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Auditor General of Ontario warns of partisan government ads

The Office of the Auditor General of Ontario has released a report on proposed changes to the Government Advertising Act. According to the report, if passed into law the changes could result in taxpayer-funded partisan advertising. Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk stated that if the amendments pass, she will ask the government to relieve her of her duty to review government advertising before it runs.

Currently, government ministries must submit most proposed advertising to the Auditor General in advance to ensure it is not partisan. One of the proposed changes would eliminate the Auditor General's discretionary authority to determine what is partisan, replacing it with a specific definition. According to the new definition, an ad would only be considered partisan if it contains the name, voice or image of an elected representative, the name or logo of a political party, or a colour associated "to a significant degree" with a party.

The current act includes the additional stipulations that an ad must not have as a "primary objective" to "foster a positive impression of the governing party or a negative impression of a person or entity who is critical of the government." According to the Auditor General, the proposed changes would allow a government to run "self-congratulatory" ads in support of its own actions.

"Over the past decade, this Act has ensured that government advertising is politically neutral, factual and accurate," said Lysyk. "These proposed changes would do away with almost all the provisions of the Act that aim to prevent publicly funded partisan advertising. This would damage the credibility of my office, with citizens rightly asking how the Auditor General could have approved controversial advertisements as being non-partisan."

According to the Auditor General's Office, in the past decade it has reviewed approximately 7,200 advertisements worth approximately $411 million, and rejected fewer than one percent of them.

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