The Alward government is being criticized for its decision to use tax dollars to pay for newspaper ads that promote its new Crown forestry plan, roughly four months before a provincial election.
The full-page colour advertisements, which include photos of workers at a press conference along with cabinet ministers, such as Paul Robichaud and Bruce Fitch, have been printed in provincial newspapers this week.
Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the ads "a waste."
“It should really anger a lot of taxpayers to see this money going out the door on things that really the government should be doing on its own,” Lacey said.
“The government has the entire apparatus of the provincial government at its disposal in order to tell taxpayers all of the good things it is trying to do it. It should not be then using taxpayers’ money to be buying advertisements to try and sell those policies as well.”
The ads have several paragraphs of text that describe the Crown land policy and it includes quotations from Saint John Mayor Mel Norton and Serge Landry, the vice-president of A.L.P.A. Equipment.
The timing is also being questioned because New Brunswick voters will be going to the polls in September.
'We are being sold a political message with our own money.' - Michael Camp, St. Thomas University
If the policy is so positive, Lacey said the corporations that are benefiting should be footing the bill for the ads.
"The people who are benefiting from the policy, or those who want to see the policy happen, it is their responsibility to go out and promote their own agenda. It is not up to the government to do that," he said.
Michael Camp, an associate professor in journalism at St. Thomas University, called the ads "propagandistic."
"We are being sold a political message with our own money," Camp said.
He contends the ads may be an attempt to deflect any criticism from the deal.
"The government made a quick decision without public consultation and now it is trying to give the impression that this is something that has had some transparency, that the public has been informed of the progress of its legislation. But this was a done deal before it was shown to the public," he said.
The Alward government also came under fire a year ago in a similar situation after it paid for ads that promoted TransCanada Corp.’s announcement that it would build a west-to-east pipeline that would connect Alberta to New Brunswick.
The provincial government spent $90,000 on those television ads last year.
The Progressive Conservatives led the fight against government ads that carry political messages in 1999. Former premier Bernard Lord banned the practice outright.
"[Government] promoting itself at the expense of solving real problems only breeds cynicism and mistrust," the party claimed in its 1999 election platform, New Vision New Brunswick.
The document said Progressive Conservatives would be "halting all politically-motivated government advertising and setting new rules for advertising to ensure it is legitimate and justifiable as a public service need."