The award for the most money spent on government advertising during the recent Oscars broadcast? The envelope, please. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen: A round of applause for the Government of Ontario.
Yes, you lucky taxpayers. You and your hard-pressed tax dollars, were front and centre during the Academy Awards on March 5.
Remember their ads? You know, the cute one with the darling little baby selling the virtue of immunization and the government's new vaccines? And the one that tells us to quit smoking? Then there's the tourism ad that sells the virtue of visiting Ontario -- to Ontarians.
There were five 30-second spots in all. Two for tourism, two for health and one smoking cessation ad was for the Ministry of Health Promotion. The cost to air them on Oscar night was $44,000 per spot -- for a grand total of $220,000.
As Blizzard notes, among the most highly touted of the Liberals’ 200-plus election promises was this pledge: “We will implement the McGuinty bill to ban self-promotional government advertising and authorize the provincial auditor to review and approve all government advertising in advance.” This promise grew out of the Liberals’ moral (cough) indignation at the Harris government using government-paid TV ads to tout, among other things, their education reforms and health care spending.
According to the Liberals, the auditor approved the McGuinty government ads, leading to the reasonable conclusion that the Harris ads would also have passed muster, as they were no more “partisan” than the Liberals’: they, too, promoted government initiatives, not members of the government or the PC party.
I remember an occasion during the Harris years, when one of Harris’s top strategists mentioned that some of the PC MPPs expressed discomfort with the government-paid ads. His response to the MPPs was “We can stop them, but it would be like cutting off your oxygen.” Looks like the McGuintyites have come to the same conclusion. But I would argue that their hypocrisy, after having explicitly run against the concept of government advertising, sets them apart from the conservatives.
The tally of McGuinty broken promises is now somewhere north of 50.
As I have noted elsewhere (see "Reflections on the Revolution"), many of the Common Sense Revolution’s themes and policies have survived the conservatives’ defeat, but the next big test will be the October 2007 general election. Then we will find out if it is important for a government to fulfill the platform it ran on, or whether other issues will rate higher in voters’ minds.
Among the journalists most critical of the Harris ads was The Toronto Star’s Queen’s Park columnist Ian Urquhart. He is off this week, but look for him to weigh in on this issue soon.