The official opposition is criticizing the Doug Ford government’s latest advertising campaign, claiming they are using public dollars to counter bad press.
The advertisements, entitled “It’s Happening Here,” can be seen at movie theatres, as well as on television, radio, and social media.
“The campaign is designed to instill pride in the many accomplishments of Team Ontario and confidence in the province’s economy, especially at a time of global economic uncertainty,” a spokesperson for the Premier’s Office said in a statement.
In one of the ads, the camera pans from a farm, a crowded bus, a university class, and then a single car driving on a road.
“What if we told you there is a place where it’s all happening?” a voice in the ad says. “A place where more people are going to work than ever before. Where the next generation of workers are training for the careers of tomorrow. A place that is building new roads and highways, and leading the largest transit expansion North America.”
After touting the province’s commitment to electric vehicles and its battery plants, the voiceover says: “What if we told you, you already live here?”
The Premier’s Office says the campaign follows all government advertising rules and is a partisan effort at communicating with residents.
However the Ontario New Democratic Party disagrees. Leader Marit Stiles told reporters Thursday the ads were “100 per cent, totally partisan.”
“This government is choosing to use public resources to sell a message to convince people that they are delivering for them when in fact, they are responding to the fact that people are really deeply unhappy with the direction they are taking,” she said. “They’re trying to use public health-care dollars to sell people on the idea that everything is okay in Ontario when it’s just simply not.”
“I think Ontarians are smarter than that and see through it.”
It’s unclear how much the ads actually cost but the province’s auditor general found in December the Progressive Conservatives spent about $25 million last year on partisan ads, equalling about three quarters of its total advertising spending.
“Our office concluded that the primary objective of these ads and/or information on their respective websites was to foster a positive impression of the government,” Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos wrote in the report.
The two campaigns were on the health-care system and public school funding.
What made the ads partisan was discussing provincial campaign promises—such as the building of 3,000 more hospital beds or the hiring of 3,000 more school staff—without evidence, Stavropoulos said.
Prior to 2015, ads were labelled as partisan and banned if the intent was to foster a positive impression of the government. However, the then-Liberal government amended the rules so that partisan ads can only be banned if they include an elected member’s name, picture, voice, or logo associated with a political party.
The rules were not changed back once the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2018.
With files from the Canadian Press