Nearly two years after vowing to eliminate partisan advertising funded by taxpayers, the B.C. NDP is under fire for running a campaign-style ad of its own.
A radio ad from the B.C. NDP Caucus has been playing on Global News Radio CKNW and other B.C. radio stations promoting the government’s accomplishments while disparaging the Opposition B.C. Liberals — something the NDP spent years criticizing the Liberals for doing when the parties’ roles were reversed.
“B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson wants to give a tax cut to the richest two per cent. John Horgan is working for everyone,” the ad says before running through a list of the premier’s accomplishments: reducing health-care wait times, new schools, eliminating MSP premiums and more, all with a balanced budget.
“Instead of just working for the very rich, John Horgan is working for all of us,” the ad concludes.
B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal was quick to pounce on the ad.
“These are partisan ads basically attacking the B.C. Liberals and basically talking about how great a job the NDP are doing,” he said.
In a phone conversation, NDP Caucus chair Jagrup Brar said the ad, like others produced by the caucus, was paid for out of the predetermined caucus budget, which means it’s technically free from taxpayer scrutiny.
He also pushed back against the idea that the ad violates the NDP’s promises during the 2017 election to set new, stricter standards for spending on partisan advertising.
“The language we used is very consistent with the material we produce every day,” the Surrey-Fleetwood MLA said. “We’re doing nothing wrong here.”
Brar said he was aware of the ad before it was delivered to radio stations. He said the purpose is simply to let people know what the government is doing for British Columbians.
WATCH (March 21, 2017): Tanya Beja reports on the advertising lawsuit launched against the B.C. Liberals in 2017
“It’s also important to note that the B.C. Liberals create ads every day putting forth their perspective, and they probably spend the same amount of money as we do,” he said. He added that he didn’t find it inappropriate to mention Wilkinson’s position in the ad.
Brar said he wasn’t aware of any upcoming legislation aimed at tackling government advertising.
UBC political scientist Stewart Prest said that by claiming the ads aren’t partisan in nature, the NDP is “risking losing the moral high ground.”
“They’re opening themselves up to charges of hypocrisy,” Price said.
The debate over partisan ads has been ongoing for years between the two major parties, and the criticism hasn’t just come from lawmakers.
In March 2017, auditor general Carol Bellringer held a meeting with Wilkinson, then the education minister, over his approval of advertising that crossed the line into partisanship.
WATCH (Feb. 15, 2017): Ted Chernecki reports on the wave of pre-election spending and ads from the Liberals in 2017
The ad in question touted the Liberal government’s budget surplus and plans to make cuts to MSP premiums, which Bellringer said exceeded guidelines for what should be included in government messages.
The NDP didn’t waste any time commenting on the meeting, demanding the Liberals pay back the $15 million in taxpayer money budgeted for the ads.
“It’s not appropriate use of tax dollars, and the way I read that, the way the NDP reads that … the way British Columbians read that is that money belongs to the people of B.C.,” future housing minister Selina Robinson said then.
The meeting with the auditor general also came a week after lawyers in Vancouver launched a proposed class-action lawsuit against the Liberals and Christy Clark’s government alleging misuse of taxpayer dollars for partisan advertising.
The suit, which alleged the government used the ads to enhance the party’s image while promoting the province right before the 2017 campaign, was tossed out the following year.
At the time, Horgan said the lawsuit wasn’t a surprise.
“I know I can’t watch hockey games anymore because I just can’t stomach watching every time the puck is not being dropped, having to hear about how great the Liberals are,” he told reporters.
The NDP later came under fire for a series of Facebook ads it launched in September 2017, just months after the party came into power, that repeated its campaign slogans.
—With files from Paul Johnson and the Canadian Press