TORONTO — Ontario's auditor general would have banned a new government ad promoting an upcoming climate change plan as partisan, had the Liberals not changed the rules last year.
Bonnie Lysyk warned when the changes were announced that her office would be reduced to a rubber stamp, even when she felt ads were partisan, and now that indeed is the case, she said Friday.
"I find it sad," she said. "I think Ontario had a great act before. I think Ontario was a leader in looking at this type of thing and it just seems a step backwards."
David Suzuki is shown in a new government of Ontario ad. (Photo: Screengrab)
The Liberal government released an ad this week featuring David Suzuki telling a room full of children that they will be left to solve the problem of climate change because not enough adults are listening.
"If we don't act now, the damage could be irreversible," Suzuki tells the children. "Who will have to live with the consequences? You."
Words then appear on the screen saying, "let's not leave this for our kids to figure out," and the 30-second spot ends with a narrator telling the viewer to "be a part of Ontario's climate change action plan."
The fact the plan hasn't been released yet is one of the issues Lysyk has with the ad.
"The intent of the ad is to create a positive impression of government doing something versus being specific and providing people with information that they need to know and that they can do something with," she said.
The old rules banned ads as partisan if the intent was to foster a positive impression of government or a negative impression of its critics, but the new rules say an ad is partisan only if it uses an elected member's picture, name or voice, the colour or logo associated with the political party or direct criticism of a party or member of the legislature.
NDP finance critic Catherine Fife said it's part of a "larger pattern of the Liberal government changing the rules to their own benefit."
"The intent of the ad is to create a positive impression of government doing something versus being specific and providing people with information that they need to know and that they can do something with."
This isn't the first time the auditor general has had to approve ads she would have otherwise questioned.
Lysyk said that she would have suggested that the timing of an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan ad that ran during last year's federal campaign "could be construed as partisan."
"Over the course of the last, I would say, six months, we've had a fair number of them that we've commented on, that under our old act we wouldn't have approved," she said.
The government said under the previous legislation some ads were rejected for reasons they saw as unnecessary.
In the approximately 10 years those rules were in effect more than 7,200 ads were approved and fewer than one per cent were rejected, Lysyk said.