Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux wants political ads to get a lot more personal

As the clock ticks down to the next federal election, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux has launched a backbench bid to force politicians to put their own faces front and centre in future political ads.

'This is something Canadians would like to see ... it is taking responsibility'

A private members' bill put forward by Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux would require politicians to personally endorse the content of political advertising put out by their campaigns. (Conservative Party of Canada (screenshot))

 As the clock ticks down to the next federal election, Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux has launched a backbench bid to force politicians to put their own faces front and centre in future political ads.       

Lamoureux's proposal, which is set to be considered by the House later this fall, would actually go one step further than the disclosure rules imposed on those vying for office south of the border.

Unlike their American counterparts, Canadian federal political hopefuls wouldn't be able to get away with a breathless "I'm-Candidate-X-and-I-approve-of-this-message" tagline delivered at a staccato speed an auctioneer would envy.

Not only would the endorsements have to be voiced personally by the presumed principal beneficiary of the ad — either the candidate, the party leader or a representative from the sponsoring third party entity — but "audio-visual ads" would have to include either an "unobscured, full-screen view" of the endorser making the statement, or a voice-over "accompanied by a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image."

The text of the endorsement would also have to be displayed for at least four seconds "in a clearly readable manner with a reasonable degree of colour contrast between the background and the printed statement."

The new requirements would  apply not just to ads aired on television, but those disseminated by any other platform — including online. 

Bill not intended to censor ads, MP says

In presenting the bill last year, Lamoureux stressed that in no way does he want to censor the content of political ads.

"Any political party can have any type of advertising it wants, whether it is during or outside of the election period," he explained. 

What his bill will do, he said, "is obligate the leaders of the respective political parties to authorize that they are aware of the content of the advertisements, and that they are comfortable with it."

"This is something Canadians would like to see," he told the House.

"It is taking responsibility."

The debate over Lamoureux's proposal, which was initially scheduled to begin on Monday, has been postponed until later this month, as he's currently in Ukraine as part of the international election monitoring team.

When it does make its way back to the top of the Order Paper, though, Conservatives may find it difficult to publicly argue against it.

Tories could find it hard to oppose proposal

Earlier this month, official Ottawa was aflutter after a leaked draft presentation to cabinet, apparently prepared for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, suggested the government was preparing to amend the Copyright Act to allow the unfettered use of soundbites, clips and other footage in political advertisements.

The move was widely seen as a shot across the bow of Canada's major broadcasters — including CTV, CBC and Global — after they jointly served notice last May they might refuse to carry ads containing unauthorized news footage from any media outlet.

While neither Glover nor any other Conservative were willing to confirm the copyright changes were under active consideration, they were only too happy to voice their hypothetical support for such an initiative, which, they argued, could be crucial in arming Canadians with the information they need to cast an informed ballot in 2015.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke out in favour of the idea. 

"As political people who conduct much of our business in public, we fully expect we will be held publicly accountable for the statements we make in public," he told reporters in Whitby.

"I would be very concerned about any proposal that would attempt to censor or block that information from the public."

As it turns out, that particular prediction appears to have been premature, at best: the fall omnibus budget bill, which was tabled last week, included no such provision.

Even so, it's hard to see how the Conservatives can now make a compelling case that such transparency shouldn't apply to advertisements put out by politicians' respective parties.

After all, if politicians are obliged to take responsibility for their words and actions, shouldn't they be prepared to do the same with their ad campaigns?

A spokesperson for Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre says that the government hasn't yet decided how they'll advise their members to vote on Lamoureux's bill.

"We will take a position … when the debate is held," Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey told CBC News.

"Anything before that is speculation."