of this. They need to see something better. They need to see Parliament rise and say that it will not only be about the party interest, that is not only the party in opposition squawking when it is convenient to squawk at government abuse, but then abusing the same system once it gets in power.

We saw this when the new leader of the Liberal Party promised he would be the defender of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and then folded like a cheap suit on Bill C-51. He said that the Liberals would have open nominations, that he would do politics differently. How long did that promise last? I do not even think it was week before the Liberal Party was into its first lawsuit with candidates.

The Liberal leader recently wrote to the leaders of all Canada's unions, saying that he supported union rights, while his own members were attacking collective bargaining on Parliament Hill.

These are the corrosive cynicisms that make people believe they should not trust politicians when they see naked self-interests being put ahead of fundamental principles.

The House needs to restore an accountable system that wins the trust of Canadian people. One of those steps would be my colleague's Bill C-544 to limit the ability of government to take taxpayer money and abuse the public trust with misrepresentations, propaganda and, in some cases, outright lies. We need to restore the powers of the independent officers of Parliament to hold parliamentarians to account. The Conservative government uses incredible powers of government to hold its enemies to account, to investigate its enemies, while promoting national secrecy for itself. The Privacy Commissioner now says that her office has been completely undermined, as well as her ability to ensure we have open access to information.

Why is this important? It is important because the ability of the Canadian public to hold politicians to account is a fundamental principle in restoring accountability and trust.

We will be going into what will probably be the nastiest, dirtiest election campaign in Canadian history. Already millions and millions of dollars are being used by the government in a massive airwaves war, supposedly to promote government programs when in fact it is promoting the narrow interests of the Conservative Party, with the same narrow tag lines and the same kind of coloured advertising. Canadians see through this. They see this is an abuse of the public.

We need to find a better system to ensure accountability. The partisanship and the airwaves war can continue, but it should not be done through the use and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

We will support the bill. I encourage my Liberal colleagues to call on their provincial colleagues in Ontario to stop the Wynne government from stripping the basic bills in place right now that prevents her from doing such blatant, naked, partisan advertising. While they are at it, they should also call on the premier to stop the privatizing of Ontario hydro. Did the premier not run on a plan to be a progressive premier? She is doing stuff that would make Mike Harris blush. I ask my Liberal colleagues to do the right thing and at least call her out on that.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Emmanuel Dubourg Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak in favour of Bill C-544, which was introduced by my colleague from Ottawa South. This bill would eliminate partisan advertising. I would like to thank my colleague for drafting and introducing this bill. I believe that it is in Canadians' interest.

I will not respond at length to the comments by my NDP colleague. He said he supports the bill, which makes sense. However, he talked about the Liberal Party's approach with respect to our leader's integrity and the measures he has put forward since coming here to clean up and clear up certain situations, from the Senate to nominations. I will not say much about that because when it comes to using public money for partisan advertising, we must not forget that the NDP spent millions of dollars in parliamentary money on totally partisan purposes. Several NDP members have to reimburse that money as soon as possible.

This bill is about condemning the fact that most of the advertising done is partisan. Since coming to power, the Conservative government has spent close to $750 million on advertising, much of which has been partisan. Meanwhile, programs that are absolutely vital to the federal government, from health to defence to public safety, are being sacrificed in the name of a balanced budget that is a long time coming. Even as the government's budget is exploding, it is spending $750 million on ads.

The Conservatives spend money with no regard for Canadians' interests. They use Canadians' hard-earned money for partisan purposes. They have repeatedly used that money to broadcast extremely partisan ads on television during the priciest time slots, such as during the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup playoffs, when a 30-second ad costs over $100,000.

Meanwhile, people are suffocating under the Conservatives' ideological cuts. First, let us look at the Canada Revenue Agency, in an area I am very familiar with. The Conservatives will not reveal which services are being cut at CRA, and instead have created a special communications team to put a positive spin on what they are doing.

When each taxpayer pays his or her taxes during tax season, which just ended, they are not contributing to the Conservative Party; they are paying their fair share to fund public services. This includes immigration services. We learned last week that wait times are out of control, but the Conservatives refuse to talk about these matters.

