Federal Budget 2016: Paid Advertising Won't Be Used To Promote Plan, Morneau Says

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OTTAWA — Federal cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, continue to pitch the virtues of their first Liberal budget across Canada this week.

With Trudeau in Edmonton today talking up the spending plan his government released last week, one thing noticeably absent from the annual post-budget sales job is a government advertising blitz.

The former Conservative government came under frequent fire for spending tens of millions of dollars on ads touting the benefits of its economic action plan, which was simply a branding exercise for the annual federal budget.

bill morneau
Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals don't have a paid ad campaign set for their first budget. (The Canadian Press)

Finance Canada alone spent $8 million on action plan ads last year — the second-biggest single government ad campaign behind recruiting ads by the Defence Department.

Other government departments and agencies, including the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada, each spent more than $6 million on blue-tinged, budget-themed advertising last year.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the Liberals don't have a paid ad campaign set for their first budget, and will be reviewing all government ad spending.

A 'different approach'

"We as a government have decided to take a much different approach in how we present ourselves more broadly and we're going to be very careful about what we spend in all areas of advertisement and this is no exception," Morneau said this week during a budget-promoting stop in Montreal. 

"We won't be doing any paid advertising for the budget."

Finance officials said the government could still find a need to advertise aspects of the budget later on.

And a new book looking at message control in Canadian politics says promoting a brand is critical to government communications in the fast-paced, digital news age.

economic action plan
The former Conservative government came under frequent fire for spending tens of millions of dollars on ads touting the benefits of its economic action plan. (The Canadian Press)

Trudeau critics like to attack what they see as an image-driven prime minister, but the book Brand Command, by Memorial University political scientist Alex Marland, chronicles the extent to which the former Stephen Harper government obsessed over image-making to establish a whole-of-government Conservative brand.

Marland argues Trudeau will find it very difficult to resist the systemic forces that tend to centralize governments, including the need to establish an easily identifiable brand.

But he also observes that the camera-friendly Trudeau has a leg up in the image-driven branding game.

"Branding strategy seeks to influence public impressions and to set and advance agendas," writes Marland.

"It is accompanied by an organizational willingness to exploit opportunities to penetrate a communications cyclone and a motivation to achieve resource efficiencies."

For Liberals, those resource efficiencies may include less paid advertising for now as Trudeau establishes the Liberal brand by hop-scotching across the country and the world.

The prime minister flies to Washington for a nuclear summit later today.

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