Green Party leader Andrew Weaver says Premier John Horgan’s party should repay the public treasury for radio spots that break the 2017 NDP campaign promise to eliminate partisan government advertising.
A 30-second ad running on CKNW and News 1130 begins: “BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson wants to give a tax cut to the richest 2%. John Horgan is working for everyone.”
The ad touts NDP government spending on building and upgrading schools, eliminating medical insurance premiums and balancing the budget. It ends: “Instead of just working for the very rich, John Horgan is working for all of us. A message from the B.C. New Democrat Caucus.” (Click below to hear the ad.)
“The public should be insisting — insisting — the B.C. NDP party pay for such advertising, not — absolutely not — the taxpayer,” Weaver told theBreaker.news. “The taxpayer should not be paying for partisan ads, essentially trumpeting the government and dissing an opposition party. That is plain wrong and the NDP need to pay that back.”
The Office of the Premier declined comment. Spokeswoman Sage Aaron referred theBreaker.news to the caucus communications office, but director Ed May would not reveal the budget, schedule or contractors for the campaign.
“A small portion of caucus resources have always been used to support getting out the message,” May said by email. “This includes limited printed material and advertising – often on social media. The radio ads are from within the fixed and limited caucus general budget and are consistent with what we say in the legislature, in press releases and elsewhere.”
Weaver, whose caucus supports the NDP minority on budget and confidence votes, called it “partisan electioneering advertising” and another case of “do as I say, not as I do” by the NDP.
“I’m very disappointed that the B.C. NDP would, yet again, say we’re going to be different and they’re no different. It’s the same coin, two sides of the same coin,” he said.
While in opposition, the NDP unsuccessfully introduced the Government Advertising Act twice, most-recently in May 2016. The bill would have given the Auditor General veto power over ads to ensure no partisan content. It was tabled in reaction to the BC Liberal government’s taxpayer-funded, $20 million “Our Opportunity is Here” campaign that ran during the final 18 months of Christy Clark’s mandate.
“That goes to my first political rule to live by: if you did it in government, don’t criticize it in opposition, and if you criticized it in opposition, don’t do it in government,” said Dermod Travis of independent watchdog IntegrityBC. “There is more than enough money in B.C. politics today for the parties to do what they need to do, so there is no excuse saying we have to rely on our caucus budgets to make the difference.”
Travis said the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which doles out funds for caucus communications, needs to set strict policies to stop partisan ad waste.
The NDP radio ads began to air after theBreaker.news revealed how Wilkinson has paid more than $44,000 to the Parksville-based Motiontide digital advertising agency from his Vancouver-Quilchena constituency office account and how Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross led all MLAs with more than $20,000 in advertising and communications spending.
Ross’s spending included ads in Terrace and Kitimat newspapers that slammed the NDP and Greens, despite rules forbidding the use of constituency funds for partisan messages. In the year ended March 31, 2017, Wilkinson spent $59,000 on advertising and communications, including a series of one-minute ads on CKNW that cost $199 each.
Caucus support services, separate from constituency office funding, cost the public $7.86 million in the year ended March 31, 2018. Details about spending and contracting by the NDP, BC Liberal and Green caucuses are excluded from the freedom of information law.
“It is simply not acceptable in today’s age that we can have this grand secrecy over a lot of what’s going on,” Weaver said. Green house leader Sonia Furstenau is proposing that LAMC make public all caucus expenses.
In early February, NDP house leader and solicitor general Mike Farnworth pledged amendments to the FOI law that would include the Legislature. Farnworth reacted after Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy spoke out for transparency in the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s January report on waste and corruption in the offices of the suspended clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
The NDP government’s Feb. 12 throne speech reiterated Farnworth’s promise, but it has not tabled an FOI reform bill. The spring session is nearly half over.
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