OTTAWA – A Harper government advertisement touting a jobs program that does not yet exist has been pulled from the airwaves and won’t be seen again, Global News has learned.
The move to drop the ad about the Canada Job Grant came as the national advertising regulator was investigating 20 consumer complaints alleging it was misleading.
Advertising Standards Canada, a non-profit advertising self-regulatory body, found the government’s ad left out relevant information, contrary to a section of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards that deals with accuracy and clarity.
The ads, which began airing in May during the NHL playoffs, featured information about a program for training workers announced in this year’s budget.
The government says the grant is set to be introduced as part of the renewal of the labour market agreements with the provinces and territories in 2014-15.
But the program is little more than a concept that has yet to be negotiated with provincial governments, and requires buy-in from employers as well.
The TV ads noted in fine print that the program is “subject to parliamentary approval.”
The advertising council determined that wasn’t enough, according to a letter obtained by Global News.
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“The general impression conveyed by this commercial to council was that implementing this program was imminent; that the program would be in place immediately upon obtaining approval from only one level of government, the federal parliament,” said an Aug. 14 letter from vice president Janet Feasby to James Gilbert, assistant deputy minister at the formerly-named Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
“In reality, the implementation of this program is not imminent, and the process of obtaining such agreement may well take a considerable length of time if, in fact, an accord with the provinces and territories is even possible.”
Feasby said the council recognized the commercial was intended to create awareness of the newly-announced grant and that the commercial referenced partnerships with provinces and territories.
“However, this statement did not suggest to council that the program was conditional upon the support and participation of these associates, which is anything but certain,” said the letter.
The government told the council the ad had been withdrawn prior to the hearing, “and that the advertisement will not air in its current form in the future,” wrote Feasby.
A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Jason Kenney said the government addressed “this administrative issue” with the standards council and the ads rotation ended several months ago.
“The fact is that previous investments in skills training were not as effective as they could be, resulting in a skills mismatch with too many jobs without people and people without jobs,” Alexandra Fortier said in an email.
“We are committed to implementing the Canada Job Grant in a timely manner, to link together federal and provincial and territorial investments with employers, who have been traditionally left out of the process. This will ensure that skills training is relevant as it will be connected directly to available jobs.”
The concept of the grant requires that Ottawa, the province and the employer kick in up to $5,000 each toward the training of a worker.
Liberal MP John McCallum said the decision is good news.
“We’ve been saying all along it was entirely inappropriate,” he said.
“They’re advertising something that doesn’t exist and it may never exist, because it requires the cooperation of the provinces, and the premiers were pretty well unanimous in condemning it because it basically takes money away from them to operate in their own jurisdictions.
“And so it’s incredibly one-sided on the federal benefit, so it remains to be seen whether it will ever happen at all.”
McCallum said the federal government should follow the provincial Liberals’ lead, to have an independent body to vet all advertising to determine if it was permissible or partisan.
“Given the experience in Ottawa in recent times, we really need such a rule in Ottawa as well,” he said.
Feasby said the government will not be identified in a summary of the case to be published online in an upcoming Ad Complaints Report.
She said the government can appeal the decision before August 23.
The Conservative government has come under increasing scrutiny over the years for its lavish spending on feel-good “economic action plan” ads. Ottawa has spent at least $113 million on the ads since 2009.
No budget was provided for the latest media blitz, but with ads on Hockey Night in Canada costing up to $95,000 per 30-second spot, the ad buy could easily be in the millions of dollars.
With files from the Canadian Press