Toronto

Wynne Liberals spending millions more on ads: auditor

The Ontario government has ramped up spending on taxpayer-funded advertising that the auditor general believes is primarily designed to make the Wynne Liberals look good.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk finds many Ontario government advertisements 'self-congratulatory'

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk revealed in her annual report on Wednesday that the government spent $49.9 million on advertising in the 2015-16 fiscal year, up from $30 million in 2014-15. She's concerned much of the advertising is 'self-congratulatory.' (Mike Crawley/CBC)

The Ontario government has ramped up spending on taxpayer-funded advertising that the auditor general believes is primarily designed to make Kathleen Wynne's Liberal Party look good.

In her new annual report released Wednesday, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk revealed the government spent $49.9 million on advertising in the 2015-16 fiscal year, up from $30 million in 2014-15.

The majority Liberals pushed through a bill in 2015 that changed the rules on government advertising, drastically watering down the auditor's powers to reject ads that serve to promote the party in power.

In her report, Lysyk said the legislation "opened the door to publicly funded partisan and self-congratulatory government advertising."

"Ontarians have in the last year paid millions of dollars for advertising designed primarily to present the government in a positive light rather than to inform," said the report.

During her news conference Wednesday, Lysyk called a number of recent government ads "self-congratulatory." She said that under the previous legislation, she would not have approved them "because they don't provide any information to the public that they need to know." 

A still image from an Ontario government advertisement on the province's proposed retirement pension plan.

Lysyk cited ads for the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, which the government cancelled before it even began, and ads touting the government's action plan on climate change before it came into effect.

Her audit shows the government spent $5.7 million on pension plan ads in 2015-16, and $2.9 million on climate change ads. 

The Liberals defended the advertisements, insisting Ontario's law on government ads is the most restrictive in Canada

"Obviously the auditor has an opinion there, but what I would say is that the information being conveyed in those ads is factually true," Treasury Board chair Liz Sandals told reporters at Queen's Park on Wednesday.  

PC finance critic Vic Fedeli accused the Liberals of wasting taxpayers' money on self-promotion.

"They've cancelled diabetes testing strips, they've fired nurses," Fedeli told a news conference. "In my hometown (North Bay) they're closing 60 beds in a hospital  but they can find $20 million for self promotion. That's egregious."  

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