OTTAWA — The NDP is lodging a formal complaint with Advertising Standards Canada about the Conservative government’s new ads promoting a family tax cut that has yet to be passed by Parliament.
“We are in the process of filing a complaint,” NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat told The Huffington Post Wednesday.
Ravignat called the ads misleading and said they “portrayed the government’s proposals as real, when they really aren’t.”
The government of Canada’s 30-second television ads display information about newly announced measures such as the doubling of the children’s fitness tax credit and the introduction of the family tax cut while a voiceover says the new measures could help Canadian families prosper and could put thousands of dollars back into their pockets.
At the end of the ad, the fine print notes that the “measures are subject to parliamentary approval.”
Last year, the federal government was reprimanded by Advertising Standards Canada — the self-regulating body of the advertising industry — after it found that a multimillion-dollar ad campaign for the Tories’ job grant program breached the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. The ads were deemed to be inaccurate and unclear.
The ads gave the impression that the Canada Job Grant program was imminent and would be immediately established after obtaining the approval of Parliament when this was not the case, the advertising watchdog said in a letter obtained by Postmedia News. The job grants depended on matching funds from employers and on partnerships with the provinces, a process that could take a considerable length of time if it happened at all, they said.
Advertising Standards Canada did not issue a report against the government, however, because the ad’s run had expired. The council deals only with ads currently on the air, its vice-president of standards, Janet Feasby, told The Huffington Post Canada Wednesday.
It can order ads to be withdrawn from the airways or appropriately amended. It can also force advertisers to undertake “correction advertisement.”
Feasby would not say whether the council has received complaints about the income-splitting family tax ads.
“If we got a complaint, we would look at the ad, and look to see whether or not it makes it clear that it is subject to … parliamentary approval or whatever the case may be,” she said. “We would look for whether or not … that information is sufficiently large enough and prominent.”
Feasby said the council treats its complaints process as confidential. “Our correspondence is between complainants and the advertisers,” she said.
Neither the Privy Council Office nor the Prime Minister’s Office responded to questions.
Feasby invited any Canadian who feels there is something fishy about the federal government’s action plan ads, Health Canada’s marijuana ads or any other commercial to lodge a complaint.
“Feel free to submit a complaint at adstandards.com.”
She said there had been no complaints about the marijuana ad, and Ravignat told HuffPost he had no concerns about it.
“Clearly, the issue here is that the [income-splitting ads] misled Canadians and that the parliamentary process and the House of Commons is not just a rubber stamp, it’s serious business. And we expect due diligence on all these ads,” the NDP MP said.
Ravignat, however, said he was also concerned that the ads were “partisan.”
While government ads are subject to the code, political advertising and electoral ads are exempted from the advertising standards.
Feasby said that the council expects political parties to abide by general principles, such as truth in advertising, but that “practical reasons” make it too difficult to police electoral products.
“An electoral period is … quite short and if we got a complaint, it would not allow for a decision within that period,” she said.
The council needs at minimum about one month before issuing a decision.
Ravignat seemed unfazed by the possibility that Parliament might approve the tax measures before his complaint is dealt with.
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