Reality Check | Partisan ads

The NDP claim the B.C. Liberals used taxpayer money on partisan ads, and NDP Leader Adrian Dix has promised to ban partisan advertising if elected. CBC's Reality Check team set out to check the facts on B.C.'s advertising blitz.
Ontario's auditor found the ads informative, not just partisan 2:35

The NDP claim the B.C. Liberals used $16.6 million of taxpayer money on partisan ads, and Leader Adrian Dix has promised to ban partisan advertising if elected. CBC’s Reality Check team set out to check the facts on B.C.’s advertising blitz.

Dozens of ads, paid for by B.C. taxpayers in two separate campaigns, have hit the airwaves, touting the province’s low taxes, job creation and investment in skills training.

But Dix claims the B.C. Liberals are using taxpayer money to push their own agenda.

"The Liberal government has been wasting your taxpayer’s dollars on misleading partisan ads," he said. "I think most people would say that is a misuse of public money."

The $16.6 million the government has spent on advertising in the past year isn’t being disputed. But did the money go to pro-government ads?

Bridging the gap

On the campaign trail, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark was asked if the ads were partisan.

"No, they weren't," she replied.

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter says he’s watching with interest what’s happening here in B.C. Ontario is the only province to ban partisan advertising, and it is McCarter’s job to decide what crosses the line.

"Anything that really that is trying to make you look good and your opponents look bad and is paid for by the taxpayer is partisan," he said.

"[What] we look for is, 'Does the ad provide useful information to the public?'"

There are useful videos on B.C.'s online playlist, such as videos on how to handle the switch back to the Provincial Sales Tax.

But the radio and television ads are mostly self-congratulatory.

B.C.’s finance department says public servants created the ads to "make British Columbians aware of important information and services that can help with a range of economic decisions."

But in a leaked document to sell the latest campaign to caucus, the government admits those jobs plan ads "helped decrease the credibility gap the government had." The document goes on to say that voters "have a right to know what their government is doing to make sure B.C.'s economy is strong and stable." 

'Clearly cross the line'

By Ontario standards, about 20 per cent of the ads contain useful, non-partisan information.

B.C.'s Ministry of Finance says the campaigns led to a 329-per-cent increase in traffic to government websites. The B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant alone got 40,000 hits. So the $1.4 million spent on that part of the campaign is useful to voters.

But when CBC News contacted conservative, independent communications consultant Gerry Nichols, who calls himself a "small 'c' conservative," he took the NDP's side.

"The B.C. government ads, to me, clearly cross the line between informational ads and political propaganda," he said.

"The ads I’ve seen are basically implied attacks on the NDP and overt bragging about government policies in relation to the economy, so when I look at an ad like that, it looks like a political spot not a government ad."

So, when it comes to B.C.’s advertising blitz, CBC’s Reality Check team finds Dix’s claim is only partly true — and contains some political spin.

Wtih files from the CBC's Natalie Clancy