Tories must not use public purse for partisan gain

Government advertising should be used to inform the public about programs and services, not to promote the party in power. The Redford government's new $425,000 ad campaign on its recently passed budget clearly seems to be doing the latter. The ads contain no public service value and, on the cusp of an election, come across as shameless electioneering.

An excerpt from a casting call for one of the radio ads says that Alberta is not introducing any new taxes this year, with a young man's voice saying that will allow him to buy a new mountain bike. A mom says she's going to buy a candy-apple red cake mixer, and an older couple effuse that they are going on vacation. An announcer says: "No new taxes means you can keep spending money on things that matter to you," according to the radio script.

Opposition critics says the ad is an example of the Redford Tories trying to buy votes from Albertans with their own money. "This government ad isn't about a new program or project," Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier said. "It's not a public service announcement. It's a purely political ad using Albertans' hard-earned tax dollars."

The claim of no new taxes may technically be true, but the Redford government has indicated that tax hikes, including possibly even a sales tax, are on the table in future budgets. Finance Minister Ron Liepert, in tabling the budget last month, said "we must diversify our economy and grow our economic pie."

"As we move away from volatile resource revenues to fund ongoing programs, and move toward a more sustainable revenue base, we know that a discussion on taxes must lie in Alberta's future," Liepert said. "While the tax system may change, one thing that must not change is Alberta's tax advantage."

In other words, the Redford government will consider raising taxes as long as everyone else's are higher. It is thus specious to run ads saying there are no new taxes now just weeks before Redford is expected to call an election.

Other provinces ban government advertising in the lead up to an election. Alberta shouldn't go that far. The business of government does not stop because of an impending election. But ads that are partisan in nature should be paid for out of party, not government, funds.

"They are using the $40-billion budget of the province to campaign," Liberal Leader Raj Sherman recently told the Herald's editorial board. "It's wrong and it's got to stop."

By blurring the lines between communication and self-promotion, the Tories are accomplishing only one thing: instant cynicism.

The Tories also spent $100,000 on a recent cabinet tour of the province and $70,000 on a caucus retreat to Jasper that opposition members called a campaign planning session.

For the first time in their 40-year history, the Tories will be launching attack ads in an election. By spending money from the public purse in their pre-campaign on soft, positive spin, perhaps it's left them more money for their advertising attacks that are specifically targeted against the Wildrose Party.

Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 7 2012

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