Liberals' ad costs up almost $20 million

Shawn Jeffords, Political Bureau Chief

By Shawn Jeffords, Political Bureau Chief

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (centre) with Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Mitzi Hunter, then associate finance minister in charge of the ORPP, speak to media at Queen's Park on June 26, 2014. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (centre) with Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Mitzi Hunter, then associate finance minister in charge of the ORPP, speak to media at Queen's Park on June 26, 2014. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun)

Toronto - 

After weakening provincial rules last year, the government has splurged on millions in “self-congratulatory” advertising at the expense of taxpayers.

That according to Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, who in 2015 raised red flags when the Liberal government scrapped previously restrictive advertising rules. Before the changes, her office vetted government advertising to make sure it was not primarily designed to present the ruling party in a positive light.

“We cautioned when the government changed the law in 2015 that it was opening the door to this sort of thing,” Lysyk said Wednesday. “Sure enough, the government walked right through that open door.”

For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, the Liberal government blew $49.9 million on advertising compared to $30 million the year before.

The AG cites a number of examples of “problematic” ads including:

— A campaign to promote infrastructure spending in Ontario, boasting of the $160-billion investment. The ad doesn’t say that the cash will be spent over a period of 12 years.

— Ads that say the government is beefing up health-care spending by a billion dollars, a spot the AG says is “self-congratulatory” and aimed at giving the Liberals credit for planned health spending.

— A series of “self-congratulatory” ads on the environment, which in some cases are “misleading.” The ads convey the sense that the Liberal cap-and-trade plan is already up and running, when it will actually be launched Jan. 1. 2017.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli called the government ad spends “egregious.”

“The Wynne Liberals are raising taxes, they’re cutting funding for front-line services like health care, but the auditor general confirmed that this year (they) managed to find $20 million for more self-congratulatory advertisements,” he said.

NDP finance critic Catherine Fife said Ontarians foot the bill for the spending.

“The people of this province are essentially paying to fund the next Liberal election campaign through government advertising,” she said. “There is a pattern. This is a government that is more interested in helping itself than it is in looking out for families.”

sjeffords@postmedia.com