PEI

Government communication or partisan advertising? A debate

Representatives of the three parties in the P.E.I. Legislatures were in the Island Morning studio Thursday to discuss whether the rules regarding government advertising need to be tightened up.

Motor vehicle registration receipts renew debate

The opposition has had issues with how the government is communicating information about the carbon tax. (bradtrivers.com)

Representatives of the three parties in the P.E.I. Legislatures were in the Island Morning studio Thursday to discuss whether the rules regarding government advertising need to be tightened up.

Both Progressive Conservative MLA Sidney MacEwen and Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker have tabled private members bills on government advertising. They were joined in the studio by Communities, Land and Environment Minister Richard Brown.

While both bills were tabled in the fall session, the debate was renewed this month by a message on vehicle registration receipts about a rebate connected to a federally-mandated carbon tax. There have been complaints the message is more about party advertising than government informing the public.

Brown disputed that.

"We are giving the money back for motor vehicle registration and it explains to Islanders why it's going back. It's a climate change initiative," he said.

"The more we can talk about climate change and the more we can convince people that climate change is real, and that we have to do stuff about it, the better."

'It didn't say governments had overspent'

MacEwen questioned why the messaging was necessary in this case.

"When all of those bills and registrations and licences all went up there was certainly no explanation why those things had to increase," he said.

"It didn't say governments had overspent their budgets and now we need to increase all those fees."

Bevan-Baker said the point is not to put an end to government advertising. He praised the government's efforts to inform Islanders about the programs available to them, adding it was also appropriate for government to promote certain behaviours, such as stopping smoking or wearing seatbelts.

"It's when it pushes the boundaries and crosses the line of governments using taxpayers' dollars to promote themselves, that's when things get dodgy," he said.

"Government should not be spending Islanders' taxpayer dollars to promote partisan interests."

Green Party bill will return

MacEwen's bill is a copy of one tabled by the Liberal Party in 2004, when they were in Opposition, in an effort to make the point that the Liberal view of the need to control government advertising has changed.

Brown, who was an MLA at the time, said the bill was a learning experience for the party.

"We came to the conclusion, after discussing it with the government members and the ministers, that, no, they're responsible for their departments," he said.

"They should be allowed to advertise and communicate to Islanders what's going on."

MacEwen said the tabling of his bill was symbolic. Bevan-Baker said the Green Party bill would be re-tabled at the next opportunity.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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