I want to remind the House that the riding I represent, Bourassa, is very ethnically diverse. We have many services in the area of immigration, which is why some of the data posted on the Department of Citizenship and Immigration website was very shocking. Between 2007 and 2014, there was a 73% increase in wait times for spouses and children, a 146% increase for family reunification and a 546% increase for parents and grandparents.

The Conservatives do not necessarily talk about that and I am not here to encourage them to spend taxpayers' money on disclosing that information. However, it must be said that in reality, things are quite different. All the ads and billboards the Conservatives are spending money on seem to be partisan in nature. This is an election period, and partisan ads are what the Conservatives are really interested in.

They talked about immigration and all sorts of measures. However, when it comes to jobs, they even cancelled youth employment programs. It is summertime and young people need work. How much money is dormant in the coffers? On top of that, we should mention the advertising that the federal government is doing for programs that do not even exist.

It is therefore important to take the necessary measures and to say enough is enough, that we will now set up a structure to ensure that such advertising is done in good faith rather than for the Conservative government's partisan purposes. Infrastructure was another area where we saw this. There are so many areas where this government went off track, but they do not talk about that.

Lastly, my colleague's bill also requires that all advertising be submitted to a third-party review process for approval and to ensure that it is an appropriate, proportional, and even prudent expenditure of public funds. It is important to first speak out against these kinds of situations and also recognize that it takes an impartial person to confirm that these ads truly meet the needs of the public.

The Conservatives have proven that they have no problem wasting taxpayers' money, and Canada's democratic system is suffering as a result. No party, be it the governing party or not, should be able to buy an election. The studies have been very clear. Political advertising works. That is why we have very specific limits on our campaign spending. However, when a government picks the pockets of taxpayers to run a partisan advertising campaign just a few months before the election, every Canadian citizen pays the price.

A few months ago, this government said that politicians are too partisan to oversee the activities of our security intelligence agencies, an issue that should transcend partisan politics. It is impossible to escape the irony of a government that then turned around and claimed that a politician, a minister in this case, was the right person to determine prison sentences for criminals given life sentences. It is clear, however, that the issue of releasing a criminal into society could easily become politicized.

Now, if the government members oppose my colleague's bill, that would mean that we should trust politicians to ensure that these ads do not serve the government's political interests. I find that hard to believe.

I will conclude by asking all of my colleagues in the House to rise above the fray, recognize that taxpayers' money should be used for taxpayers and not for the political party in power, and vote in favour of this bill to put an end to partisan ads paid for by taxpayers. Canadians deserve greater transparency.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:45 a.m.
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Willowdale Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung ConservativeParliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak on the subject of government advertising. I am proud to say that I am quite pleased with our government's accountability, responsibility, and transparency.

Let me just say that one of the main issues before us today is whether Bill C-544 would bring more accountability to our system of government. Making government more accountable and responsible to Canadians is a goal that we can all get behind, but it is not clear whether this bill would lead us in that direction. It includes new financial resources and administrative requirements that would not provide value for money for the taxpayer. As such, the government cannot support this legislation, and I urge all members to vote against it.

What is clear is that we already have a number of safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of advertising, which include robust planning and reporting mechanisms. Through the “Annual Report on Government of Canada Advertising Activities”, for example, we provide a summary of major campaigns, expenditures, and general information on the advertising and management process. This important accountability report is posted publicly for all Canadians to see. In addition, all allocations from the central advertising fund are reported quarterly on the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat's website.

We also ensure the integrity of advertising by ensuring that it is well coordinated and transparent. For example, a federal department must co-ordinate its advertising with the Privy Council Office and Public Works and Government Services Canada. As required by the procedures for the management of advertising, departments must align their advertising activities with government priorities, themes, and messages.

The government takes this duty to account for its activities and expenditures very seriously. We are intent on ensuring that every taxpayer dollar that we spend is spent wisely and openly.

I firmly believe that our actions speak for themselves. Indeed, over the past few years, the government has undertaken a number of measures to help strengthen accountability, transparency, and oversight in government operations. These measures include the development of a robust regime of a proactive disclosure of information on government operations by departments and agencies, which allows government and public sector officials to be held to account.

Another very important milestone was the implementation of the Federal Accountability Act of 2006 and its companion action plan. Through the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, we implemented numerous measures to make our public institutions more transparent and accountable. Together, these two documents provide assurance that the powers entrusted to the government are being exercised in the public interest.

