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Taxpayer-funded partisan advertising should be curbed, says Adrian Dix

B.C. Opposition leader Adrian Dix is promising to crack down on taxpayer-funded partisan advertising by giving the auditor general veto power over ad campaigns.
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B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix promises to crack down on taxpayer-funded partisan advertising.

B.C. Opposition leader Adrian Dix is promising to crack down on taxpayer-funded partisan advertising by giving the auditor general veto power over ad campaigns.

Government advertising should contain objective information in an unbiased tone, and not be used to promote a political party or attack critics, Dix said Tuesday.

If the NDP wins government in the May 14 provincial election, the party plans to introduce legislation to put the auditor general in charge of approving government ads to make sure they aren’t partisan, Dix said.

“I think there’s a place for government advertising, there are programs that the public sometimes needs to know about,” he said.

“The fact is, though, that we have a governing party, which, in an unprecedented way here, has just unleashed a massive amount of advertising before an election to promote itself. “I think that tells us that rules are required and they should apply to everybody.”

The Liberal government has budgeted at least $15 million to promote its B.C. Jobs Plan through advertising.

But some of those ads are misleading and drive a pro-Liberal political message, Dix said.

One recent TV ad, involving cascading dominoes, praised the Liberal government’s focus on a balanced budget while warning against quick fixes and unstable economic policies.

The government spent $32.8 million on “informational advertising” last fiscal year, and is forecast to spend another $27 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, according to the Finance Ministry.

The NDP doesn’t consider all of that advertising to be partisan, and Dix said a legitimate case can be made for such things as public health notifications or promoting cancer screening.

Dix’s proposed legislation — which the NDP also plans to introduce as a private member’s bill in the spring session of the legislature — builds upon a similar law in Ontario, where the auditor general reviews and approves government advertising.

But Dix said it would be stronger than Ontario’s law because it would also encompass online advertising and ban non-essential government advertising in the four months prior to a provincial election.

The bill would also instruct the auditor general to reject ads that include the name, voice or image of a cabinet member, MLA or premier. Ads wouldn’t be allowed to have a primary purpose of “fostering a positive impression of the governing party,” or intentionally promote political party interests, the NDP said.

The proposal would only affect government advertising, not political parties or third-party groups.

Jobs Minister Pat Bell said he doesn’t believe his government’s advertising is partisan.

“The key is that government money should be spent on advertising that is informational advertising only,” Bell said.

“I think we would absolutely suggest to you that’s what we’re doing here. Mr. Dix is trying to make it political, and, in our view, it’s not.”

rshaw@timescolonist.com