'Soaring economy' touted by province in $360K ad campaign

A New Brunswick advertising campaign that boldly claims the province's economy is "soaring" even though it is performing worse than most provinces was not independently vetted for partisan content before being launched.

Labour Minister Donald Arseneault says no reason for campaign to be independently vetted for partisan content

This New Brunswick advertisement in the Calgary airport encourages people the province has 3,000 job openings and that the province is a "growth leader" in Canada. (Twitter/ New Brunswick Official Opposition)

A New Brunswick advertising campaign that boldly claims the province's economy is "soaring" even though it is performing worse than most provinces, was not independently vetted for partisan content before being launched, as the Gallant government once promised.

Training and Labour Minister Donald Arseneault said there is nothing partisan about his department's $360,000 advertising campaign touting New Brunswick's "soaring economy." (CBC)
"I don't see anything political that needs to be vetted," said Donald Arseneault, the training and labour minister, whose department is funding the $360,000 campaign.

The advertising campaign, which encourages people from across Canada to apply for work in New Brunswick, is running in six provinces and feature billboards, transit ads, airport signs and radio and television ads. 

It began in mid-December and runs until early February.

The premise of the campaign is that New Brunswick's economy is flourishing and needs workers to fill thousands of empty jobs.

'Growth leader in Canada'

The provincial government's advertising campaign elsewhere in Canada includes the use of billboards. (New Brunswick Official Opposition)
One version of a billboard ad, which was photographed by a New Brunswick Progressive Conservative staff member passing through the Calgary airport over Christmas and posted on Twitter, claims New Brunswick is "a growth leader in Canada" with "great wages and a soaring economy."

That's despite recent independent assessments that have concluded New Brunswick's economy has been struggling.

In November, the Atlantic Province's Economic Council called economic growth in New Brunswick in 2016, which it estimated at 0.5 per cent, "very weak."

Then in December the Conference Board of Canada, citing "little economic growth" in New Brunswick in 2016, placed its performance seventh among the 10 provinces — a position the board predicted would worsen to eighth this year.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Bruce Fitch calls the Liberal government's advertising campaign "misleading at best." (CBC)
New Brunswick did lead Canada in wage growth in 2016 as of October, although wage rates themselves remain about eight per cent below the national average.

Bruce Fitch, the Riverview MLA and Progressive Conservative finance critic, said the ad reinforces recent government messaging about the economy but is at odds with the reality of how the economy is actually performing.

"It's misleading at best," said Fitch.

Gallant criticized PC ads

Brian Gallant was a fierce critic of advertising campaigns on the economy launched by the former PC government of David Alward, condemning the campaigns as self-serving.

Gallant vowed to strip "partisan" messaging out of ads produced by his own government.

He defined partisan as advertising where "a primary objective of the item is to promote the partisan political interests of the governing party."

Brian Gallant 's government has yet to fulfil a 2014 election promise to reintroduce the Government Advertising Accountability Act that Gallant introduced when in oppostion. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
As opposition leader, Gallant introduced the Government Advertising Accountability Act, which called for advertising to be reviewed by an independent third party — the supervisor of political financing — and screened for political content.

Items deemed to contain political messages and not fixed were to be killed on the authority of the supervisor.

"It is very important to us that we define as best we can what would be a partisan ad and put a stop to it," Gallant told the legislature in March 2014, as he introduced the legislation.

The Alward government voted the bill down, but in the 2014 election the Liberals promised to reintroduce the measure once elected. That hasn't happened.

Arseneault says he is not sure why the promised Government Advertising Accountability Act has not been reintroduced but said the current ad campaign crosses no partisan lines.

"I don't think there's anything political in there," said Arseneault. "I don't see the Liberal logo on the billboards."

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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