The Federal Accountability Act includes a number of measures, but let me just focus on a few today.

Through the act, for example, we created a new standard of accountability for the financing of political activities. We did that by reducing the maximum annual contribution by individuals to political entities and by prohibiting unions and corporations from making political contributions. We also banned secret donations to political candidates by prohibiting electoral district associations and parties from transferring money to their candidates from a trust account.

We also strengthened the Access to Information Act by extending its reach and scope. As a result, more government institutions than ever before are subject to the act, including departments and agencies, crown corporations, and wholly owned subsidiaries.

We also strengthened the role of the Auditor General of Canada. Thanks to the Federal Accountability Act, the Auditor General now has the authority to follow the money by inquiring into the use of funds that individuals, institutions, and companies receive under a funding agreement with any federal department, agency, or crown corporation. This change has strengthened the role of the Auditor General as an independent and reliable source of information. It also helped to reassure Canadians that their government is using their tax dollars wisely.

In addition, under the act we strengthened auditing and accountability within departments by clarifying the managerial responsibilities of deputy heads within the framework of ministerial responsibility and by bolstering the internal audit function within departments and crown corporations.

In short, we have strengthened accountability in every corner of government and for all Canadians and businesses that receive government funding.

Canadians work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules, and they expect accountability and transparency from their government. This is why we continue to pursue opportunities and support efforts that promise to make our public institutions more transparent and accountable. This includes ensuring that Parliament and Canadians are better informed about public spending.

We have achieved this by improving financial reporting, which has admittedly changed significantly in recent years.

For example, each department and agency now publishes its own annual financial statement on the full nature and extent of its activities. This innovation has been in place since 2006, and it is one of the key ways the government demonstrates accountability for its use of public funds.

It has also contributed to Canada's leadership in financial reporting. Indeed, very few jurisdictions publish annual financial statements at the departmental level.

The government is committed to meeting the high expectations of Canadians, and we will continue to explore and implement new ways of providing accountability for Canadians. After all, accountability is the foundation of Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Parliament and Canadians that public resources are used effectively and efficiently.

The good news is that we have achieved a great deal. As the Prime Minister has said, “Canada now has one of the most accountable systems of government in the entire world and this is something Canadians are rightly proud of.”

This is indeed a proud record of achievement, and I can assure my hon. colleagues that supporting the bill before us today will not contribute to that record.

It is not clear whether its new administrative and financial resources requirements would provide value for money to taxpayers, as promised. I urge all members to join me in voting against the bill.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActPrivate Members' Business

June 1st, 2015 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is more time than I thought I had. This will allow me to tell some of the anecdotes that I wanted to share in this debate on my Liberal colleague's bill concerning government advertising, which seems to be increasingly partisan. For example, consider the 2011 election when the Conservative Party slogan was used in the election advertising.

For those watching at home, the bill would give the Auditor General more powers. That was done in Australia and Ontario, despite the best efforts of the Ontario Liberals to relax the law in recent months. This bill would give the Auditor General more powers to check advertising content in order to ensure that it is not partisan.

This is a really interesting issue because it affects the average Canadian during the playoffs, for example. The playoffs are not over yet, despite what I heard today. When there is no Canadian team left, we sometimes forget that the playoffs can last a fairly long time. The Stanley Cup finals will start this week.

On a more serious note, two months ago I went to visit my father in Beloeil to watch the hockey game with my father, stepmother, younger sister and two brothers. At one point, my father went into another room where he could still hear the TV. During the commercial break, we heard the same government ad not twice, but three times. When my father came back into the room, he asked whether he had really heard the same government ad three times. I told him he had, and that that was how the government was spending his money. He asked me how much these ads had cost and I told him that we were talking about several million dollars.

It was recently announced that $7.5 million had been set aside, but that does not include the approximately $70 million that has been spent in recent years. That is some pretty extravagant spending.

Obviously, during a hockey game, these ads play over and over and cost a lot of money. We repeatedly saw the same ads, and my family thought that it was absurd that all of the programs announced were accompanied by an asterisk and the disclaimer that those programs were subject to parliamentary approval. It is ridiculous to have such expensive ads for programs that have not yet even been approved by Parliament.

The government will argue that it is no big deal since it has a majority. That shows just how much arrogance and partisanship is wrapped up in those ads. To top it off, the programs are not even available to people yet.

Of course, as others have pointed out in this debate, some of the ads are for programs that do not even exist.

Those programs are a problem because, as we have also mentioned, that money would be better spent elsewhere considering all of the money the government spends and the cuts it has made. For example, we are trying to help people in our ridings who spend hours on hold with Service Canada. There have also been cuts to veterans' services and the CBC, among others. Cut after cut, they keep telling us that it is about accountability and a balanced budget.

In my opinion, that message is a very hard one for people to hear and accept. When they watch television, they see ads. The ads are all over the Internet and on YouTube too. People also see economic action plan signs on the side of the highway all over the place making a big show of the government's so-called record. This is very worrisome.

Every political party understands that, when it is in power, it has a responsibility to spend taxpayers' money wisely. Obviously, that sometimes includes making tough budgetary choices, but the public has far more respect for those choices if the government does not turn around and spend the money on advertising, especially during an election year, but that goes without saying.

The advertised programs are the cornerstone of the Conservative Party election platform, which makes it harder for the public to accept such spending. The number of times we hear people talk about this brings me back to what I was saying at the beginning of my speech. Everyone is talking about this, even those who do not follow politics very closely. They see that something does not add up in the way the government is using money for its ads, especially, as I said, in the context of reduced services.

This is even more troubling when we listen to question period. It is often a sorry spectacle of Liberals and Conservatives debating who was the worst government when it comes to certain issues. Immigration is an example of an issue where they wonder who was the biggest failure. Partisan advertising is another example of that, really. It is nothing new and the Conservative government insists on following the sorry example of the previous Liberal governments when it comes to misspending on advertising and all the fees that come with it. Canadians are concerned about this, which is all the more reason for us to support this bill.

It is also important to mention the Australian example. A law was passed in 1995, but it was recently amended, in 2010, because there was a problem with the auditor general's mandate with respect to the approval of government advertising and ensuring that the advertising is not partisan. Thus, the work in committee will be extremely important so that we do not make the same mistakes and to ensure that, by giving these powers to the Auditor General, he or she will be able to properly do this work and make sure that the advertising is not partisan. This is very worrisome issue. As I mentioned several times, Canadians are concerned about it.

In closing, it is important to point out that this just makes Canadians more cynical. When we go door-to-door and talk with the people in our ridings, we often see that they are cynical. That has been one of my greatest disappointments since going into politics. Using public money for partisan advertising of a party's record, instead of using it to inform Canadians of what the government is doing, only fuels cynicism.

That is a very good reason to pass this bill and put an end to this practice. Of course, we must do our job in committee to ensure that the Auditor General can do what we are asking him to do with this bill.

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActRoutine Proceedings

October 24th, 2013 / 10:05 a.m.
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Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-544, An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (government advertising).

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to introduce my private member's bill, the elimination of partisan government advertising act. It would amend the Auditor General Act to appoint an advertising commissioner to oversee government spending on advertising. It is time to bring Canada's advertising rules into the 21st century. The appointment of an advertising commissioner would provide accountability for all Canadians.

I call on my colleagues from all sides of the House to support this bill and work with me to eliminate partisan government advertising.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Elimination of Partisan Government Advertising ActRoutine Proceedings

October 24th, 2013 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to move the following motion: That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, clauses 471 and 472 related to the appointment of Supreme Court justices be withdrawn from Bill C-4, A second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, and do compose Bill C-6; that Bill C-6 be deemed read a first time and be printed; that the order for second reading of the said bill provide for the referral to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights; that Bill C-4 retain the status on the order paper that it had prior to the adoption of this order; that Bill C-4 be reprinted as amended; and that the law clerk and parliamentary counsel be authorized to make any technical changes and corrections as may be necessary to give effect to this motion.

You understand, Mr. Speaker, that it is important that this motion be adopted unanimously. The government has found itself in a predicament over the appointment of Justice Nadon. What is more, yesterday we found out that the Government of Quebec is challenging the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, the government's assumption that it can proceed in such a way and the two provisions included in the mammoth bill. I think that this is an important debate, one that cannot simply be relegated to a footnote at the end of a budget bill.